Governing Body Spotlight

Governing Body Member of the UK & Ireland CDAO Community

Jonathan Saunders

Chief Data Officer

Direct Line Group

Jonathan Saunders is the Chief Data Officer for Direct Line Group (DLG) with a mandate to lead data across all brands and services, helping DLG to become even more customer-focussed through data and digital transformation.

Prior to DLG, Jonathan held several senior global leadership positions at various organisations. Here, his main areas of focus included major transformations in the space of data and technology and the application of machine learning and data education.

Learn more about the UK & Ireland CDAO community here.

Give us a brief overview of the path that led to your current role.

I started my journey as a research scientist in the space of drug discovery. I wore a lab coat and safety specs and ran a lot of experiments. The experiments produced phenomenal amounts of data. Drug discovery is a volume game – find an interaction that leads to illness and throw every compound on the planet at it to see if it stops or slows it down. I ended up spending a lot of time writing computer programmes to process the data and extract signals from the noise.

Subsequently, I joined JP Morgan and used similar techniques to build pricing models for derivatives. From there, I ran various technology departments for investment banks and later moved into running large-scale transformation programmes.

Having a background in technology, data, change and transformation set me up well to take on the role of Chief Data Officer for Direct Line Group. I have been doing the role for three years, and it has been both challenging and fun in equal measure. I am lucky to work for a company with an executive leadership team who truly understands and advocates the need to become even more data-driven. Our purpose is to give peace of mind to our customers. The effective and responsible use of data is a vital ingredient here.

What is one of your guiding leadership principles?

Everyone can be a leader – it is not about your job title or how many people you have in your team. If you have a purpose, then you will lead in your own way.

With disruption being a key theme of the past few years, where do you see your role as a CDAO going in the next 1-2 years?

I think the role of the CDAO will continue to expand. Most organisations have realised that data is the key to creating better products and services for their customers. Those who have done it well have the foundations in place already – now the challenge is to get the most out of those foundations through machine learning and other techniques.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the role as a CDAO?

For the first few weeks, go and sit with the staff who are closest to the customers – perhaps the contact centre, the retail outlets or branches. Understand what is missing for those who are really running the business.

In parallel, make sure you understand the flows of data across the organisation – if these are not documented and available, then there is one of your first tasks. As you start to produce your roadmap, you will define the foundational work that needs to be done, but make sure that you are not too procedural in your thinking. You can start small and iterate on several activities in parallel – if you do not, you will get left behind.

Finally, a big part of the role is education and cultural shift. At DLG, we created a dedicated Data Academy which has trained thousands of our colleagues. There is no point in building the tools and collecting the data if people do not know how to use them.

Tell us 3 fun facts about yourself.

  1. When I was 16, I was in an AC/DC music video – we spent all day filming and there’s only a glimpse of me. 
  2. I have rowed across Scotland, from coast to coast. It took three days and it is just about the most fun I have ever had. I recommend it!
  3. I broke my nose riding an inflatable down a ski slope in the dark (seemed like a good idea at the time).

What is the value of participating in a professional community through Evanta?

There is a good sense of camaraderie in the community. Having a group of people who understand the opportunities and challenges we all face is invaluable. Moreover, there is a sense of trust and understanding which makes the conversations we have all the more useful.

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.

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