A lot of companies know how they would like to change – and they know what they’d like to achieve in their data use and analytics, says Peter Jackson, chief data and analytics officer at Exasol. What they don’t know is the steps that they need to take to achieve those goals.

Peter joined Red Olive’s MD Jefferson Lynch on 23 June to discuss the value of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) and data strategy in achieving resilience and value for money in a 21st century housing association. You can watch the session on the Red Olive YouTube channel.

Before the session, we caught up with him and asked his thoughts on data, analytics, and how businesses can better handle – and benefit from – both.

What part does data play in managing a housing association?

Housing associations have access to huge amounts of data, not only about their tenants and occupiers but also about their properties, and external data sets that enrich their decision making. They want to be able to use this for both predictive and prescriptive analytics.
While closely related, there is a fine distinction between predictive and prescriptive analytics. Predictive analytics projects known values into the future to predict when a tenant might fall into arrears, or a boiler might stop working for example. That means remedial measures can be put in place to make the outcome easier to deal with. Prescriptive analytics, on the other hand, looks to change the outcome altogether. In the case of the boiler breaking down, an association using prescriptive analytics might recognise that the cause of the failure would be calcium build up in its pipes, so could choose to install a water softener in its building to deal with the calcium itself, on the basis that this is less expensive than servicing or replacing tenants’ boilers – and would cause less disruption to the tenants themselves.

But it’s not as simple as investing in technology, is it?
Technology alone will not take you from where you are to what you want to achieve with your advanced analytics. Technology is just one of many tools at managers’ disposal. Another one – a very important one – is leadership. You need to have the right leadership in your organisation to develop and support a data strategy that will deliver the analytics you need. You also need to upskill your workforce and change your business processes to leverage the insights you are delivering.
It all starts with a data maturity assessment, which involves working out where the gaps are in the business’s entire data ecosystem, based on 12 domains, covering policies, frameworks, governance, strategy, skills and so on. If you just focus on one part of the ecosystem, like technology or skills, you will never get to where you need to be.
Having completed the data maturity assessment, the business should have a series of action points with which it can reinvent its operation and how it handles data. Doing so will help it realise the full value of any work it does on the technical side.

Where do I start?
It is important to know what kind of questions you should be asking. Turn to your subject matter experts. Your revenue and finance teams, for example, will know what the big issues are, like who is late to pay – and will want to use data to better manage them.
These subject experts should provide 80% to 90% of the inspiration for the questions you ask your data. The remainder can come from data scientists who will mine the data for patterns and say, ‘Have we ever noticed this correlation? What does it mean?’
Any predictive or prescriptive analytics or machine learning requires a training data set to test the data against, if you want to make sure it is truly representative and not biased. You therefore also need to be transparent about the algorithms you are using, and should sense-check the results of your research with your subject matter experts, to make sure the story the data is telling is realistic.

What role does the regulator play?
Regulators want to improve customer service and tenants’ experiences, while also keeping a cap on cost to serve. There are pressures from regulators who want to drive work in certain areas around customer and asset management.
Regulators tend to regulate by receiving data. I have worked in a number of industries, like water and financial services, where regulators want to make sure they are receiving data they can trust and rely on, and which, importantly, has a lot of commonalities across the industry so that they don’t have to do a lot of wrangling themselves.

Is it realistic to expect organisations in the housing sector to get involved in advanced analytics?
Absolutely. I believe in multidimensional data strategies. A lot of organisations deliver a linear data strategy, because they believe they have got to get the fundamental foundations right before they go any further. They will spend a lot of time – and money – working on that.
While they shouldn’t skip this entirely, they should be looking to build off from this into using machine learning and artificial intelligence as soon as they can, so they can extract actionable insights from their data more quickly, and their investment can start paying back sooner.
In short, they need to be more ambitious.

The roundtable session with Exasol’s Peter Jackson and Red Olive’s Jefferson Lynch can be seen on the Red Olive YouTube channel.

About Peter Jackson
Peter is Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Exasol and a Director of Carruthers & Jackson founded in 2018 with his co-author Caroline Carruthers. He is the co-author of ‘The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook’ published by Facet November 2017, ‘Data-Driven Business Transformation’ published in March 2019 by Wiley and 2nd edition ‘The Chief Data Officers Playbook’ published 2020 – all of which have been bestsellers on Amazon.

Peter is an international speaker on Data, Artificial Intelligence, Innovation and business transformation and co-founded the Chief Data Officers’ Summer School which has an international alumni of 1000+.

Prior to Exasol, Peter was Group Director, Data Sciences at Legal and General and also held the position as CDO of LGIM (L&G Investment Management). Before that, Peter was Chief Data Officer at Southern Water after a period as Head of Data at The Pensions Regulator (TPR). Before joining TPR Peter spent 17 years providing data strategy consultancy across the not for profit sector, financial services and FMCG, working with large multi-national organisations and blue chip brands. He is a specialist in Data Strategy, Data Technologies, Master Data Management Strategies, Data Governance Frameworks, GDPR and Data Science.