Nationwide CDO - a great data strategy focuses on delivering value for the business

Profile picture for user Mark Samuels By Mark Samuels October 16, 2019
Summary:
Chief Data Officer Lee Raybould says firms that want to turn information into insight must receive backing from the board.

Nationwide

Nationwide Chief Data Officer (CDO) Lee Raybould is using a carefully-crafted data strategy to help the building society bring together and then exploit its treasure trove of information.

Raybould secured funding from the board for a multi-million-pound data transformation programme. He says the aim of this strategic work is to create data enablement within Nationwide:

There's a lot of great stuff going on with data these days – the tech is really cool. But what was really important to me was securing Nationwide’s relevance as an institution and its competitiveness in the years to come.

Raybould says he had a blank brief when he was invited to take the CDO role by the CEO two years ago. He felt lucky that the board was hugely supportive when it came to giving him time to think about the development of a data strategy and how it would be relevant to the future aims of Nationwide.

The board encouraged him to look both inside and outside the organisation for inspiration. When it came to internal analysis, Raybould says he spent “a lot of time upfront” establishing why the data strategy mattered and why his plans were worth backing financially:

Unless we answered the ‘so what’ question in a language that executives could understand, then we were unlikely to get funding unlocked. So we took a 360-degree view across the organisation – we talked to board members, executive committee members, data workers in the business, and we also talked to consumers of data as well. We really tried to gather their sentiments and views, and we played it back to the executive board. We felt it was powerful to use our people’s words about data.

Raybould cites as one of the key issues he discovered through this 360-degree analysis the idea that people within the business sometimes felt that the company was too dependent on too few long-standing experts, with deeply-held institutional knowledge that was tough to tap into. Staff raised other concerns too, as Raybould summarises:

There was another piece that came through on our culture, which was a culture of disapproving or discrediting information, unless that information came from the team or the area of the business that you happened to originate in. And there was a real sense that our business was information-rich and data rich, but it’s all held in silos. And it actually lacks real insight as to what is going on, why it's going on and how we might influence the future.

Feedback 

Raybould took this internal feedback and allied it to evidence gleaned from time spent looking outside the organisation. He spent a week taking with partners in India. He also spent time talking with people involved in data and analytics in Australia. Finally, Raybould spent a week on the west coast of the United States talking with people in firms such as Apple, Facebook and Cisco:

That was super-helpful in combining the external with the internal and building credibility around the strategy that we were creating.

The final stage of the data-strategy-building process involved proving to the board that they should invest in his ideas. Raybould says the firm had an “awful lot of legacy applications” that had been built up over the past 40 to 50 years. He knew that getting access to good quality data to drive insight was going to be a significant challenge. Yet Raybould also knew that funding this data transformation process was likely to be his biggest concern:

We knew that the journey was not going to be measured in a small number of months. We knew we had to tap into the hearts and minds of a range of stakeholders across the business. For something like data, a lot of people were asking, ‘Well, I kind of get it, but what really is in it for me? And why would this be one of my priorities, amongst many, that I would want to champion and put significant investment behind?'.

Raybould worked hard to find hooks for Nationwide’s C-Suite team. Those included a focus on the benefits of data around trust and engagement issues for the chief marketing officer and chief risk officer, data on performance results and inefficiencies for the finance chief, and information on application utilisation for the chief operating officer. Raybould says delivering to those outcomes for senior executives meant he needed to focus on two key things – consolidation and insight:

The first thing that we thought we needed to solve was really simplifying and consolidating the data that we had, because we had a lot of it, but it was in silos, and it was heavily duplicated and replicated across the organisation, really hard to manage, really hard to bring together and actually pretty hard to understand and protect as well. It was holding back the pace of change within Nationwide. The second thing that we thought that we needed to do was to really significantly increase the level of insight within the organisation. We are quite backward-looking, quite report-focused as an organisation and opinion seemed to matter more than fact.

Addressing the core issues of consolidation and insight led Raybould to focus on four key elements in his data strategy: culture – putting data in the hands of people who are driving change in the business; value – investing in data-science capability to unlock the value of data; compliance – investing in people to help exploit data; and management – consolidating silos of data to help ensure new insight is created.

The result of this strategic process is that a data-enabled culture is now embedded within Nationwide, where employees across the business use Qlik analytics tools to increase the speed and efficiency or reporting. Raybould says the key lesson for other data chiefs looking to lead a data transformation is that they must focus on business outcomes:

Your context will be different but what will be common is that the role of the CDO, and the data organisations that you work within, are rapidly changing. We knew that to be relevant into the future that data was going to be a key competitive ground for us. That was the motivation to appoint a CDO within Nationwide.