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Mark Briers

Mark Briers, Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Royal Mail

What has been your path to power?

I have been very fortunate to work within technologically-advanced government departments, leading academic institutions and industry, across numerous application domains (from finance to health to defence) in practitioner, research and business leadership roles. I have built a global network of collaborators, allowing me to learn and apply lessons from different contexts.

 

As a result, the breadth of knowledge that I have acquired, working with some of the UK and world’s leading data and business experts, has allowed me to build transferable knowledge and skills and propel my career to the executive board of a FTSE 100 company. In deciding upon any new role in my career so far, I asked myself the following questions: Will I be surrounded with people that I can learn from? Will I be able to deliver positive impact? Will I be working in/leading diverse, multi-disciplinary teams?

 

I have often acted as a bridge between academic research and the real world, ensuring that the most appropriate and innovative technical solutions are pragmatically applied to deliver real-world impact. From a technical perspective, I often think of problems through the lens of probability theory, allowing decision-makers (humans or computers) to consider uncertainty when optimising actions. I am also an Honorary Fellow of The Alan Turing Institute.

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

I have held several roles during the pandemic, the highest profile being my time as the lead scientist for the NHS Covid-19 app. The app acted as a non-pharmaceutical intervention, using Bluetooth signal strength data (and statistical inference) to estimate distance between a Covid-positive individual and their close contacts, providing statistical insights to government policy-makers and local health officials, and proving the (causal) efficacy of this digital intervention as being positive for public health. The app was, in a sense, a data science project, using privacy-preserving techniques. It showed that it is possible to use data science to drive positive societal benefit in an ethically responsible manner.

 

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

Royal Mail has recognised the strategic importance of data, analytics and innovation in transforming its business. As such, Royal Mail recently created a new executive function under my leadership with the goal of transforming its use of data for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, and employees. Application of data-related technologies to drive optimal decision-making at the tactical and strategic level is being threaded throughout the organisation, at pace. We are expanding beyond traditional business intelligence to drive new value streams, using the most appropriate (and advanced) engineering, data science and visualisation techniques. As a result, I believe that Royal Mail is one of the leading FTSE 100 organisations in its use of data-oriented, strategic decision-making.

 

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

Over the next 12 months, I intend to focus on several areas: democratisation of data and analytics across my organisation, with appropriate governance, tooling and education to underpin the initiative; producing high-performing multi-disciplinary teams to deliver business outcomes; producing scientifically-valid analyses to underpin and drive organisational strategic decisions. From a technical perspective, my academic/research focus will remain on probabilistic programming and the use of Bayesian inference at unprecedented scales. I am also committed to continuing my teaching role at Imperial College London to ensure the next generation of statisticians have advanced knowledge of big data technologies.

 

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

Leadership, in the context of a data-driven world, is all about creating the right environment where diversity (in every sense) is valued, empowered, and promoted. It is the power of multiple perspectives – from the real-world, with representation across the communities we serve, to technical, with multi-disciplinary thinking at the heart of what we do – that drives strategic change, innovation and real-world impact. A senior data leader needs to enable collaboration, to remove silos, to promote business and technical interaction, to democratise data, information and knowledge, all in a privacy-preserving and ethically-responsible manner.

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

I believe that it is my breadth of experience that has allowed me to succeed in my career to date. Being able to transfer knowledge from one domain to another and communicate effectively to technical and non-technical audiences has allowed me to gain respect and trust, and so deliver impact, which has translated into personal and (I hope) positive societal impact.

 

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

I have always made sure that I have a network that spans multiple areas. I will continue to grow this across different scientific disciplines, industry and government organisations, to ensure that I am able to continue to learn from others. From a technical perspective, I maintain an active role in academia to ensure that I am able to contribute to the scientific literature and stay on top of technological breakthroughs. As a data community, we are blessed with the rapid transition of research ideas into software – being ahead of this curve helps the organisations I work with survive.

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

I am fortunate to work with some of the global leaders in data and collaborate with the world’s greatest minds. My own and my team’s deep technical understanding of the data landscape and business environment allows us to understand the value proposition behind data tech, to innovate where appropriate, and to use tools that are fit for the job. As it stands, I am content with the data tech landscape – it provides everything that we need to deliver success.

Mark Briers
Mark Briers
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)