Nuala Kennedy

Chief Data Officer, People’s Postcode Lottery

Tell us about your journey to your current role
I’ve had a long and varied career that has spanned all things data-related. It’s been at the heart of every role and challenge that I’ve ever taken on. I’ve progressed through a number of different management positions within the world of data, insight and analysis. I proudly describe myself as a data geek with a business head. I get enormous satisfaction from mining an untapped piece of data and transforming it into something valuable and something with integrity. I have always championed data in business, from educating on the importance of data quality, managing and setting requirements for data warehousing and BI tooling, to producing segments, or a better standard of data selection. I truly believe in the power of data and it is so satisfying to share results either to test a hypothesis or produce new actionable insight. Technological advances also keeps things exciting! It’s my love of data that has driven my career. I’m genuinely passionate about it and believe that well-managed data and data outputs are key to major business growth. I joined People’s Postcode Lottery in 2013 and established the insight and data management functions, as well as setting and developing the company retention strategy -data-driven, of course. Five years later, I was appointed chief data officer, responsible for data management, quality, governance and strategy.

What would you say is the best opportunity you’ve had in your career thus far?
I think the role of chief data officer has been the best opportunity in my career to date. It has given me the responsibility to drive all data strategy for People’s Postcode Lottery. This is both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. It’s a highly motivational role for me and I really do love my job. No two days are the same and that means things never get boring! I also have a fantastic work life balance to enable me to spend plenty of time with my wonderful two children.

How do you attract new talent?
We’ve started adopting an approach to provide university students with practical and valuable work experience opportunities, with a view to having long-term data positions recruited from a pool of graduate talent and new hires being trained up and developed within the team at People’s Postcode Lottery. We’ve also built an extensive data network and utilise these connections to assist with employee recruitment and retention in the data sphere.

What are the biggest challenges to women and girls in the field?
I see the challenges mainly being the traditional view of data and technology as being male oriented careers and, therefore, not attractive to females. I think there has been a huge cultural shift towards encouraging women to enter the STEM industry in recent years, driven partially by the media. I think potentially some workplaces could do more to support this as part of recruitment process. I also believe that schools can play a huge part in shifting the bias. If data and technology are talked about more as possible career opportunities for both boys and girls and subject possibilities for university in STEM subjects are highlighted, this will go a long way to address the situation.

What are you particularly passionate about in your work?
I’ve been working with People’s Postcode Lottery for five years and have had the opportunity to work with some inspiring people and projects. The highlight for me in particular is the difference the funding generated by players of People’s Postcode Lottery has made and continues to make for people and planet. With 63% of all British postcodes playing and nearly half a billion pounds already raised for charity, data is central to the success story of People’s Postcode Lottery and its vision of a better world with strong social organisations.

What do you wish you could do more of?
I wish I could free up some time to learn Mandarin Chinese. It’s been on my wish list for a while now and I would love to achieve this. I love learning new languages and I think this could be the most challenging one to date when I do find the time!

Do you work with any interesting data sets, technology or analysis techniques?
We are in the process of building a brand new data platform in the cloud. The platform will store all sorts of data – both large and small in scale, structured and unstructured. Everything from transactions and communications history to voice analytics transcribed into text. It is a truly exciting project for us. The platform will support the whole business. We see it as invaluable for both business growth and increasing transparency. We are also working on establishing data science as a fixed discipline and the data platform will be the repository our ML and AI models will feed from.

What do you think the future holds?
It’s fantastic to see the value of data being recognised in the boardroom. A data-driven approach helps remove unconscious bias from decision-making. I think that, in the next few years, along with advances in technology and development in algorithmic transparency, we will see more data-driven solutions being created and rolled out and we will continue to see people at the heart of data processing.

Do you have a fun fact about yourself or a hero/heroine?
I am related to JFK, I’ve been in a submarine and I am a terrible Irish dancer.

Image of Nuala Kennedy
Nuala Kennedy, interviewed by Poppy Gerrard-Abbott

Through advancements in technology and development in algorithmic transparency, we are seeing data-driven solutions being created and we will continue to see people at the heart of data processing

Read the latest Women in data

Image of Natalie Duffield

Natalie Duffield

CEO of InTechnology Smart Cities Ltd

Photo of Hoppers Society Members

University of Edinburgh Hoppers Society

Image of Samantha Rhynas

Samantha Rhynas

Head of Data at Effini & Girl Geek Scotland Leadership Team & PyData Edinburgh Organiser