S02E02: Jo & Phil – Dramatic Transformation

Data Files Podcast for Health Tech page

S02E02: Jo & Phil – Dramatic Transformation

As non-data leaders who now run very successful data capabilities, Jo and Phil provide invaluable insight into how to build and develop effective, game-changing data functions. They explain how data has fundamentally shifted the ability of some businesses to future-proof, achieve profitable growth, and protect brand trust in the age of misinformation.

This is a relevant and fascinating insight into career development, skills, story-telling, leadership and commercial success.

Use our highly-rated data resourcing services to build your data leadership capability and reach your business ambitions.

AI Transcription:

Ben Culora: This podcast is brought to you by Practicus. Practicus is a recruiting, consulting and advising business helping people navigate change. Thanks for listening and enjoy the podcast.

Barry Panayi: Hello and welcome to series two of the data files. My name is Barry and uh, my name’s Tony. And today we’re going take a different look and a different conversation around data. Having reflected on the last series where we had a bunch of data people coming in and telling us really important, useful, insightful things about data. To Tony and I, who both work in data, we thought we’d have a little bit of an outside in look at, uh, those who use data, uh, understand data, uh, but aren’t necessarily always data people through and through. So let’s stop talking to ourselves, Tony, and introduce our guests. First of all, I’d like to introduce Jo. Jo is the chief marketing and data officer at the independent digital news and media, as well as being the chairman of the association of Online Publishers. Now, if you pay attention to the order, Jo is in charge of the commercial data and marketing in her organization and had roles in that order over her career. That’s a little bit of a teaser. I won’t spoil as to why that’s important for later on, but thank you very much for joining us, Jo.

Jo Holdaway: Thank you. Hello, lovely to be here.

Tony Cassin-Scott: I’d like to add that Jo is not a pop star and has a surname of Holdaway.

Jo: Thanks Tony.

Barry : I was trying to be familiar. Sorry, I’ll notch up the formality. Uh, sorry Malod. That’s okay.

Tony: And I’d like to introduce our other guest, Phil Baty. Phil is an international authority on university performance and strategy. As chief global affairs officer, he leads on government partnerships and global affairs, uh, at Times higher education, having developed the Times higher Education, World University rankings and World Academic Summit. Prior to that, uh, he was deputy editor of the Times higher Education and the editorial director of global rankings. Is there anything I’ve left off, Phil?

Phil Baty: That’s all good, thanks.

Tony: So, first question, we have several here for you, but uh, one of the things we’d like to ask you in a slightly non aggressive way is why do you think you’re here today?

Phil: Well, that is a question I asked myself actually, because as you uh, mentioned in the intro there, that my career has mainly been in journalism. Most of my roles has been as news, uh, reporter, editors, uh, the editorial roles at Times higher education. I hope I’m here because times higher education is actually now primarily a data and analytics business. We transition from being a content business, a, ah, traditional weekly newspaper, into being a data business, and hopefully I can offer some insights into how the non data specialists work in a data environment and how we can actually get the best out of our data colleagues. Uh, so I’m hoping we can talk about that.

Jo: I think, um, I’m here to really extol the virtues of how to bring data into the exco and board community. So when I started in data, we weren’t a solely digital business. So the independent still had a print product, it wasn’t digital only, it wasn’t till 2016 when we became a digital only business. But we recognized the fact that having a data strategy at that time, primarily focusing on the commercial side, um, from an ad funded business, was really important. And we’d always worked in data, ah, and had an, ah, importance to data from the newsroom analytics capacity, but not from commercial. Um, so not having a data background, but having used data extensively in digital advertising, it was a natural fit.

Tony: And do you think that the move from paper to digital for the independent was the trigger that focused the minds on the board?

Jo: Absolutely right. Because it was a data centric business from that day onwards. Um, it was a profitable business from that day onwards, and a data centric business from that day onwards. And data is still at the heart of everything that we do. So it was good foresight actually three years before that time, to start developing a data strategy, which if we’d have remained a legacy business without the digital operation taking up so much of the revenue and profit generation, we would probably not have started our data strategy until just before.

Tony: So just following that through, if the independent had been a startup now rather than when it was first launched, what would you think the approach would be?

Jo: I think it would be a data first approach, because however you look at it in news publishing, digital news publishing data is at the heart of newsroom analytics and your traffic and your audience. It’s at the heart of commercial, ad funded revenue generation, or reader funded revenue generation. And that’s the two main facets of a digital news business. So data would have come first.

Barry : What’s been clear so early on in the podcast is you both lead huge areas, both with traditional data teams in perhaps Jo in your area, but also the business Phil, that you work in is packaging and productising data. What have you lent on to give you those leadership skills in those data, uh, areas, and being non traditionally trained data people, by your own admission, what do you think it is?

