We spoke to Simone Steel, Chief Data Officer at Nationwide, on leading the D&A practice, opportunities, developments and the future of data and analytics.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m the Chief Data Officer at Nationwide and the leader of the data and analytics sub-community. My role includes regulatory reporting and compliance, as well as supporting the business from an operational perspective with business intelligence, MIS and getting value from data.
I have a long career – over 32 years and counting – in technology. I’ve worked as a programmer, a systems analyst, an architect, a tech strategist and most recently in and around large data challenges for big financial institutions – such as enterprise warehouses, low-latency information exchanges, high volume modelling exercises and data-intensive processes. Today, companies are dealing with an explosion of usage patterns for data, but also a lot of different technology options. It’s the mix of fast-paced technology and data problems that makes my role so interesting.
What’s happening in your D&A department at the moment?
We have quite a big recruitment drive at the moment. The environment is increasingly digital, and we need to scale our operations to meet that need and act faster.
To transform our D&A function, we will be putting engineering at the core, with a strong architecture practice and foundation to support engineering activity. We will move from manual governance to continuous compliance, putting in place controls and creating data sensors everywhere to respond to environmental changes. Previously, the business would have grown the workforce to do more, but now the strategy is to do as much with technology as possible. But that’s a different skills mix, so we’re shifting people from pure play data specialists, to understanding data at a deeper and a wider level – such as gathering metadata, and understanding data models, taxonomies and lineage as part of engineering the solution. As well as upskilling the team, that means investing in more people and acquiring new skills.
What opportunities are there?
Because we’re transforming the data practice, there’s a lot of opportunity, and a lot of variety. It could be in linear modelling, machine learning, data analytics or in the data governance space looking at how to automate data lineage.
We’re looking for people of all levels and experiences, but there is a backbone of engineering skills that I’m looking for. The more I see technology professions evolving, the more I believe we need to hire talent with continuous learning and full stack engineering at its core. I’m talking about someone that understands the overlap between infrastructure and cloud, continuous monitoring of services and development of features. In the past, these three things were very distinct. But as we move to a cloud environment, those roles get very blurred. If you are providing a good data service, you need to understand all these layers.
That comes with experience, and I’m not expecting everyone to have the full package. Today it’s less about specific languages or databases and more about an understanding of a full stack service offering, multi-language development and continuous learning. If you come with some of the package and the desire to learn, there’s plenty of opportunities here, and I’d love to discuss them with anyone interested.
What wider projects are you working on at the moment?
We are fully committed to adopting cloud for our analytics, MIS and business insights. We want to reduce our legacy burden and move some of our old platforms into a fresh cloud space with added controls and security.
In doing so, we will also look under the hood for ways to simplify. There is a cost imperative - we need to reduce some of the on-premise and end-of-life servers - but there is also an agility imperative, which is to scale our compute and our storage up and down as the business needs. And of course, there is the challenge of doing that in a secure way, in a robust and resilient way, and in a regulatory compliant way.
My D&A team is partnering closely with our cloud centre of excellence to achieve this. Data challenges and use cases are quite unique, so we take an active engineering role when it comes to breaking ground in the technologies needed in this space – such as data lakes, data fabrics, data mesh, data warehousing etc.
What’s it like working at Nationwide?
I’ve only been here 10 months, but I already feel like part of the fabric. Nationwide is the largest mutual in the UK, and for me that’s really important as it says a lot about how the business is run. It means that members are at the core of everything we do. Coming from a long background of public enterprises, sometimes your business decisions can be at the mercy of the market. Your customer and your shareholder can need and want different things. But being in a mutual means these two things are aligned. My customer is also my shareholder, which is important for creating a sense of purpose and focus; I can say that everything that I’ve done since I’ve joined Nationwide has been for a common, consistent, good.
What is the future of data and analytics?
In a nutshell, the future of data and analytics is when we stop looking at it as a community and start seeing it for what it is – a digital representation of the business. To do this, we will need to move into a space where we have data sensors everywhere and where we are free to capture and analyse data within parameters that the Society accepts. Then we will be liberated from the departmental view and will become better partners and embedded in how we do business. But one step at a time!
We hope you enjoyed this insight from Simone Steel, CDO at Nationwide. If you’re interested in learning more about a career at Nationwide, please check out current vacancies or speak to Dan Harrison for more information. You can also register for our upcoming event, ‘Be Part of the Future of Data & Analytics at Nationwide’ to learn more about the D&A practice, current roles, and upcoming opportunities.