Data Insight Leaders Summit 2017
October 18, 2017

Data Insight Leaders Summit 2017 Day One – a debrief

By Paul Laughlin

After a pause in blogging, for a much-needed holiday, I’ve returned with a debrief from day one of Data Insight Leaders Summit 2017.

It’s a joy to be back out in Barcelona chairing the second incarnation of this very useful  annual event. A gathering of over 100 data insight leaders from across UK & Europe, spending time together sharing their experience.

As I said to delegates this morning, one of the things that sets this event apart from many others is its authenticity. By that I mean it avoids being either a ‘front’ for suppliers to pitch their wares, or full of naively idealistic content. Rather, it is packed with real practitioners sharing their ‘warts & all’ stories.

The format is also refreshingly varied, as we switch from speakers to interviews to panel debates & workshops.

So, let’s get on with sharing what I learnt from day one of this event. I hope you find it useful.

Key lessons from Data Insight Leaders 2017

One of the tips I gave delegates was to capture, for each session, just one thing they would do differently as a result. With so much content being shared at such conferences, it’s easy to get swamped or never go back to your notes. Capturing just one action per session, is a simple way of walking away from such an event with plenty of value. Listening to spot one can also improve your learning.

So, to avoid an overly long post, let me take some of my own medicine. In this one, I will share one insight I gleaned from each of our speakers/sessions on day one. The list below covers the sessions I chaired, missing out on the midday interactive workshops. But, I hope it’s still helpful and gives you a flavour of the breadth of wisdom available at such events.

The data insight leader community, when it comes together, really does have valuable experience to share.

An insight per session from Data Insight Leaders 2017

Martin Squires (Walgreens Boots Alliance)

Martin was our first keynote speaker. With decades of experience in retail data analytics, he has spent over 10 years building capability at Boots. He is now focussed on building a global centre of excellence, following the global merger.

One insight: Don’t let the algorithm override common sense. In other words be cautious about assumptions in interpretation & automatic execution.

Martin shared the example of a basket analysis which could easily suggest a couple, but was actually a single parent with an older child. How wrong that could go with marketing automation!

Enrique Garcia Lopez (Carrefour)

Enrique is director of digital solutions for this huge retailer. Like Martin he is building capability, including people not just technology. He shared useful stories (during an interview by McKinsey partner) about his role as a translator between C-Suite and analysts.

One insight: Only focus on analytics that has the potential to scale (can it be implemented at scale?).

Enrique shared how big a waste of time too many quick wins can be. We often focus on the barriers of disbelief or lack of investment. But too many small pilots can also drain your ability to make a transformational difference. Without that, too many teams struggle to evidence sizeable ROI and their funding dries up.

Rufus Weston (Just Eat), Ryan den Rooijen (Dyson) & Peter Jackson (Southern Water)

These 3 fine gents comprised our first panel debate. We discussed how to manage across the data lifecycle. With questions covering requirements, prioritising, pilots & proving value-add. My insight came from hearing their common themes.

One insight: Align your data pilots & priority data items to business strategy, ensure you can see the relevance.

During the stage of identifying initial data requirements, begin like a strategy consultant. Following pilots & visualisation, prioritise the data items worth scaling (or building in production systems). For that stage too, ensure you can still see the fit with business strategy & projects – even if you need to influence those first.

Olmo Martinez (Anheuser-Busch InBev)

By this stage we all needed a beer, so it as great to have Olmo refresh us with his data innovation work for this huge brewer. Olmo has the interesting role of being a disruptor within his business, working within an internal start-up. He has been given the exciting (but scary) challenge of defining the future for the wider business. Olmo provided the first of our detailed case study presentations.

One insight: Ensure you can see the customer value proposition & focus on a short-term proof of concept.

At first sight this might sound at odds with the advice from Enrique, but Olmo avoids the ‘quick win drain’ by focussing on just one at a time. He selects candidate PoCs that can be completed in 2 weeks. Thus providing incremental steps towards the bigger builds.

Dr Alexander Borek (Volkswagen)

Alex used to have an amazingly long job title (which I teased him about), but is now just called Head of Smart Data. Catchy. Alex shared on both the myth of successful digital transformation & 10 rules to get there in the messy real world. Some sound advice that it was difficult to distill to one learning point.

One insight: Recognise both the need to tell a myth narrative (about the potential of data) and to highlight the barriers. 

Alex rightly pointed out that there is a danger in focussing on propagating the myth of digital transformation. The risk is of optimism bias, that ignores very real barriers that need to be addressed. No point getting your execs very excited if the problems with your legacy systems are never surfaced.

Olivier Van Parys (Bank of Ireland)

Olivier was an excellent presenter last year, so it was great to welcome him back. As Head of Advanced Analytics, he was our afternoon keynote speaker. With strong data science credentials and an MBA, Olivier is well placed to advise leaders on where to focus. He shared tips about culture, teams & use of AI.

One insight: Collaborate with other leaders, recognise their expertise and work with them to deploy insights. 

Wise advice. It can help win allies and overcome the gulf between C-Suite sponsorship and making it happen across organisational silos. Too often technical leaders worry about retaining the ‘glory’ for their hard work. Worth sharing the limelight to achieve deployment & utilisation (for the much-needed ROI).

Chris Conroy (Rank), Dr Markus Rotter (Vodafone), Sarah Jewkes (, Pradeep Devavarapu (Sales BI)

These 4 interesting leaders, including one from supplier side, joined me for our final session of the day. As a panel we discussed how to speed up Data Science projects. How can you get results quicker?

One insight: Choose business priorities, but identify simpler challenges to work on first. Plus, collaborate with other teams for deployment.

In many ways this a validation of earlier insights from Olmo & Olivier. But this time focussed on speed of execution. We also identified in this session the benefits of common technology usage across teams within a business. A quick audience survey also confirmed that most were indeed using Python & Jupiter notebooks.

That’s Day One folks…

I hope that summary was useful, both for those attending and those who couldn’t make it. An enjoyable day with plenty of real world experience shared, by practitioner leaders.

As a trainer and mentor it was encouraging to hear the focus on data insight leadership skills. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the industry is waking up to the need for leadership & softer skills. Through many case studies we heard how often such cultural work makes more of a difference than coding skills.

Now it’s time for a beer & planning for a great Day Two!