Phil: Yeah, I think it’s actually something that’s quite exciting in the sense that data isn’t much without the interpretation of that, and it’s not much without the communication of what the data is telling us. So, actually, my role as a writer, not to be too cliched as a storyteller, that’s my job, that’s my foundation. So, actually, my introduction to data just began. I was, uh, a deputy editor of the magazine. We decided to do these global rankings. It was a third party organization. We didn’t do any of the data. We were just the journalists publishing the data and writing the content. Um, but that rapidly transitioned to us taking more control. The rankings became a huge global phenomenon. The world was lucky. We wanted to make sure we were much more, um, accountable for that information. So we gradually brought things in house. So I then had a rapid learning process to say, right, how do we build this ranking in house? How do we actually manage that ourselves? And looking around the room, we’re all basically publishers, journalists, slightly struggling. So we use a lot of third party help. But I still think at the heart of my role, it’s not to worry that I’m absolutely immersed in the data. It’s just that I understand it well enough to tell the right stories. And I have a really good relationship with my data colleagues that they can help me understand it. And together we can tell stories, because the products we sell are obviously subscription, uh, based data dashboards and tools. But a lot of it is also consultancy. A lot of it’s actually advisory. So we take the unique data we have, and we turn it into insights, and we share that with university leaders, policymakers, uh, governments around the world. So it is about storytelling and communication. And I think there’s a really nice balance between people like myself and the chief content, uh, officer, John, and the data teams that we have, and we collaborate really well. And I think that does make for a great outcome.

Barry : Uh, building on that, if I may. A few years ago, probably more than a few years ago, actually, there was a trend of roles in my data sphere. Data storyteller or data journalist. These people weren’t journalists or necessarily trained in storytelling. They’ll maybe data people. And I wonder, is it easier to have those skills of storytelling built up over years and years and learn data than become a data person who can suddenly tell a story? Or is that just a stupid question? And you can learn both, because there are so many preconceptions over what a data person is and what a storyteller is. But the data profession, in my opinion, hasn’t done a great job at cultivating that storytelling skill. So I wonder if we should look at it the other way around. I don’t know if, uh, Jo or Phil, whoever wants to go first, if you’ve got a bit of an observation on that, and you can say if the question is stupid, because most of them are. That I think of.

Phil: If I could jump in, Jo. Just a quick anecdote really, actually, because it emphasizes for me the idea it’s a genuine two way partnership. One of the first things, uh, when we finally did bring in a chief data officer, Duncan Ross, um, which was about 2015. So it’s quite a young function. One of the first things he did was berate us journalists for bad visualization of data. He pretty much banned the pie chart, and you suddenly look back and we’re using like 3D pie charts to demonstrate data and he’s saying that’s ridiculous. So he did bring some data savvy data now to the journalism, but it’s absolutely two way. We actually collaborate really closely. They’ve got the data, we work together to understand what it’s really telling us. The journalists have all the policy expertise to understand. Well, why is that? Um, it tends to be sort of geopolitical stuff. So what’s going on in China versus Us versus UK in terms of research output, research quality, research influence dissemination? It’s a collaboration. The journalists will have all that nous around. What are the policy changes that have been happening in China? What’s the investment picture looking like in terms of higher ed policy? Student mobility, for example, and they’ll have the hard numbers and it’s absolutely two way street, and we work really closely together. And then the more we were building data as a product, the more we obviously felt it’s absolutely right. We integrated into our journalism. So we like to think that all the journalists have enough basic data savvy, or at least access to some great data. Advice to make sure that our content is bang on. In terms of data. Journalists have notoriously been pretty poor at using, um, data, even at the most basic level around in the pandemic. What does exponential mean and what does it really amount to? So I think the partnership is really fantastic in our place.

Tony: So that symbiotic relationship you described, you said to a lot of the journalists learning about data and what it means, does it go the other way? Do the data people take an interest in how they can present data to you that you can do something more with?

Phil: Yeah, and I think that what’s quite nice actually, is that we often take our, uh, data onto a stage. We run lots of international conferences, we’re often invited to international conferences to share the insights. And what we often do is have a journalist and a data person in a double act in a tag team. So we’re often building the decks together, building presentations together, and it is really a two way street. So we hope we can support the data team with communication. I think as Jo probably will go on to, when it comes to the actual boardrooms and leadership elements, that sense of helping the data people be more clear in their communication is vital in terms of good business decisions.

Jo: Yeah, I mean, it’s an aptitude. I think you can certainly learn the storytelling, um, skills as a data professional, but some people will be better at it than others. And that is then down to your recruitment process to make sure that when you’re recruiting data experts into your team, that as well as curiosity, which is a fundamental, that ability to communicate to stakeholders and understand how to communicate to different people is vital. Um, so that is a learned skill, but some people are much better at it. And the same with the journalist side. When we moved from, um, print and digital to solely digital, it was interesting to see how the number of journalists who left then compared to the number of journalists who stayed. And it wasn’t an age thing, it wasn’t a digital native thing. Some people had, or some journalists had the aptitude to understand that data was then going to to drive the newsroom in the future, or at least inform the newsroom to a great extent, and some simply weren’t interested. So you’ve got a natural filtering of those who are more, uh, sort of geared to data and data journalism than those who weren’t. And now what you find in a digital newsroom is there are places to then specialize in data. So you just join the audience team. You’re a journalist by trade and you join the audience team because you have that fundamental understanding of data. Um, so there’s a place for both, but I would say it’s probably easier to be a journalist and then pick up the data side of it than be a data professional and then pick up the storytelling, because I think it’s a natural skill.

