Chief Data Officer
Diane Berry has over 25 years of expertise in analytics and technology. As Chief Data Scientist at the Phoenix Group, Diane leads a newly formed Data function with responsibility for the development and delivery of Phoenix’s Customer AI and Data Science Strategy. This includes a focus on using innovative technology to inform data science-driven decision-making, to help better understand and predict customer behaviours. Diane holds a PhD in Statistics and Epidemiology and an MSc in Statistical Science from UCL, London.
Learn more about leaders in the UK & Ireland CDAO community here.
Give us a brief overview of the path that led to your current role.
I have always had a passion for solving problems and the creativity that comes with ‘peeling the onion’ – working closely with a diverse audience, and building and delivering a solution, whether that be an application, ETL pipeline, data science deliverable or a combination thereof. On top of this, the constant re-examination of how solving these problems can be done better enables me to deliver greater value at a faster (and hopefully cheaper) rate.
My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Technology back in New Zealand. This passion manifested itself in software engineering, predominately building client-server applications in financial institutions that ranged from trading systems to asset management. It was when I was working for a commodity trading house in the 2000s that my interest in modelling was renewed and I took a sideways step back to university (UCL London) to do a Master’s in Statistical Science. I made a conscious decision not to head back to the industry and was successful in landing a full-time research role at UCL, where I completed my PhD part-time (within 4 years). As it was back in the 2000s, the whole genome had only recently been decoded and there was an explosion of data, which meant dealing with ‘big data’ and developing novel and robust methodologies to analyse the complex genetic, longitudinal lifestyle and health data.
The industry called again in the early 2010s and I was attracted by the variety and challenge of the problems in strategic consulting, which is like research on a much quicker time scale. I joined Bain & Company and left in 2021 as Director of Data Science for the UK Practice. I had an incredible time at Bain, working with a variety of clients to build data strategies, operating models, and technology to build and deliver use cases. That said, when Phoenix knocked on my virtual door, I was excited by the opportunity to settle down and build from within. Phoenix is at a pivotal time with the integration of entities and re-launching our Standard Life brand – the energy, pace and focus are incredible and I am excited to be part of it.
What are some of your guiding leadership principles?
Two guiding principles –
First is personal: do what interests you and is challenging. If it is not challenging, then where is the fun? To quote the late David Bowie “Go a little bit out of depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
The second is more general: you cannot do it by yourself and need to work with people. Together you can bring your best out of each other – a virtuous cycle.
With disruption being a key theme of the past year, where do you see your role as a CDAO going in the next 1-2 years?
DataOps could be a game changer for many organisations when it comes to iteratively building and delivering value in a quicker way. This brings great benefit to the business stakeholders and the data teams, coupled with the right governance structure and tools to avoid the multi-year, no value, and all pain data transformations.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the role as a CDO?
Find out what the business needs and keep on top of that. Be friends with Tech & IT – you need them to help deliver. Spend time with other CDAOs to hear their stories and learn from them. Finally, remember there is no such thing as absolute perfection.
Tell us 3 fun facts about yourself.
- I worked at McDonald’s as a teenager in New Zealand for an after-school job. McDonald’s was relatively new to New Zealand and we had the great and the good from Global Head Office come to visit. I happened to serve the McDonald’s Global CEO, who then complained that I failed to upsell any products like a sundae. As a teenager, I was indignant – after all, the CEO should know what is on the menu.
- I have been bitten by a Bullet Ant, which is 4 out of 4 on the Schmidt scale of pain. It happened many years ago when I was backpacking in the Bolivian Amazon and my friend whom I was travelling with was also bitten by a tarantula hiding in his shoe. I can confirm the ant bite was very painful and I needed to lie down for the rest of the day.
- Well after a decade of coming back to the industry, there are still journal papers being published that I co-authored. The most recent paper has been published in Nature Genetics in September 2022 – I never expected that!
What is the value of joining an Evanta community?
As a newish member, I have really enjoyed the conversations and the support peers have given. It has given me reassurance that we are on the right track and that some things are challenges regardless of the maturity of the company.
Evanta Governing Body members share their insights and leadership perspectives to shape the agendas and topics that address the top priorities impacting business leaders today.
by CDAOs, for CDAOs
Join the conversation with peers in your local CDAO community.