“We stopped looking at our technology and our business strategies around data in isolation, and started working on how can we bring the best of all of our skill sets together to create something that will be truly transformational for our organisation.”
This is how Kate Kolich describes the approach taken by the Bank of New Zealand as it forges through the digital economy.
"Our key purpose is to look after and be the custodians of all of our data assets,” explains Kolich, the bank’s head of enterprise data and information services.
“We make sure they are working well and to also be working in partnership with some of our key super users within the wider BNZ analytics community, so that we can provide them with the support they need."
This, says David Thomas, chief analytics officer at Bank of New Zealand, “is one of the big realisations early on that put us in good stead.”
“There is no way an organisation our size could understand everything around data and analytics so we purposely have a stream in our strategy around partnering and what lessons can we take and who we will work for and in terms of our ecosystem.”
“We do a lot of work side by side,” says Thomas on his group’s close collaboration with the information services team led by Kolich.
Technology and business strategies around data should not be viewed in isolation.
Thomas, as chief analytics officer, sits within the transformation and enterprise services, reporting to Richard Griffiths, director of strategy and business performance. Griffiths is also the executive sponsor for data and insights.
“I have a majority of the analytics functions,” says Thomas, whose team includes data scientists and data engineers.
“We appreciated that analytics and insights have multiple layers and probably just doing a vertical on that is not the way of the future. You need cross-functional teams, you need a shared vision.”
Kolich says the technology and analytics teams at BNZ are co-located, working side by side on major projects.
Thomas further highlights the criticality of this close collaboration.
“Everyone has the same set of tools,” he says. “It is how you use them, how you leverage those tools to get those business outcomes and each organisation has a different way to achieve that.”
Speaking to CIO New Zealand ahead of the first Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO) conference in this country, the two note how this partnership may not be the norm in other organisations.
Kolich, who is chair for the inaugural local conference, to be held on November 28 and 29 at the Hilton in Auckland, recalls her experience at attending her first CDAO conference in Australia.
The forum was in Sydney and she and another colleague from BNZ were co-presenters.
“We realised we had something different at BNZ then, because he was from business intelligence and I was from technology.”
Thomas had a similar experience when participating in a session at another CDAO conference early this year.
“When we talked about working together between the business and technology, we were certainly outliers.”
Kolich says one of the things the technology team focuses on is, “enabling their data scientists to have the time and space they need to really do what they are really good at”.
When Hadoop creator Doug Cutting visited New Zealand early this year, he visited BNZ and met with the technology and analytics teams.
“We are seen as really purposeful, doing this enabling our analytics community, the data scientists, to be able to be doing things that will provide the most value. A lot of the team members felt we are working on something amazing, as the inventor of Hadoop was coming to see what we are doing,” says Thomas.
Both talk about working to the strengths of teams working in the data and analytics spaces.
“We spend a lot of time with them, they have full visibility of the strategy,” says Thomas.
“What we are seeing is the types of mindsets and skillsets that you need as a technologist working alongside the analytics community,” says Kolich.
“It is not your traditional approach,” she says. “You might have a Linux administrator working alongside the data engineer, because they have to and are more effective that way.
“You are putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are working with and understanding them."
Kolich is mindful the technology team working with the data scientists and engineers have to be fast moving with providing them with enabling technology platforms.
“They want to try new things, that is absolutely key, and they are really innovative. There probably isn’t much they could not turn their hand into the coding space," she says.
"Find a data scientist to turn that cool tech thing into something that will deliver business value, through nurturing them with the right data.
“That is the combination you go for," she says. "We spend a lot of time listening to them, what is the new thing coming up that traditional technology needs to be aware of, this is the stuff a data scientist is wanting to do."
Digitalisation lends itself to analytics
While both are in the frontline of deploying the bank’s digital agenda, Kolich and Thomas reached their respective roles through different paths.
Kolich has always worked in information management. She joined Bank of New Zealand as a senior analyst programmer and became team leader global business intelligence, responsible for the BNZ global data warehouse, BI reporting and SAP integration team.
She then moved to series of executive IT roles until her appointment in January this year as head of enterprise data and information services. In this role, she is a member of the technology leadership team, reporting to chief technology officer Aaron Toatelegese.
Kolich was working in programming when she was offered the leadership role in the bank's data warehouse in 2002. She welcomed the shift, as seeing the information management space as a real enabler of business outcomes.
While working in the bank’s enterprise architecture, she developed close working relationships with the analytics community.
