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John Kelly, Chief Data Officer, HM Treasury

Describe your career to date

 

I was not particularly focused at school and left with only two GCSEs. I attended – but did not finish – college and went straight into employment within the IT sector. After moving around a number of positions, I ended up as a Business Analyst for North Yorkshire Council, where I realised my passion for change was centred around impact with data.

 

At North Yorkshire, I demonstrated the value of effective data management, winning buy-in and investment over four years, growing from a team of two people to 32, and centralised all data production and management elements into one team. This proved to be critical throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as we produced award-winning triage and planning analytics.

More recently, I moved to HM Treasury’s innovative Darlington Economic Campus, to build a similar capability and to push the boundaries in how fiscal policy is set at the heart of government. I am driving change in how we share data to support better policy decisions, establishing a data science and data management competence, and have a plan to accelerate our maturity over the next 18 months. There is a real opportunity to influence the pace of change in government from the centre.

Aside from that, I am passionate about embracing and supporting data skills, particularly for those with a less common academic journey like mine. I enjoy working loudly, sharing progress, and influencing leaders to think differently and have made great progress in my year here at HM Treasury.

Data literacy is a key enabler of the value and impact from data. How are you approaching this within your organisation?

 

Data Literacy is one of the three pillars of the data strategy I have established in HM Treasury: platform, people, practice. We are working hard to put the right structure in place to support the development of skills. A few examples of work we have commissioned in the past 12 months include: 

  1. Running three Python boot camps for the data science community;
  2. Working with Microsoft to design and deliver a centre of excellence capability stimulus. This will include classroom, on-premises and ad-hoc support from expert vendors, to embed and equip data workers with the right tools and support to work effectively;
  3. Organising one big thing: a department-wide data event that introduces access to a number of workshops, training, and materials to upskill the department.

I am also focusing specifically on the traditional approach to the Treasury’s policy design, so that data plays a much more significant role. This involves getting industry leaders come and talk and show us how they are working, too.

 

Finally, we are publishing case studies towards the end of this year. HM Treasury is leading the way to modernise how we handle correspondence into the department. This could have a cross-government impact as we intend to share our methodology and approach to other departments.

Have you set out a vision for data? If so, what is it aiming for and does it embrace the whole organisation or just the data function?

The Treasury is often at the heart of shaping policy around the ministerial direction of emerging fiscal policy. Because of that, we often appear to consume a lot of data, yet do not share all that much. I found this quite apparent before taking the role and it has played into my views of what an effective vision looks like for HM Treasury. The vision of “data excellence is everywhere, our approach collaborative and dynamic, and our product world-leading” centres language around expecting best in class use of data but doing so collaboratively.

The vision and supporting strategy were signed off by an ecstatic Executive Management Board in December 2022. Since then, I have been making connections with other departments and exploring opportunities to work more closely on analysis that is supporting policy shaping. As a result, we now have several projects being delivered in partnership that previously would not have been.

We are also opening our doors more under the banner of data excellence. A recent hackathon run by HM Treasury, across two sites, welcomed 50 participants from across ten government departments and saw examples of generative AI, traditional data science, and a whole lot of skills sharing.

The strategy is departmental wide, ambitious, and takes place within quite a unique set of challenges and constraints that are riddles to solve on the way. Tackling it with an ambitious hub team, and with the leadership and enthusiasm of my peers, the net effect will not just be a generally improved approach to how data is used, but also to how Treasury works with other departments.

John Kelly
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2024 (EMEA)