Barry : What do you think the qualities or experiences that you have gained in your career that put you in a position to feel confident and be given the data bit as part of your remit as well?

Jo: Um, my background when I started was in print media sales. And so all that training in sales, influencing skills, understanding what, um, the person you’re talking to, what their objectives are, what they need to achieve, what makes them tick, the sort of the psychology of it that’s all really transferable. Um, and I remember I wanted to move or to widen my experience, broaden my experience. And at the time print journalism was fantastic. Print media sales was a brilliant career to have in your twenty s and early 30s, but quite one dimensional and it was only the avent of digital and digital sales. I uh, thought actually this could be really interesting, I want to broaden my experience. So I did an MBA and doing that MBA made me understand that I don’t need the answers to everything, I just need to understand the strategic objectives of the company. I can find those answers out or I can formulate a strategy to help achieve these business objectives if I get the right people in the team. Um, I’m not a data expert, but I have fantastic team of people who work for me, who are data experts. So I think the confidence I got from not having to know all the answers, but understanding where we need to be as a business and translating those objectives to data solutions and how we can get the business objectives met gave me the confidence to do it. But I would say that I’ve got a fantastic, um, data analytics director who it was a very careful, considered choice who to put in that role. So I’ve got somebody who is uh, a very safe pair of hands, loves the autonomy of doing the data specialist work and we’ve got a really good relationship where I must frustrate the heck out of him quite a lot because I’m like, what does ETL mean again, back in the early days, could you explain this to me? And I have no shame in saying I don’t get it. And it’s the same in terms of programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising now, which is um, driving the majority of ad funded revenues for a lot of news publishers. If you can’t explain to me what you mean in a way that I can understand it, you’re not going to get anywhere because we’re not going to contract with you, we won’t partner with you. Um, and actually do you actually understand what you’re talking about? Because I don’t think you do because I’m challenging you on that and you can’t explain it to me. I don’t mind doing that at all. And in fact, one of the things I say most in meetings is I don’t understand it. Can you explain it again? Because I think there’s ah, an inherent fear, particularly with the data professional sector, uh, that you’re supposed to know everything about everything and you won’t. So I think that confidence and that ability to translate and understand business objectives and general business strategy helps.

Barry : Thank you very much.

Tony: One thing I’d like to understand, if you go back years and years ago, the IT department used to report into the finance department, the CFO, if you remember that far back, I’m sure you’re too young to. But I do. Uh, and then the kind of the digital function came along and that was linked with marketing and then now that you’ve got the data, so. And some will argue they’re like recycled digital people or recycled it people. And some will say actually they’re net new from in your organizations. Organizations, you come across the perception of the data function and the IT function. Are they seen as kind of the same people and treated with the same level of respect or are they seen as different value adds?

Jo: I mean, we’re seen as very different because we have to focus primarily on the newsroom and then we focus on commercial revenue generation. Um, and we support those two groups fundamentally, very closely. So we’ll have dedicated analysts working with the newsroom. We’ll have dedicated commercial data colleagues who, ah, are virtually integrated into the commercial teams. And whereas the it function is seen more of a general function, I think, in the organisation, very much linked to product with us at the independent. Now, having said that, we’ve got an excellent CTO, who I won’t name, Chris Corduroy. He’s brilliant, actually, because he really gets it and we probably work more closely together with it than we ever have before. Um, and the product and the development teams, very, very closely because it’s vital. You can’t have one without the other. For us, particularly in the subscriptions market. Um, so I think they’re very distinct but very collaborative, and that’s important. Whether or not he wants to take over the data team, I don’t know and I’m not going to ask him.

Barry : We’ve spent, I think, a long time, even prior to the last series of the data files, looking over our shoulders a bit. It was always, it versus data was a narrative that I started, but it’s true. Well, we’re maybe a little bit old. What’s the tech and data Venn diagram, as you would see it? 3d ven diagram.

Phil: I mean, I, uh, could be slightly facetious and say the CTO and the CDO have conversations in senior management team meetings that go over my head. So there’s a sense that they’re in a special category of their own, but they’re very close. I think what’s interesting about times higher education is that as I mentioned earlier, the data function is quite new in the sense that we were traditional print media publishing. We brought in data very much as a product. So it was data to be building, managing data and higher education on universities, selling that as a product. But I think what’s happened is as we brought more and more brilliant data, people in who were outward looking as our product, we’ve understood their ability to influence the rest of the business. So that functionality has grown with a commercially driven, initially in, um, terms of product, but we’re seeing them influencing more and more that broader business conversation, which means that Duncan, the CDO works very closely and collaboratively with, um, the CTO. More and more, we’re looking at, um, just ever closer integration, to be honest. So it’s been a slower process, but separate, but more and more integrated. More and more talking to each other, but that’s across data is actually permeating all aspects of the business now more and more rapidly as we got brilliant talent, that we understand and see where they can add value beyond the actual product suite.

Tony: It sounds to me, listening to the both of you, that certainly very different from what it was, say, 10-15 years ago. Data is seen as an intrinsic value add, strategic component of what you do, rather than something which is just used to, uh, operationally run the business. Is that a fair comment?

