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Top 100 Data Innovator 2022: Telstra Chief Data and AI Officer Noel Jarrett

Being the first Chief Data and AI Officer for Australia’s biggest telecommunications company has positioned Noel Jarrett to drive exciting change for the country’s communications and digital future 

What would you say have been your greatest professional achievements of the past 12-24 months, and why? 

I’m proud to have been appointed as Telstra’s inaugural Chief Data and AI Officer, having been recognized for my skillset and track record of accelerating operational transformation in highly complex technology environments typically experienced with pioneering challenges, such as those posed by data and analytics, AI and machine learning. 

Some of the major achievement highlights I would list within this role so far include:  

  • Building the data and AI foundational capabilities and embedding a ‘think data first’ culture that facilitates the business to derive value from its data assets, while at its core keeping our customers as the primary focus. 
  • Establishing the data and AI center of excellence, which has provided Telstra with ready access to its vast data assets, improving confidence in the quality and reliability of our data, along with its role in driving enhanced business insights and decision making. 

  • Broad senior stakeholder recognition and buy-in of the criticality of data and AI to Telstra’s T25 strategy
  • Creating the roadmap to deliver the T25 Data and AI strategy. 

How has the data and analytics maturity in your organization evolved in 2021? What new challenges is this giving rise to? And how are you working to overcome them? 

Data and analytics and AI maturity in Telstra has evolved, from its strong focus on establishing robust enterprise-wide data governance and management foundations to extending these strategy and policy learnings to the development of AI models. This has facilitated new opportunities to realize value from our data assets by making improved data-driven decisions that enhance customer experiences. 

With AI moving to scale and heightened awareness internally along with a greater interest in the community generally, it is a challenge to manage the expectations of all stakeholders.  While some of our stakeholders require a more iterative, evolutionary process, others are driving more revolutionary outcomes and timeframes. 

To help address these challenges, we have: 

  • Worked with the federal government to develop the national AI ethics framework, which is embodied in the Telstra policy 
  • Developed key partnerships with external organizations and worked with industry bodies to share our learnings 
  • Raised the awareness of how AI, when used effectively, uplifts the capability of the organization to reach its goals more effectively and efficiently 

In your experience, what does it take to be a successful data or analytics leader? And what characteristics or skills should aspiring data leaders focus on cultivating? 

I have worked with successful data and AI leaders with diverse qualifications, experience, knowledge and skillsets.  

Truly successful data and analytics leaders all have an unwavering passion for digital technology and extracting the power and value of data and analytics to improve outcomes for their customers, staff, business and the community. This passion was certainly evident due to the enthusiasm that our people demonstrate by volunteering to support non-profit organizations by sharing their expertise to help them solve business problems. 

Success in data and analytics also needs personal skills and qualities, such as active listening, intellectual agility, persistence, determination and advanced negotiation ability to influence stakeholders to stay the course in ensuring that data and AI foundations are robust, and to also enlist the commitment of these stakeholders to stay the course and join the data and AI journey. 

Successful CDAOs also understand how important it is to develop and retain this critical talent pool of data and AI professionals. 

What will your priorities be in 2022? And what are the key things you hope to achieve in the coming 12 months? 

We plan to design and build the next phase of Telstra’s data and AI blueprint to deliver its T25 strategy. Additionally, we expect to realize the benefits of applying AI to Telstra’s rich data assets to derive value and opportunities for our customers, processes and business operations.  

We will also continue to monitor and influence global innovation, regulation and trends in responsible AI, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), data sovereignty and consumer data rights (CDR) for both their direct impact on Telstra and partner countries’ law and practices when hosting and accessing data. 

How would you say the role of the CDAO is evolving in 2022? And what role should data-focused executives play in modern organizations? 

The profile of the CDAO has certainly been elevated within most organizations, with the CDAO now increasingly acknowledged for their critical value-add to organizational success, along with other C-Suite roles.  

There is also an increasingly heightened awareness and understanding at the board level of publicly listed, privately owned and not-for-profit businesses of the value-add opportunities that investing in data and AI infrastructure and talent can deliver. 

As business becomes increasingly competitive, organizations are realizing the inherent value in their data to achieve greater personalization of products, improve business processes and improve organizational capabilities.  

The CDAO is in the unique position to lead this transformation and enable businesses to respond and rapidly pivot due to the unprecedented dynamic and highly complex socialeconomic and geo-political operating environments.  

Noel Jarrett is one of our 2022 Global Top 100 Innovators in Data and Analytics. To discover the full list and exclusive interviews with this year's 'top 100', click here now.