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Firas Khnaisser, Head of Decisioning, Standard Life

Path to power

I grew up in Lebanon and graduated with a BA in advertising and marketing in 2005. I started my career in direct marketing in Dubai, working on some top brand accounts in the MENA region, including General Motors, Nestlé, Danone, 3M, Sony. 


The consulting services I provided led me into the world of CRM, where I switched into strategy, data and tech. In 2012, I moved to Glasgow to take on a marketing role with Clydesdale Bank, where I helped to develop the capability for decisioning and next best action across print and digital channels. I have been in my current role since 2015.


What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

To take on the role of chairman of the DMA (Data & Marketing Association) in Scotland in January 2018. This has in turn seen me lead the Value of Data project, which was conceived to raise the profile of data from classroom to boardroom and to invite further investment in data capability and data skills which would in turn power people and the economy. 


It is a little understood topic but delving deeper into where the value of data lies helps organisations unlock the real potential of the information they hold, driving value to their customers and respectively back into their businesses and the wider economy. 


Sitting at the heart of the value debate is the question of values, how important are the organisation’s values and what role do they play in delivering value, how important is this in the AI powered world we are heading into? This is a piece of work that brings me enormous pride and is a brilliant example of how industry, academia, talent, and government could collectively come together and build a better society for all. 


Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I usually find inspiration in the avant-garde; the musician John Cage is a big role model. Cage liberated music from the confines of those who wanted to exercise control over the music and opened it, made it accessible to other musicians and empowered them to use it as a powerful tool for their expression and liberation. I think the same thing needs to happen to data. 


Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

2019 was another great year for data in Scotland, the community is coming together stronger than ever before, starting to deliver the big ambitions of the Scottish government and the Edinburgh City and Regions deal. These ambitions are centered around data driven innovation to help boost the Scottish, and, in turn, the UK economy. I’m fortunate enough to be contributing to this ambition through the DMA’s Value of Data programme to drive better value exchanges between organisations and customers. Brexit is another story all together.


What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

Brexit confusion, with many data related questions that need answers. I think there will also be even more chat about ethics and ethical frameworks. I don’t take ethics and data lightly at all, it’s extremely important to consider this as we move to more data, more automation and AI, however, I would like to see more action, less talking.


Also, I hope we stop talking about data and start talking more about people. You could have the best data-set in the world and the best technology, but without people it doesn’t mean a thing. My hope is that we put the focus back on people to deliver the change we need in businesses and society. 


Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

The opportunities are massive, we could start tackling real problems in extremely powerful ways, whether it’s climate change, medical research or revolutionising entire industries. The biggest barrier to achieving the scale of change is people (yes, I’m harping on about people again). 


Are we doing all we can to give people the right skills to help us to achieve our ambitions? Are we influencing the right people to help them to understand the opportunity and the part they play in making it happen? Data practitioners, experts, decision makers, regulators and legislators will need to sing from the same hymn sheet to allow for these significant breakthroughs to happen. 


What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

Are you bored yet? It’s not about the tech, it’s about people. Everybody wants digital transformation, what does it even mean? What does it mean for your organisation? Why is it so important? What strategic objective does it deliver against? Why do we need it now? What’s stopping you from achieving the transformation you need? Most of the time the missing piece in the puzzle is not the tech, it’s the thinking, the mindset, the people (end of rant).


Firas Khnaisser
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2019 (EMEA)
  • No.10 100 Brands 2020 (EMEA)