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Why Saga is Building a Remote-First Data Science Team: Simon Jones

Simon Jones, Head of Data Science and Advanced Analytics at Saga, talks about building a remote-first data science team to help Saga recruit the talent it needs to modernize and engage its increasingly digitally savvy audience

Providing seamless digital customer experiences wasn’t always a priority for British ‘over 50s’ insurance specialist Saga. But as a new cohort of digitally savvy consumers enter their middle ages, the firm’s attitude toward the need for modernization has changed.

As Saga Head of Data Science and Advanced Analytics Simon Jones explains in this week’s Business of Data podcast episode, the company is now reimagining itself in light of the changing needs of its customers.

“A lot of people are moving into the ‘over 50s’ category, which is where Saga’s footprint begins, and they don’t necessarily think of themselves as the sort of person who signs up with Saga,” he says. “Trying to understand exactly how we can penetrate into that demographic group was a really important thing.

“And what [we] recognized very early on was that a lot of it was down to our relationship with technology.”

Saga is now developing new technological capabilities with these customers in mind, and Jones believes embracing a ‘remote-first’ model for data science will give the company an advantage as it pursues this aim.

The Benefits of Being Remote-First

Jones joined Saga’s insurance arm in May 2021 with a remit to build a data science team to help the company get the most out of its data asset. He says the role is the first he’s held that has empowered him to truly embrace remote working.

Jones argues that this approach makes it easier for Saga to recruit top-quality talent and makes a career at the company more attractive to data scientists who enjoy the flexibility that comes with remote working.

“I’ve got a recruitment function right now, to build out a remote-first team, trying to find top talent in data science and bring them on board to Saga,” he explains. “That means our talent pool is anywhere in the UK.”

“If somebody wished to explore a bit more of the country by basing themselves in different spots over the course of a working month, I have no problems with that,” he adds. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re always working in the same location: The cloud, online, with me.

“That makes it possible for us to reach out to talent which, for particular reasons, have based themselves outside the areas we’d normally be recruiting in.”

What’s Next for Data Science at Saga

In the near-term, Jones’ priorities include building out his team, helping Saga build out its data lake and sourcing new “exotic” datasets to provide staff with insights they don’t have access to currently.

But looking to the future, he sees his priorities shifting toward helping to drive the adoption of data-driven technologies across the organization and creating processes that help his team get data science products into production efficiently.

“It’s all part of serving the broader agenda of helping Saga advance,” he concludes. “There’s going to be an awful lot of signposting to the wider organization: What we should be doing, what we could be doing, understanding what the blockers are and helping us bypass that.”

Key Takeaways

  • Customers expect seamless digital experiences. Even people in the ‘over 50s’ audience demographic are starting to expect companies to provide services digitally
  • Remote working offers many advantages. Jones believes it will allow Saga to recruit from a wider talent pool and empower staff to collaborate without having to commute to an office
  • Data leadership is about evangelization. As data teams start to mature, their leaders must pivot their attention toward streamlining processes and ensuring alignment with the wider business