Jo: I think that’s absolutely right, and it’s as it should be. Um, and the recognition of the importance of data informing, not necessarily driving business decisions, which I don’t think you can have a newsroom and say everything you do will be data driven, but data informed, um, is certainly true. And the data fluency that we have seen within the independent, both from at board level, but also permeating down through the ExCo and the rest of the business, has been really positive in terms of optimizing business performance. Um, so yeah, I think that’s right.

Phil: For us, obviously, the most profound transformation of the business has been that has been transitioning from content media into data and insight. So that’s been a profound change. And that is actually our, ah, very resonuous data. And that has been, you imagine, where private equity owned the idea that we were a very prestigious content brand, editorial brand, and now we’re a global data business that’s been absolutely transformational. And I think that everybody understands how important that’s been to the entire business. And now it’s a question of all the non data people actually being, um, much more open and much more, um, susceptible to understanding where data can also help us with product innovation. Product development, as well as obviously the core functions around understanding our market better. It’s a lovely symbiosis that our job is to sort of tell the higher education world what’s happening, what the dynamics are in terms of change and student mobility patterns, and all the things we worry about in terms of international research, collaboration and sustainability and social impact. So our job is to tell the sector what’s going on. But that is such phenomenally important information for us as business intelligence. It’s a wonderful, um, collaborative experience where the product and the businessel are completely integrated.

Tony: So that is interesting in that, ah, data is a thing now. Uh, it’s an important thing in the organization. Thing is probably a bad word to use, but what I’m thinking is the maturity or the capability, maturity levels of the individuals. I can see that needing to increase over time, rather than a data person, non data person, that you are just a m person who has this range of skills. Is that something you’re seeing happening or. We are a long way from that.

Jo: We’re seeing that happening within the business. There’s a lot of self serve in our business, so there’s still a lot of bi, um, dashboard production and then socialization of that, and adoption of that across the newsroom and other parts of the business. But where I’m seeing on the maturity curve is that when I took over or started the data function, we had a legacy tech stack that was suboptimal. And so I’ve been in the role for ten years. It’s taken us this long to optimize that tech stack and then start thinking, okay, let’s not do data properly, but let’s build our own IP, let’s get our data warehouse sorted, let’s use Google cloud platform. I wasn’t going to mention Google and I’ve gone and done it. But to do our own, uh, bring the raw data in and let’s do our own data processing. Let’s build out a few models, let’s get a data engineering team in and architect our own data. So we’re not reliant on outsourced third party partners, and that’s been transformational for us. So we can now look at a 360 degree view of all articles and a 360 degree view of every single reader, which we wouldn’t have been able to do before. So now we’re bringing in more data specialists in order to do that and not reliant on third party partners. And I think for us, that’s a real step forward and a fundamental change. Now we’ve been able to do that under the radar a little bit because it’s setting a foundation for long term growth and prosperity of the business. Having a look at what’s trending in the industry and a lot of the legislative, um, and big partner changes that are coming just this year. So if we’re looking at the maturity curve, I think we’re probably about halfway along. Um, and we were able to do that because we could rely on the third parties, but now we’re taking a big step forward.

Phil: I think there’s a kind of sort of fundamental issue, isn’t there, that I’m a humanities graduate and I think I suffered from that sort of almost a celebration of the divisions between the arts and humanities and stem and science subjects and people almost celebrated there innumeracy. And I was part of that generation. And I think it stubbornly persists in the UK to a large extent through the educational system, through how quickly you specialize in a levels. But I think in terms of just broader skills for the future, I don’t think you can be a great journalist today. Looking at my profession without a level of, uh, data literacy, without a level of numeracy, without maybe a little bit of coding knowledge, and certainly being extremely comfortable around spreadsheets, certainly in my field, but I think in any field now. So those kind of core jobs that used to be, I’m celebrating my enumeracy, I’m an arts guy and I don’t get all that stuff. It’s just, you can’t be that anymore. And I think the education system needs to catch up. But I certainly think future skills, people need a bit of everything. You simply can’t function. And I think it works two ways, right? What we want is data people who are great communicators and have all those soft skills of leadership and persuasion and all these critical thinking. But it’s two ways. I think we all need to be much more broader, balanced in terms of, uh, our knowledge. I say us, uh, I’m kind of talking about the next generation because I feel like I’m past it. But we have to rethink the way we educate people for a future that’s much more driven by AI, much more data driven all walks of life.

Tony: Well, we’ve already seen that, haven’t we? In the late 90s, early naughties, uh, I remember, uh, newspapers used to have a library function, uh, dedicated, uh, server and terminal to look up information. And then the Internet came along and Netscape and Yahoo and now Google, and everyone’s an information specialist, all of a sudden. But they don’t see it in that way. They don’t see it as a job when it was a job before. I’m just wondering, listening to what you’re both saying, is you can see like a natural progression where people become, uh, not data specialists, but data savvy enough to know what to look for, even basically.

Phil: Sorry, I keep bringing it back to my profession, or my original profession of journalism, and it is showing my age a bit. I did start off in the pre Internet era and early in my career, we’d be getting faxes and mail, then we’d be queuing up at the single terminal to use this exciting thing called the Internet. And that was in the higher education space, which was pioneering and first movers, now young aspiring journalists, they need social media presence. They need, presumably, some knowledge of, um, social media reach, and they need the analytics data just to manage their own personal brand and write their blogs and make sure there’s enough algorithmic, um, affinity to be noticed. Building a career as a young professional in a profession that you would assume is very much just about writing and communication. Even then, it’s got your core basics around data and analytics.

