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Championing Digital Transformation Through Collaboration: Alwyn Thomas

Alwyn Thomas, Head of Data Strategy at the Financial Times, discusses the importance of collaboration and buy-in when embarking on organizational transformation

Data leaders agree that people are key to implementing business transformation projects successfully. The challenge often lies in communicating the vision with employees and fostering collaboration to see that vision through.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Business of Data podcast, Alwyn Thomas, Head of Data Strategy at the Financial Times, says collaboration is fundamental to digital transformation. The people developing a company’s transformation strategy should be talking to those on the ground who’ll be implementing it.

“If the people don’t understand why the process is taking place or why we’ve chosen a specific technology, it creates friction,” Thomas says. “We won’t be moving in the same direction.”

He says speaking to each department in its own language will help everyone understand how the transformation strategy applies to them. The best way to do this, he says, is to first walk in a person’s shoes.

He gives two examples of this: The first is of a data strategist who joined Deliveroo, the food delivery service, and spent a day delivering goods to get a sense of the business challenges. The second is from Thomas’ time at the Bank of Ireland.

“We initiated an undergrad program where the graduates would do one of their cycles with the data team,” he recalls. “They learned where the data’s coming from and to use tools such as Tableau so that, when they finished their rotation, they could join any team and know how to access and use the data.”

“As a data strategist, these are the types of things I should be focusing on – advising departments on a roadmap that will address problems and enable them to make the right decisions moving forward,” he says.

Tech Won’t Solve Every Challenge

Even as someone passionate about technology, Thomas admits that tech won’t solve all the problems organizations face. He says collaboration and breaking down silos is what has helps companies to make connections where none previously existed, resulting in new product offerings.

He mentions, for example, the recent partnership struck between competing data visualization companies Tableau and Looker. The agreement will make visualization and analysis projects more accessible and easier to collaborate on.

“It’s a symbiotic relation between the two and you want that type of relationship between data and other parts of your business,” he concludes. “The innovation is in understanding how we can help make the data available so business can see what’s going on and understand it.”

Key Takeaways

  • Communicate with stakeholders on their level. To establish trust between data and business teams, meet teams on their level and ‘walk in their shoes’
  • Tech won’t solve everything. Innovation depends on breaking down organizational silos, as well as data ones
  • Focus on business needs. A data strategist’s job is to enable the right decisions and processes for the organization to move forward

Alwyn Thomas will be speaking at CDAO UK in London on 14-16 March, 2022. You can download the agenda and get your ticket to the event here.