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Kevin Smith, Chief Data Officer, Tokio Marine HCC

Describe your career to date

 

My career began as a graduate in ICI Paints, working as a Junior Programmer and Customer Field Support for a software package in the crash repair market. 

 

After seven years climbing the pole, the Y2K bug was too much of a draw and I entered the IT contractor market. This led me to developing a software product for the automotive industry with a business partner. The successful sale of this venture put me in a position to take some time off, during which I could enjoy spending time with my young family and work out what to do next. 

 

As is often the case when one is not looking, a great role came along at Willis, whose Grade I listed office in Ipswich I had always admired; I was also intrigued by what went on there. This was really the start of the third and current chapter of my career, which revolves around large, commercial insurance and data. 

 

As I moved up through the ranks from Solution Architect to Head of Data Architecture, I realised I had found a passion for data, and began to understand why it really was the lifeblood of many companies.

 

From Willis, and following the merger with Towers Watson, I moved onto JLT – another global insurer and reinsurer. As Head of Data Architecture, I was driving the data strategy when Marsh McLennan acquired the business and put all programmes on hold. 

 

My next move was to QBE Insurance as their Global Head of Data Architecture, where I got to build the data strategy and implement it; albeit during the challenging time of the Covid pandemic. At QBE, I began to shift my focus from the IT side of data to the business side, which led me to my current and first role as Chief Data Officer; although several colleagues have said I have been thinking and operating like one for a while. I am genuinely passionate about data and making a difference with it.

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

 

I think of data literacy in two ways: people being numerically data literate, meaning they can read a balance sheet or analyse a triangles report; and the literacy of the language we use as data professionals – for example, what does the term data-lineage mean?

The former is the most challenging and is often something that people have learned as a skill through their chosen career: an accountant or actuary will be numerically literate. If your role does not need you to be numerically literate, you typically do not learn that skill. That said, I would encourage anyone who wishes to progress to senior management or higher to learn finance basics, either through some self-learning or with a coach. We encourage learning of all skills in data, and we plan to form an academy to support this initiative.

Terminology around data literacy is (perhaps) easier to grasp, as the terms used can be simply explained and requires no maths. We have rolled out a data management platform that contains a glossary of business terms for all to read, rate, and comment on.

We have an active data community, with training and demonstration sessions held once a month. Our data delivery squad holds showcases of the previous sprint to a very engaged audience from the business and technical community.

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

We are well on our way to fixing the foundations, as we have been improving data quality in conjunction with the business units for the last two years. In the last six months this has really gained traction as more business units find out how well this is working for others. 

 

I believe this success is down to two factors: 

  1. The tooling we use is specific to our industry and is business focused. Functionally, it meets the needs of the business first, but is backed up with a deep technical solution that can be hidden from the consumer. 
  2. The data community continues to grow. With more events on the calendar, and with more engagement directly with the business customers, word gets around quicker and a healthy competition among our data council members ensures no one wants to be bottom of the DQ league!
Kevin Smith
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2024 (EMEA)