Barry : Really interesting. A lot about being well rounded and skills and capability. We talked earlier about the storytelling bit, um, for data people, and the data bit for the storytelling people. And, uh, at risk of doing what I always do in these things, drag us down with some quite boring topics. Um, I’m going to do that right now. So, within the data professionals who would classify in your data teams, are you seeing a change in the skills that you’re demanding from them over time? Are there any gaps? I’ll give my boring example. So AI is cool, isn’t it? And we’re doing all these, uh, cool things. And I’m sure we could have a million podcasts about Gen AI and the other 99% of AI. Um, what about governance and data management and metadata and all the words like that that are super unfashionable? Um, unless you work for a bank where you go to prison if you get them wrong. Uh, do you find that people are concentrating on the exploitation of data, but not really making the link to, well, it needs to be right in the first place. The metadata, dates, times, numbers, protection sharing? Or am I just, um, scaremongering? I worry that as more people become data savvy enough to know what’s possible, the boring bit in inverted commas can trip people up, because, of course, AI, the rubbish in, rubbish out, is on steroids. Uh, when you get onto the AI.

Phil: Stuff, you’ve probably got that big hype cycle where all the people who are not data specialists and, um, haven’t really been that aware of AI other than the science fiction stuff. And when do robots take over suddenly chat. Gcp at least has really concentrated people’s minds on, oh my gosh, what does it mean for our business? So there is a risk, I guess, of rushing. Gosh, we must do something here. We can’t not be seen to be doing something here from an investment perspective or from an existential perspective about barriers to entry in terms of what you do. So there’s a possible positive element that it’s focusing minds and concentrating. But I guess I agree that there’s also a risk that non data specialists dive in headfirst. But I think it goes back to that issue around collaboration and communication. We need to make sure that data people have a really loud and open and clear voice in those senior leadership teams so that you don’t have a non data specialist diving headfirst into ventures and areas that could cause huge risk. And maybe the potential problems, pitfalls, um, aren’t properly articulated and flagged. And I do think that sense of making sure the data has a really clear voice in a, uh, senior leadership team. Because without trying to, um, be too obsequious, you guys come up with some absolutely phenomenal insights that other people will miss and won’t have any insight on. How do we make sure those insights are actually communicated really effectively? How do we make sure that voices are heard and that business is making properly data informed decisions, rather than just flittering around with the latest fashion or trend?

Barry : Jo what if you’ve got a point of view on the data management versus exploitation balance, and if it’s about right.

Jo: Or not, does that mean we can talk about GDPR now? Uh, you must m. I remember short anecdote Zach Leonard, chief exec at the time, who I worked for for around 15 years, said to me, just before GDPR came in, twelve months before Jo if you could just bring the companies to compliance in your spare time, that would be fantastic. Let me know, though, if it takes over your day job. As he walked off with his smile, um, so I did, and I thought, this is going to be the most boring thing ever. And actually, I love the data governance side. So that still sits in my team because we’re still a relatively small company, so under 500 employees, but because we are a consumer facing company, GDPR has meant a, that we have to be very careful in the use of reader data. So obviously we comply with GDPR, but what it has, um, made us do as a commercial organization is to ensure that we are very responsible with the use of data. And data governance is now, um, I would say that because I’m running the team, but it is part of every decision that we make from a commercial partner side to, um, who we will deal with, who we will not, what data we collect, what data we use for targeting advertising, because it’s advertising, which is a real, um, sort of emotional touch point for people. So we have to be really careful. And I think it’s benefited the business in a whole series of ways. And I think it’s given publishers some control back in the market. The ad tech market is huge, it’s unwieldy, and a lot of these companies are doing things that perhaps they shouldn’t, or they’ve made an awful lot of money, um, processing data that perhaps they shouldn’t, and they haven’t been doing it as transparently as they should have been potentially, um, that is now changing and I think it’s a force for good for the consumer and the reader. Um, so data governance is hugely important for us and is at the forefront of everything we do. Um, so it’s not a boring subject, it’s something I’m very passionate about and I really enjoy the data governance side of it. And then on the other side with the AI, um, generative AI and the explosion of that, there’s a lot of miss and disinformation around. And as a news publisher, a trusted news publisher, it is so important, particularly in the UK, which is a very news avoidance country, so we’re getting more and more people who don’t want to read the news because it’s depressing. They’d rather do something else, they’d rather watch their cats on TikTok, and I get that. But unless your brand identity is out there and people understand that you are a trusted news source, which we assume everybody does, we assume everyone knows who the independent is. But the younger generations may not know because you’re not one of six newspapers they go and see in a news agent and pick up. So it’s really important and vital that we are on those social media platforms and we are recognized to those other generations as a trusted news source, because AI does pose a material threat in terms of what’s trusted information and what isn’t, what’s original, premium quality news journalism and what isn’t.

