And not just because of the Bank Holiday…
Hurray – Bank Holiday time! Unless you physically need to visit your bank, who doesn’t love them?
It’s all about enjoying a long weekend and kicking back; and depending upon whether it involves doing something enjoyable or onerous, making the most of it or putting it off for even longer.
So, to help you continue your reverie/procrastination, we’ve taken a break from our usual blog formula and gone all Julie Andrews on you. No, nothing to do with Cockney rhyming slang; it’s more of a reference to getting to know you.
Or, in this case, you getting to know us a bit better.
That’s right, instead of waxing lyrical the way we usually do about data protection, we wanted to give you a shameless glimpse behind the scenes at DBX HQ…
For instance, did you know…?
Earlier this year we were nominated for the Small Business of the Year award in the inaugural Vale4Business Awards run by Vale of White Horse District Council.
And guess what? We only went and won it!
Following a panel interview, nominees were judged on how far the business had come, their business model and strategy, reasons for success and, of course, the positive impact they’d had on their customers.
We even managed to get Peter Mols, one of the judges and Business Development Manager at ActionCOACH in Goring, to put his name to this quote we sent him:
"These totally awesome data chicks stood out from the start. Not only have they developed a really sound business model that’s built on trust and nurturing solid relationships with people, they’ve also taken external advice when needed and turned Databasix into the well-regarded, scalable and sustainable business that it is today.”
Aw, shucks Pete! Thank you! (And he really did say that.)
Meet the team…
Shy and retiring types that we are, we then had our arms twisted to say a few words to a local journalist.
Firstly, congratulations on being called ‘totally awesome data chicks’. How does that feel?
KP: Er, totally awesome of course!
RL: Oh, stop it. You’re making me blush… Fantastic actually! It means we're doing what we set out to do – bringing people and data together and in a way that's not scary or dull!
And how on earth did you end up working with data?!
KP: I’ve been excited about data ever since I did my Marketing and IT degree in the mid-90s. I even did my dissertation on relational databases!
Although my real passion for its value came about when I started working at the Kent Drug and Alcohol Action team in 2002, and was responsible for collating, monitoring and analysing drug and alcohol treatment data for the whole area. The lightbulb moment happened when I realised that it’s only when you get to see how and why data is so important to your work that you truly start to care about recording it accurately. I’ve been crazy about it ever since!
RL: In my case, what started off after uni as a temporary NHS role turned into a permanent job and then, after about 4 years, I started working for the team responsible for collecting Drug and Alcohol Treatment data.
My role there was all about engaging with and supporting Treatment Services to help them make sense of the national requirements and how they could improve the quality of the data. For me, the key was to find the small wins the data could bring them in their daily roles and use that to help them see past the perceived 'burden' of data collection.
Your website blurb says you help organisations improve efficiency and decision-making. Do tell more…
KP: At university, I remember reading about the National Programme for IT and how it was massively overspent and behind schedule. Everyone complained that the new system wasn’t being successfully adopted due to failed project management, rather than the system itself.
It wasn’t until I was working in the NHS that I realised how much faith people put in a new IT system to provide all the answers. Except that, where data’s concerned, it’s only as good as the people using it and whether it’s focusing on the right information in the first place. We simply don’t take enough time to truly understand the user perspective and what’s actually needed, let alone ask why it’s not being used properly or reflect on how the system could be improved.
So really, it’s all about being able to answer: “What’s the purpose of the system?” Otherwise it’s just garbage in, garbage out.
RL: Despite all the apps, systems and tools people have available to them, there's an over-reliance on and complacency with using spreadsheets to collect data. As Kellie says, that’s despite the people in the organisation not having been asked what they need or being shown how the system can be used to collection the type of data they’d find relevant.
Often, we’ll find multiple instances of the same data being kept which, unless it’s collated and updated properly, ends up conflicted – leaving you with valuable data that’s not only scattered across the organisation but without a clear means of being used effectively. Think of all the wasted time and effort regularly spent just trying to pull together reports or customer lists!
That’s why our ‘People-Data-Process’ approach works really well: we start with the people to find out what they need, want or use; then establish what data’s necessary and relevant to fulfil those needs; and then establish or improve a process (including software systems) to provide the high-quality data. Finally, we’ll feed everything back to everyone so that all the information and knowledge is shared across the entire organisation, and not end up disappearing into a black hole.
You’ve said that you bring people and data together. What, like at a disco?
KP: Mmm, not really.
RL: Are you serious?
Alright then. So what exactly do you do?
KP: Good question! I do get enthusiastic about the benefits of accurate data, why data protection is so important and why it should never be misused to invade a person’s privacy. That’s why you’ll often find me writing data protection policies, meeting new clients to conduct audits or delivering data protection training.
