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  • Katie Ward, VP – Data, Sage

Katie Ward, VP – Data, Sage

Describe your career to date

Much of my early career was as a data consultant, building early data warehouses and BI solutions. I didn’t, however, come through the traditional route of a tech degree, having instead studied German and History at university and I worked in a variety of roles, including marketing.

 

This has contributed to me having a more rounded view, commercial insight, and a more diverse set of skills, which has been beneficial as I have taken on more senior roles.

 

I started from the ground up in tech: I worked on helpdesks before going out and meeting customers. Working with different verticals on their data solutions, gave me good insight into the different challenges facing companies of different shapes and sizes, in different industries, and helped to shape my thinking around how technology can be used optimally to solve challenges and deliver greater insight into business performance.

 

My career moved into architecture, which has helped me to understand how strategic thinking and architecture are essential to each other to ensure technology is maximised to meet the demands of the business now and for the future.

 

Fast forward to today, data is driving a new technology evolution, and my job as an architect and technologist in a newly established chief data office is to bring together business objectives with technology opportunities and change the shape of our thinking around what we can and need to achieve with data now and in the future.

What stage has your organisation reached on its data maturity journey?

The Sage data office was formed towards the end of 2021. Since then, we have set a company-wide data vision and strategy and built both a core ‘data office’ team and a virtual ‘data leadership’ team, representing areas across the organisation, to help us on our journey. We are successfully raising awareness of the crucial role data must play in delivering our ambitions and business strategy, as well as the operational importance of data to our business and our customers. We have aligned our data teams across Sage on the key objectives that will remove barriers to success and accelerate the commercial opportunities data presents.

 

The data journey isn’t one we can take alone as a data office, we need to take our employees across the business with us, therefore, it is vital our colleagues understand how data impacts them and contributes to their success in delivering value for our customers and partners.

 

Recently we have launched a colleague data pulse survey to gauge opinions on how our colleagues think about data – including how important it is to our business and how it impacts their roles on a day-to-day basis, and where there is room for improvement. We are positive about the difference we are making and are starting to see a change in our colleagues’ thinking and a desire to get directly involved in our data future.

 

Tell us about the data and analytics resources you are responsible for

The Sage data office has three core concerns that the team is built around: value, care, and enablement. My team is accountable for enabling our data ambitions and enabling our colleagues to drive value from data through effective, future-proof architectures and the right data foundations and tools.

 

My team consists of three parts: a data architecture team, a data management team, and a data transformation team. The team is focused on establishing standard patterns, and common data models to simplify our data foundations and underpin our ability to deliver value faster and reduce complexity. The data transformation team is exploring the art of the possible through data science and working on AI/ML opportunities with our more data-advanced colleagues.

What challenges do you see for data in the year ahead that will have an impact on your organisation and on the industry as a whole?

The pace of change in data is as ever, increasing. The demand for more and better data, and more frequently is driving changes in operational models and technologies. Concepts such as DataOps and data mesh have developed in response to the want for increased velocity and veracity, and the need for the democratisation and sharing of data more easily.

 

In response to these demands, Sage is leveraging and developing data skills and capabilities across both technical and business teams to accelerate the data journey. We’re providing the right guardrails, frameworks, and tools to build shared data products and solutions. The onus is on the ownership and care of data at the source, to improve existing insights and analytics, while enabling new product and business model development. In turn, this is helping us more easily meet evolving demands of external agendas such as ESG and carbon-reduction targets adding pressure to all companies.

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?

Our chief data office team has set a data vision and strategy that encompasses our entire organisation and underpins our ambition of being the trusted network for small to medium businesses. We are targeting a major shift in our culture and objectives as we recognise the increasing power and importance of data to Sage’s future. We have focused on building value chains to understand where we have gaps and dependencies in our end-to-end delivery of data products and solutions and prioritised data initiatives based on critical success factors aligned to business outcomes. In tandem, we are establishing governance frameworks to introduce ownership and management of data by our business teams and reviewing our data ethics and principles to ensure we treat and care for our data properly.

 

Have you been able to fix the data foundations of your organisation, particularly with regard to data quality?

Our data strategy recognises that, along with accelerating factors, we must also focus on reducing drag factors, much of which revolves around not having the right data foundations – or at least not having fully embedded them.  

 

This includes master and metadata management, and a shift in our culture to owning and managing our data and its quality. We are implementing a metadata management platform so that we can enable this ownership and better understanding and management of our data assets, as well as MDM solutions targeted at core data domains including product and customer. We are on a journey, but we are making strong sustainable progress.

Katie Ward
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2023 (EMEA)