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Issi Saumtally, Chief Data Officer, Cabinet Office

What has been your path to power?

I have been fortunate to have worked with some really brilliant people over the years, including DataIQ 100  alumni Gillian Tomlinson and Elaine Priest, alongside other award winners Evelyn Owenson and Nimisha Patel. All have had the same diligence and utter dedication to change and improvement and led with passion which I have tried to adopt and carry with me in my roles.


My path has been one from hands-on data analysis, data engineering, data quality, through to data architecture, master and reference data management, data governance and data analytics, to name but a few. I have learnt the practices first-hand having walked the hard miles in the roles and grown as a result of it. Understanding the issues first-hand has led to a better ability to create data policies, strategies and data delivery initiatives and adapt the approach to differing organisation’s needs.


It’s been a real pleasure to have worked for some great organisations and I have been really lucky to have worked with great people and have used the combination of that experience and learned knowledge alongside hard work and dedication to enable me to lead today.

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

The pandemic elevated the role of data both in its importance to deliver the day-to-day and as the glue to enable meaningful change. At the start of the pandemic, we identified gaps in the organisation’s data architecture to support delivery (of food for clinically vulnerable people) and enablers for data sharing (across HMG departments, local authorities, food suppliers and the NHS). As a result, within the Cabinet Office we created a data exchange to assist policy decision-making further than the immediate Covid-19 response, but also across related impacted areas, such as floods and crisis management and other crisis events through the National Situation Centre.

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

The data agenda does indeed now have a seat at the table during strategic discussions and is widely recognised as of fundamental importance to achieving any and all successful change. We do, however,r suffer with the common and well recognised industry-wide skills shortage in digital and data skills to ensure that we have a depth of data expertise throughout all levels in the organisation. The challenge it presents is in the ability to translate strategy and policy decisions and make the right trade-offs to ensure the balance between demands, delivery and long-term success.


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

At the centre of such a large organisation, we are driving a few initiatives that all intertwine: a data literacy programme (to support the skills challenge); a data compliance programme (to enable the right and appropriate sharing and acceptable usage); an information management practice (enabling information exploitation AI); a data management programme (to make a step change in maturity through measuring compliance to new policy); and our data insights and science platform which will continue to make use of our other representative programmes and enable further consolidation of business projects to provide the next transition state of the Cabinet Office data architecture.


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

My role as a data leader within this organisation is a combination of upward, outward, internal and external focus. From upward education and counsel to support strategic change and direction; to outward partnering and business outcome enablement for our business partners; through to responsible leadership for all data experts, practitioners and the newly-qualified to ensure practice, education, career and progression. With the latter being interestingly one of the most rewarding at present.


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

Making change in any organisation can be interesting and each organisation requires you to draw on different skills. Within this role, it has been one of language and education alongside being lase- focused on the right things, even when the organisation doesn’t necessarily understand or recognise its immediate or future benefit. 


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

The time spent over the last 12 months with the Forward Fellowship Institute challenged an important phase of development of responsible leadership. The work to think deeper about “legacy” has driven much more than a transactional approach to work. It has enabled a challenge on the credit and a curse of group-think and while it continued to drive improvements in standard compliance practices, it has enabled the breaking of that trend with innovative change. The addition of new diversity recruitment pipelines enabling different socially representative groups has enabled the acquisition of emerging talent and a blend of fresh ideas and focus which has become addictive to all.

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

Our mixture of data tech products across the data capability landscape helps us answer a number of different exam questions. Our most mature offering in 2022 has been our low-cost cloud-based technology options leveraging open source products enabling us keep pace with monetization and  visualisation demands as well as business partner data insights options for response.


Our more traditional curated, industrialised visualisation option is more traditional analytics and reporting, but both leave us with continued skills challenges to enable our goals. While the products might be current, this skills challenge creates a high level of delay and further risk and dependencies on being able compete in the skills market.

Issi Saumtally
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2021 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)