RL: With the introduction of GDPR this year, we've spent the last 18 months providing practical advice and guidance to businesses and charities of all sizes to help them get ready.
Also, as our designated ‘People Person’, my focus is usually on reassuring others that a scary and overwhelming subject like data protection is actually nothing to fear and quite normal once you get used to working with it. And as we’re still a small business, I do whatever needs doing, so you can find me out and about on the networking scene, delivering talks, meeting clients and, sometimes, even in the office writing policies, mapping data and the odd bit of strategic planning!
Okaaay. Now convince people that it’s interesting and exciting…
KP: OMG, where to begin? Right. Well, people have been collecting data since the Domesday Book. In the Crimean War, for instance, Florence Nightingale recorded data on soldiers’ conditions to corroborate they were dying from typhoid and other diseases, not battle wounds.
Also, check out Information is Beautiful by David McCandless or London: The Information Capital by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. They present data in a graphical format that’s genuinely captivating! Possibly a tad geeky, but that’s me!
From the data privacy perspective, I so wish that those responsible for collecting, recording and analysing personal data will always truly respect it, recognise that having access to it is a privilege and never be tempted to misuse it. There are far too many stories in the press showing how organisations simply don’t consider privacy or data protection to be important.
RL: Whilst I'm not the uber data geek that Kellie is, I do love working with all sorts of people to make them feel less confused or apathetic about data/data protection and then getting them to the point where they realise that it’s actually doable, useful and maybe even... exciting.
I love that moment when you show people how good data can provide so much brilliant information and then watch the penny drop – that’s when the ideas really start flowing and everyone goes into overdrive! It's like opening a tube of Pringles; once clients burst the bubble of data being a burden and boring, they then can't stop seeing how useful it can be day-to-day! Plus, one of the projects I work on involves Earth Observation data – and what's more exciting than space?!
What’s the biggest fallacy people have around data protection.
KP: That it doesn’t apply to them and only applies to the ‘big boys’.
RL: That they believe they don't collect any personal data across their business because they don't do direct or email marketing. Usually, a couple of pertinent questions like ‘Do you have staff/customers/ suppliers?’ clears that one up pretty quickly.
Tell us 3 things it is and 3 things it isn’t.
KP: Okay, GDPR isn’t the next Y2K. Fundamentally, they’re two different scenarios. Data protection is about continuously protecting individuals’ privacy; Y2K was about fixing a date issue within systems.
Data protection is a risk assessment. You wouldn’t leave your house keys in the front door, so why would you leave your staff and employees’ personal data unprotected? If people don’t trust you with their personal data, they’re not going to use your products or services.
And, data protection isn’t new to the UK – we’ve had a Data Protection Act since 1984.
RL: Easy! Data protection is about building trust with stakeholders by being transparent; showing accountability and demonstrating how you protect the personal data you're responsible for; and needs to be a part of your organisation's culture as well as a way of working.
However, it's not a tick-box exercise, or a bunch of policies gathering dust on the shelf. And it’s not resolved by a 'compliant' IT-system. It takes so much more than one system to move towards compliance.
Ah, Y2K. When you said that, I thought you were referring to what’s written on zips.
KP: I don’t know what to say.
RL: I’m lost for words.
Let’s move on. What’s your bestest bit of advice?
KP: Just love data! Ok, maybe that’s a bit much so… be transparent about what you collect and why.
RL: People will be your greatest strength, or your weakest link. So always start with your people, get them involved in any data projects as soon as you can, and you’ll have a much greater chance of making it work. Oh, and make sure that data protection and privacy is front and centre of the way you work, not an afterthought.
Describe this week in 5 words.
KP: No day is the same.
RL: Awesomeness in every single day.
What do you like to do on your non-data days?
KP: You mean time off? Hmm, trying to get the better of Regina and my brother at Fantasy Football and half-killing myself at spinning!
RL: I'm a keen runner and find that hitting the open road or trails is a great way to take my mind off data – well, except for those Strava stats which I immediately analyse post-run! I'm on my way to hitting my 50th parkrun in 2018 and I've run all distances from 5km up to marathon.
Given a bit more time, I love travel and exploring new places. I’ll find any excuse to board a plane and have a long list of places to see that are a world away from data!
And finally, if you were a type of muppet, what type of muppet would you be?
KP: Animal! My old NHS team likened me to him on an awayday, and it’s stuck ever since.
RL: I'd be Rowlf the Dog – calm, wisecracking and not flustered by all the mayhem around me!
That’s a wrap then. Anything you’d like to ask me?
KP: You won’t use too many exclamation marks, will you?!
RL: Where did they find you?
Um, well, that was fun! Can I interview you again next time?
KP: Er, no. Please don’t!!!
RL: Definitely not.
Until next time…