Data changemakers: James Wilkinson, Executive Vice President and GM UK, VIQTOR DAVIS
In this interview James Wilkinson, our Executive Vice President and GM UK, talks about the evolution of VIQTOR DAVIS, the importance of having a strong corporate culture and the role that diversity plays in tech businesses like VIQTOR DAVIS.
Lewis: Why is Entity Group now VIQTOR DAVIS?
James: At Entity Group we saw a gap in the market for a much bigger specialist service provider in enterprise data management. We’ve been a respected specialist provider for many years, but we regularly lost out to larger systems integrators and advisory firms for the larger pieces of work, despite the fact that they lacked the level of data management expertise that we have.
So, we felt it would be a good idea to bring together a group of individual companies all with specialisms in slightly different areas of the data domain into a single company – VIQTOR DAVIS.
Coming together like this means that we’re larger and can operate as a one-stop shop for all our clients’ needs, offering them expertise across all aspects of the data domain, from data management and data exploitation to data analytics. The objective is to create an organisation that’s up to a thousand people in size but remains absolutely specialist in the data domains in which we operate.
Lewis: Do you find when you’re talking to clients that this one-stop shop approach is appealing to them?
James: Yes. A lot of RFPs these days are from companies that really want to be able to hand all their data problems over to somebody else. As Entity we were too small to be able to take that whole piece of work from a large-scale corporate organisation. As VIQTOR DAVIS we have much more capacity in that area.
Lewis: What strengths or USPs does VIQTOR DAVIS offer to its clients?
James: The primary USPs we have are specialism and expertise on all the data-related disciplines from data management, including data integration and master data management strategy and implementation, through to data science. For instance, we have more data scientists than any other organisation in the Netherlands. We’re continually growing our capability but always within our data focus.
We are very much a one-stop shop but with a specialist focus on data. We can do strategy – the ‘what, why, how, where’ of data. We can offer delivery and product selection services, as well as solution implementation – actually taking technology and bolting it together to make a solution that solves a particular data problem for a client.
Essentially our USP is that we offer a full platform data service, from data management and data integration, right the way through to data science. We don’t know of many other organisations of a similar scale that fit the same profile.
Lewis: Have you noticed any changes in the type of help that clients need or the type of projects that they’re bringing to you over the last few years?
James: As Entity, our core strength was always data management, and most of our projects are still in that area. However, as VIQTOR DAVIS, we have increased our capability in business intelligence, analytics, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence, so more clients are asking for our help in those areas. The pull from customers is reflecting our capacity to deliver those kinds of solutions. That is quite a big change, driven by both market demand and by the realisation of our corporate strategy.
Lewis: Looking forward, what do you see as being the data trends, challenges or issues that the clients are likely to be facing over the next few years?
James: The digital transformation agenda is changing dramatically at the moment to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning specifically. A lot of people don’t understand what that means to them at this point in time. There’s an awful lot of hype and we’ve all seen IT industry hypes come and go in the past.
Having said that, those disciplines will mature significantly and become critically important. They rely completely on having trusted, good quality data, and that’s what we, previously as Entity and now as VIQTOR DAVIS, have been providing forever.
The requirement for trusted quality data is as vital as ever and we will continue to be the experts in that domain. However, we can overlay onto it the modern disciplines of artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to deliver the full digital transformation agenda.
Lewis: Is there an education role for VIQTOR DAVIS as well, helping clients understand what it is now possible to do with their data?
James: To a large degree, yes. I think it’s very important for an adviser to be able to offer practical solutions that begin to exploit new technology and new solution opportunities whilst delivering business value. Being able to tie the new technology to the business value is critical. We tend to work in long term partnerships with our clients so the services we can offer them and the ways we can help them evolve as their needs change.
Lewis: What has the process of merging organisations with different cultures been like?
James: Creating VIQTOR DAVIS has involved a merger of five organisations and that process obviously has some challenges. Talking about the values of the organisations has been really important. At Entity we had a very clearly defined set of values which we adhered to fairly dogmatically. Having that clarity around our values has helped a great deal because you wouldn’t choose to come together with other organisations that didn’t share similar values.
It was clear to us that Jibes had a very similar set of values, and they definitely lived them in the same way that we did in Entity. This has been really important.
Obviously with any merger there are challenges, for example with logistics, how things are done, why they are done in a certain way. It’s always going to be challenging, but the fact that we have such clearly shared values ultimately enables us to work together, knowing that we’re all coming from a similar standpoint.
Lewis: You say that both Entity and Jibes clearly lived their similar values. Can you give an example of what that means in practice?
James: Living our values means that everyone in the office knows how the organisation thinks and behaves in certain situations. For example, one of our values is brutal honesty. That means that we never would expect somebody to willingly mislead a customer or be anything other than completely open, honest and truthful with them.
That gives a moral focus to an employee when they’re answering a question from a customer, and it means that they know that the business will support them in telling the truth to the customer.
Lewis: How important is diversity to VIQTOR DAVIS?
James: Diversity is incredibly important to VIQTOR DAVIS, to me personally and to everybody in the organisation. We need to be capable, innovative, driven, responsive and representative of both our customers and partners alike. When we’re dealing with customers, we need to be able to deal with all of the flavours, shapes, sizes et cetera of customers, so we need to have all the shapes, flavours, shapes, sizes of individuals inside the organisation to do that.
The strongest organisations are always those that have representation of many points of view and establish an organisational point of view based on a wide debate, and the way to make that happen is to have a diverse culture across the organisation whether that’s in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race or whatever else.
Lewis: Do you see the industry as a whole becoming more diverse now?
James: I see a very strong desire for change across the whole industry. The rate of change is probably slower than people would choose, and that is not because of a lack of desire to do it but rather because of the availability of suitable pool of talent to make it happen as quickly as we’d like.
Lewis: Following on from that, what steps does VIQTOR DAVIS take to promote diversity in its staff?
James: We’re trying very hard. We are working closely with some universities to identify and work with talent from diverse backgrounds or experiences. We are attending conferences and meeting with people from all walks of life.
We’re trying to drive the agenda to improve diversity across the board. We’ve launched our own Together in diversity campaign which celebrates the diversity of our data changemakers, both at VIQTOR DAVIS and within the wider industry. We’re doing as much as we can to put the diversity agenda at the top of the page, and also to identify and attract candidates into our own business. I’m sure there’s more we can and will do but that’s where we are at the moment.
Lewis: As a successful data change maker, what advice would you give to future data change makers who want to pursue a career in this arena?
James: Remember that data has two flavours – data exploitation and data quality. Your first question is what do you want to do with your data? In the main, you want to analyse it to get results – that’s your business intelligence, your machine learning, your data science side of the world, data exploitation we’d call it.
However, it’s pointless to try and exploit data that’s of poor quality, if you don’t know its provenance, you don’t know where it’s coming from, you don’t know where it’s going. Therefore, if you are looking for a future in data, you have to look at data management as well as data exploitation and treat the two together.
Lewis: Are there particular attributes and skills that you’re looking for when you recruit for VIQTOR DAVIS?
James: It’s very much the attitude that’s important. Tools will always be there and will always be changing. The people that we need have to be able to adopt a variety of different tools as they go through their career, so knowledge of a particular tool isn’t generally the most important thing we look for. Sometimes, of course, we do recruit people who have a particular technical bias, but more generally what we’re looking for is someone’s attitude, their attitude to investigating what data is, where data is, why data is there and what you can use it for. It’s an inquiring mind as much as anything else.