Thomas, meanwhile, describes his career path as “quite checkered”.
“I did not get a linear path to this role,” says Thomas. “I have loved numbers forever and love solving problems, I have a passion for that.”
He completed a bachelor of commerce, management and management accounting, and completed a master of commerce (honours) in strategic management and organisational change and development, both at the University of Auckland.
Thomas has worked as owner and store manager, and was a lecturer on management and strategy.
He has spent more than a decade in business banking. He joined BNZ as a senior corporate strategist and progressed to a number of roles, until his appointment early this year as chief analytics officer.
Building the talent pipeline
Kolich and Thomas are both involved in a raft of programmes to encourage more people to take on a career in information technology and data science.
“It is important to grow that pipeline,” says Kolich. “But I also feel passionate growing the female participation pipeline across all areas of technology, particularly in the data science space.”
Locally, Kolich is an industry representative of the NZTech Women - Women in Technology High Impact Team. This group leads the NZTech activities to promote women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
Kolich finished her undergraduate and master’s degree in information management at Victoria University of Wellington. She volunteers as an industry mentor to VUW final year students as part of the University Alumni Mentors Programme.
She is the New Zealand ambassador for the Stanford University Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference next year. The Global Women in Data Science Conference on 5 March, 2018 will be livestreamed and broadcast to 80-plus locations across the globe.
Thomas, on the other hand, says the bank will commence early next year its data science graduate programme. This inaugural programme will have four data science graduates working in various parts of the bank.
Thomas is a guest lecturer twice a year at the University of Auckland business school, where he promotes what he calls “analytics by stealth”.
“I talk to strategy teams and tell them you cannot do genuine strategy without data science.”
You cannot do genuine strategy without data science
In search of unicorns
Kolich and Thomas share insights on skill sets to prepare for, in order to succeed in the data driven world.
“You need to be curious and you need to be testing the boundaries, but you need the base competence to do that,” says Thomas.
The latter could be maths, communications science or operations. “If you are going to find unicorns, they need the soft skills as well,” says Thomas, referring to data professionals who are equally adept at technology, data science, and business.
Kolich says doing a little bit of promoting STEM helps.
“There are lots of different ways you can bring it through.”
She cites NZTechs’ ‘Shadow Tech Day’, where female students spend time with ICT teams to introduce them to the range of work available in the sector.
BNZ also has a ‘bring your daughters to work’ day.
She says the daughters of the BNZ team worked with the bank’s digital testers. They were given a treasure map where they had to go and find everything within the bank’s digital apps. “That was actually showing them how to be testers.”
She stresses, however, that “humanity” has also got to be ingrained in the work especially with the rise of cognitive computing.
“New types of roles that do not exist today are going to come along,” she says.
“Humans learn because of our experiences and machines will learn from experiences, from what we train it with. The data, the refinements come from the humanity side,” Kolich states.
“You will always have that blend of human and machine in the near future,” relates Thomas. “Some of the interpretation and the integration to the business will always require people.”
Kolich says participating in forums like CDAO allows data professionals to meet with practitioners locally and from all over the world.
“The key thing is analytics can be applied to almost any industry,” Kolich points out. “There are things you learn from going to these conferences.”
Thomas says the conference in Auckland this November will give people the ability to diagnose where they are at and what is possible, and what the next steps are.
Thomas says there would be people from digital startups because “digitalisation lends itself to analytics.”
He says there will also be other groups like banks and telcos, whose scale gives them the ability to explore emerging capabilities.
Kolich and Thomas discuss two themes at the Auckland conference - the intelligent enterprise and data driven C-suite.
“We are increasingly thinking about facts-based decision making and moving beyond description, to prescription,” explains Thomas.
He says it is thinking carefully about the ways the bank, for instance, interprets customer information.
“You start to think of an organisation that is more organic than machine-like,” he adds. "You need to be seeing constant development and learning.
“From where I operate in particular, we are going through that transition about people seeing the data we have always had in a completely different light, and the responsibility on the C-suite is the openness to learn.
“You challenge paradigms and you need to be willing to see the business, or the customer, in a different way."
“It comes back to what I said about not looking at your technology and business strategies around data in isolation," says Kolich.
“You have to bring them together...and have the fact-based mindset which can only be really driven through data.”
Kate Kolich and David Thomas are chair and keynote speakers, respectively, of the Corinium Chief Data & Analytics Officer New Zealand on November 28 and 29 at the Hilton in Auckland.
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