Tony: That’s an interesting segue into another thought I was having in that I’ve always thought trusted decisions are based on trusted data. Very simple link. With all the choices out there on social media and media generally, and as you said, uh, generationally, it’s kind of blurred into brand or no brand, basically. What is the current risks that we face and how can they be addressed?

Jo: I think there are a whole plethora of risks that we face, actually. Um, and I think it’s our responsibility as a global news organization to make sure that we reach out to as many readers in as many platforms and however people want to consume their news and information as we can. Um, and people are out there building companies that thrive, uh, particularly within the m disinformation areas, and checking information that is published. Is it factually true? Is it not made for advertising sites? They are doing incredibly well and making an awful lot of money that shouldn’t really be allowed to happen. And I’m going off topic a little bit because I’m starting a personal rant. I can hear myself doing it, but I think there are so many problems that it’s going to be very difficult to address each one of them.

Barry : But tying that back to the governance and data management points, is it too tenuous a link to suggest that investing in those foundations directly contributes to a higher trust all round? There’s less mistakes, there’s less all sorts of errors and not just breaches and security ambiguity. Yeah, that’s what data governance is, isn’t it? And management of data. And I just wonder if we’re, as an industry, the data industry, missing a trick on making governance and management exciting, because it’s not just that you can’t do Gen AI properly without it, it’s actually to do with how the consumers perceive you and whether you’re a, uh, retail company, consumer facing company like the one I’m working in at the moment, and the measurements of a piece of furniture are out by half a centimeter and it doesn’t fit when it gets delivered. That’s a data management metadata type problem. I’m wondering how that applies in your industries, uh, in the publishing industries, because there’s facts, of course. But am I oversimplifying it by suggesting that all data governance and management is, is facts. Getting the facts right, are there other elements underneath?

Phil: I almost feel from my perspective, it’s actually because of the seriousness of the threat of misinformation. The World Economic Forum have just recently said it’s the number one perceived risk for the short term is fake news and deep fakes and misinformation. We’ve got I think it’s the biggest year for democracy in the history of democracy. Right. We’ve got some fairly big elections coming up in 2024, so the risks are massive. And I almost feel that actually, and um, this is completely going in the opposite direction to you, but it’s bringing some humanity back into it, because if there’s a risk of where are you getting your information from? Who’s providing the information? Um, what is real news, fake news, how do you then restore trust? And I almost think a lot of that comes back to brand, but it also comes back to people. And actually one of the things that we’re looking at in our place is some newspapers have had a much more anonymous approach to. It’s the voice of the economist or something. No bylines, but actually I think the people, the bylines, the individuals, the profile of them as genuine experts and trustworthy experts becomes more important. That doesn’t answer the question that then you have deep fakes that actually then abuse, uh, those authority figures. So I haven’t answered your question, but I was just trying to keep hold of that sense of risk, trust and authority. Certainly in the media side of things, I think so much comes back to that same theme of genuine two way collaboration. Right. Because I think there is potentially a tendency. How much have we heard trust the science in the last few years with the pandemic? Even this week we’ve seen the, um, headline on the BBC was around the post office scandal that the investigator said, well, I’m not a technology person, of course, I had to just blindly accept the technology. And maybe there’s this tendency on the non data side to, you know, the tech must work, the tech must be right. The computer says yes, and let’s just trust it. And that education piece that the data specialists have to help people understand the rubbish in, rubbish out theory, that the risks of just blindly accepting the data without all that governance, without the extremely cautious approach to quality assurance. One of the things at times higher education that actually we’ve completely forgotten about what we haven’t, but we’ve neglected to really promote it is one of our jobs is um, the unique collection of data. Seven 8000 universities around the world give us loads of information and a lot of it’s relatively basic. Faculty numbers, student numbers, income, uh, figures broken down by subject. And the bit we’ve taken for granted is the actual quality assurance process and the data governance. To make sure that we’re using common definitions that, uh, the full time equivalent in one country is similar to the full time equivalent in another, and can I count, uh, the professor who’s also a doctor and doing, he’s a 0.3 full time faculty member. We have, uh, started to really celebrate that because the actual management and quality assurance and cleaning of that data is profoundly important to our trust and authority in the marketplace. We kind of took that bit for granted. Oh, yeah, universities give us loads of data, we turn it into insights and that’s the product is the insight. But we’ve gone back to the thing. The actual basics of collecting and managing and cleaning and quality assurance of data is fundamental to that trust that, uh.

Barry : Assurance that you give is the assurance to the people that consume your products. Fantastic link there between data management and ultimately probably what you can charge for your products and what the premium is for those. You mentioned about the maturity of the boardroom, uh, and the exec, uh, if we zone in on data notwithstanding your current organizations, just generally, um, what do you think that maturity is like? And, um, we maybe talk separately about the exec committee and the board, if you have that sort of construct. And where do you think it should be versus where it is now in terms of maturity, in what data is, its use, uh, its protection and all that sorts of things.

