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Davin Crowley-Sweet, Chief Data Officer, National Highways

What has been your path to power?

I actually started my career a professional guitarist in a heavy metal band. A shady manager and some angry associates resulted in us losing our record deal and leaving me clueless on what to do next. A friend of mine offered me a home on the railway and I worked my way up through the sector, from helping migrate data as part of an insourcing initiative to being the professional head of GB Mainline’s railway system-related data. In 2017, I swapped rail for roads and became Highways England’s first chief data officer at the beginning of the largest investments in roads in a generation.

What impact has the pandemic had on the role of data in your company/organisation?

Our purpose is to connect the country and how do we do that if we are not as connected amongst ourselves as we could be. Here is where data really shows itself. Data is more than just 1s and 0s, it is our means of staying connected with each other. And in a world of lockdowns, we’ve upped our ante in making sure data flowed freely to keep us connected so we could connect the country.

Does data now have a seat at the table during strategic discussions? If not, what will it take to get it there?

Absolutely. We are an asset-intensive organisation. In our company, data is not a reflection of those assets – data is an asset in its own right. Our data has value and we know it’s worth. We are stewards of £60 billion-worth of digital assets and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

 

What are your key areas of focus for data and analytics in 2022?

  1. Grow the vision and strategy for data;
  2. Help people understand what data they need to be successful;
  3. Measure the fitness for purpose of our data, so the people using it understand the associated risks;
  4. Make our data available and in a useable way;
  5. Use our data to generate value.

 

I think we have the objectives right and we intend to stay on course. I think it’s important we recognise that getting data right is a marathon and not a sprint, so it’s important we have a North Star to follow.

 

Tell us what leadership means to you in the context of your role as a senior data leader.

My personal leadership style centres around authenticity, courage and unwavering commitment to goals. I don’t think you can choose to be a leader, you can choose to be yourself and if others choose to follow you, then it’s their faith in you that makes you a leader. People choose to follow real people.

 

Courage is important because we are going into new ground and face uncertainty. I don’t wish to be fearless – fear keeps us on our toes. I do try hard to be courageous enough to face that fear and create stability for others.

 

What key skills or attributes do you consider have contributed to your success in this role?

Some people think in the box, some people think out the box – I have no concept of the box. There is a place in the world for all three views and they are equally important. But If I can visualise a different way, I can make it real.

 

How did you develop – and continue to develop – these skills or attributes?

I sit in rooms with better people than me. I take on challenges before I’m ready for them. I put myself in uncomfortable situations so I fight my way out of them. I listen to the uncomfortable truths that you know, but don’t want to hear. I recognise the biggest obstacle in my life is my own mindset and I’ve done something about it.

Is the data tech you have keeping pace with your goals and requirements? Are your providers leading or lagging behind your demands?

From a tech perspective, I think so, sometimes to its own detriment. I think this arms race of technology for technology’s sake is in many way not helping the data cause. Getting data right is so much more than having the right software. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’m hoping that data tech companies start taking the business strategy, people and process elements a lot more seriously. I’d like conversations that start around how data helps decision-makers, not here’s my data tech, please buy it.

Davin Crowley-Sweet
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2019 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2020 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2021 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)