Jo: I think there are pockets of absolute excellence across the publishing industry for data maturity and that would be in the commercial side, whether it’s reader revenues or ad funded. Just because those two revenue, um, functions are driven by data, there’s no getting around that. The newsroom, I would say, would be mixed. And it can often depend on whether you still have a printed product and a digital product printed only. I don’t know if that even exists these days. Or digital. Or digital only. Because I think at the moment the legacy printed product is still generating a lot of revenue. It’s in decline, of course, and, um, digital revenues are overtaking legacy print revenues, but they’re still there and they’re still material. And until that, um, swings more prominently to the digital data side, I don’t think you’ll get a real big growth in maturity on the newsroom and the editorial side is my personal point of view.

Phil: I think we’re unique in the sense that because data transformed our business, we all do have a really strong sense of thank you, data. You’ve taken a relatively struggling print publication into an entirely new realm of growth and success. So we’re all in awe of what the data team have done. And I think that respect and understanding of what it’s done for the business, what it could now do for business intelligence and business intelligence and business development. So I think we’re unusual. But you do hear lots of anecdotes, don’t you, where the data people bring fantastic insights and ideas to the table and they get ignored. People don’t quite understand them, or they switch off because you’re not communicating it in quite as clear a way as could be done. Um, and opportunities are being missed. And that’s clearly happening, I think not at THG, because we feel like we have this awesome respect for the data team. But it’s clearly an issue, isn’t it?

Barry : Going off on a bit of a tangent, we see there’s a lot of chiefs knocking around now as chief data officer, being one of the newest kids on the block. We’ve discussed this before, but there seems to be an upstairs downstairs system with these new roles, and there’s some quite clear career paths to CEO or MD or whatever runs the particular organization. If you’re the CFO, no one’s going to blink if a CFO becomes an ex CEO. Similarly COO, increasingly chief marketing or chief customer officers, sometimes your chief technology officer, depending on the thing we’ve not had yet outside of data businesses, someone from a data background going there, is that too much of a stretch, do you think? Or is it a matter of time? Asking for a friend?

Jo: It m must be a matter of time. The CDO position hasn’t been that around for that long. Uh, if you’re looking at the maturity curve of a data officer, that’s not been around that long, I think, at sea level. So I think it’s a matter of time. Of course, I think CDOs can become CEOs, but it all depends on the balance of skills that you have at that position. I don’t think it matters where your specialism is. It’s how you develop into a sea level exec and the other skills and, uh, soft and hard skills that you develop along the way. So I don’t think it matters where.

Phil: You start being very provocative. And clearly, there’s a huge exception for all of the guests of this podcast series. One, and you two in particular, is that there is a tendency among. I’m using horrendous generalizations, but a lot of data specialists aren’t the most gregarious people. Um, there’s a tip. Personality types that mean they’re not necessarily great communicators. They’re not ideally the most sociable people, are not ideally the most, um, communicative and gregarious. Now, that’s a terrible stereotype. But look, my colleagues would often say that about themselves. And if you’re a, ah, brilliant, brilliant data person, it might well be that you don’t have quite the range of skills that leadership requires. And increasingly, leadership is about communication, it is about inspiring people, it is about persuasion. Um, I think it’s a case of just making sure that we have as much opportunity to open those pathways and that skill development.

Tony: Following your argument, it’s an innate barrier, then it will never happen.

Barry : Or is it?

Jo: You could say that about people coming through the financial route. You could say that about people coming through the IT technology routes. If you’re going to be that general, then people in finance aren’t necessarily the most gregarious, communicative people either. And nor are people within technology, and they seem to make it to CEOs.

Barry : Is it the case that the development that either our colleagues that work in data choose, uh, to put themselves through or their bosses choose to put them on, focuses solely on those technical skills? And Jo you mentioned your MBA earlier, I believe, and how that gave you that broadening, uh, and confidence as well. I don’t know how many of my data peers have gone and done an MBA. I do know loads of my marketing peers that have, and I do know CTo friends that have gone away and done an MBA. Do we need a bit of a broader development pathway for data people? Are they just too valuable in their data box doing datay things? Uh, I don’t know. Or maybe as you say, it’s just a maturity point. It just hasn’t been around long enough for the profession to broaden out. Uh, people haven’t topped out yet at the CDO. I don’t know what it is. I’m just kind of riffing here, but I do wonder if there is a tendency for data people to just, uh, learn the next language, learn the new technique, learn this, learn that, uh, instead of stepping back and broadening yet other commercial functions tend to do that. I mean, I think Mark Ritzen, the marketing guy, runs a mini MBA for marketing people. Mini marketing, MBA, uh, and it’s kind of part of the lexicon of a modern marketer, if you’ve got something like that, but there isn’t for data, I’ll shut up now. I’ve gone on for age.

Jo: I think there should be, I think there definitely should be.

Barry : There’s a business there. Uh, should we do it? Should we start one?

Jo: I think we should. And I think looking at my team, we’ve got such immensely talented young people coming through data from all disciplines, actually, uh, from their university careers or not university careers. So that diversity is really important that I can certainly identify within a team of 35, ten young individuals who I think would progress brilliantly to a, uh, wider and more varied career moving forwards, and who would definitely be looking at that ambition.

Tony: Ultimately coming back to what Phil was saying, is this a self imposed barrier and, or is it the prejudice of others that are stopping those people progressing?

Jo: Well, I’m just going to go back to the maturity argument. You are obviously within any real specialism, going to get people who are, uh, innately comfortable remaining in that specialism. And you do see quite a few of the lone wolves say, this is what I do, data architecture or data modeling, or data science, and I love it so much I’m going to keep doing it. But you’ll also get those that have a wider view and want to progress and are ambitious and maybe feel that the sector they work in is a sector that they want to specialize in more broadly. So I think it’s probably a little bit dangerous to say this is the sort of person you are, uh, or you’re so valuable, people are going to stop you progressing.

Phil: It’s probably a generational thing as well, that the sense that some of the greatest innovations, some of the most exciting companies that have emerged in recent times are data companies. So there’d be data specialists who then accidentally as founders, become CEOs of their own amazing businesses. So you’ll have a whole generation of data driven CEOs at a younger generation. There’ll be many more role models for, um, data specialists to become captains of industry and, uh, CEOs. So a lot of it’s about visibility, it’s about case studies, it’s about opening up the vision to earlier career, uh, individuals to see that as a goal. There’s no way that data isn’t going to be driving the vast. I can’t imagine many industries, well, any industries where data is not at, ah, the absolute forefront of decision making. So that’s inevitably going to be more and more, as you say, the maturity curve. So it’s going to happen. It’s just a question of can we provide frameworks and case studies and training to accelerate that and to make sure there’s not brilliant data people whose voices aren’t heard as well as they should be in that.

Tony: So if we were having this debate in five years time, what would be the subject that, uh, we really have the same conversation, would we say, oh, actually no, there are plenty of examples of people who’ve done that.

Jo: I think we’d be saying can we not keep promoting CDOs to CEOs? Give the marketing people a chance. That’s what we’ll be debating.

Tony: Reverse.

Jo: Reverse the conversation.

Barry : Yeah, if that’s true, I won’t be here. I’ll be.

Jo: CEO. Who’s knocking on the door going, what about me?

Barry : Uh, what a wonderful way to almost end the podcast, because there is, uh, a tradition, it’s two series old now, where, uh, we’d like to finish on a particular question, if that’s okay. So, Phil, I’ll start with you. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve never taken?

Phil: So I’m glad you asked, because I knew this might be coming because of the history of the podcast. So I’ve given it a bit of thought, and just going back to fundamentals, the bit of advice was, don’t go in there. I was 18 years old. I was doing a, um, charity university, uh, charity, uh, trip. We walked through the razor wire, we went in there, and the transformational effect on me in terms of wanting to be a journalist, wanting to be a communicator, um, and also in higher education, because it was actually a university based trip. So we were spending time, uh, in the higher education world, understanding the role of higher education and hopefully, um, breaking down barriers, improving intercultural understanding, um, making the world a better place. It gave me the bug for journalism, and it gave me the opportunity to write, and it gave me the love of higher ed. And I’ve spent my entire career as a journalist. But in higher education, I had a brief foray into the world of print when I got my first ever job. But I’ve been in writing about higher education since the early 90s. So making that bold, scary, slightly stupid decision was transformational for me in terms of what I’m doing now. So, yeah, wonderful.

Barry : Thank you.

Jo: A little bit less exciting than Phil’s. Um, when I started my sales career, I was given a piece of advice that it was Jo basically, that logic does not win the argument all the time. So logic is not always the answer, which, when I started my sales career, I completely took on board. Because you’ve got your influencing skills, there’s a whole plethora of other motivations to get that sale or not. But then when I moved into data, I thought, of course, logic always wins. If you give a logical presentation and you want a decision out, uh, of it, your decision that you want will always come, obviously, because it’s about the data. Well, it isn’t about the data, and it’s not about logic. Um, and I’m learning that all over again.

Barry : Thanks very much.

Jo: Thank you.

Phil: Thank you.

Tony: It was good to hear from Phil and Jo. Uh, I know they both come from similar backgrounds, but there’s still diversity in what they were talking about.

Barry : Absolutely. Uh, both of their paths to power have been completely different. And what I think was interesting, heartening and exciting was they both talked about the importance of communications, but specifically telling stories with those data and getting the insights. Now, of course, Phil, as an ex journalist, this is bread and butter, but Jo as a commercial leader, also recognized that. I know they’re both in the media industry, but I think there is something for anyone in every industry there, the importance of the storytelling on both sides, how to use data for storytelling, and how those that work in data can improve their skills.

Tony: Their journey there was fascinating as they went from paper to digital, and in fact, the use of data. So data is their business. They are data driven companies, and the opportunities they’ve had to transform their businesses has been dramatic. They’re now online worldwide reach, which they could never have had in the same level of impact on paper.

Barry : That’s absolutely right. Uh, and the forward lookingness of the whole thing I found quite refreshing. I mean, what education system do we need to support professionals of the future in this space? What is the future of that work going to look like? Whether it be journalism, sales, advertising? Really, really interesting perspective, and I know.

Tony: That AI is a hot topic at the moment. We did touch on it, but I thought their take and it was really interesting, it’s all about trust. Can they be trusted brands? And they put in place the hard work. They’ve got governance in place, they’ve got data management in place. They understand that. Rubbish in, rubbish out, or in their case, good quality in, good quality out. Good for them.

Barry : Yeah. Thoroughly enjoyed it.