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Chris Wilkinson, SG Gaming

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Personal Factfile: Chris Wilkinson
Name of current organisation: SG Gaming
Job Title: Director of Insight and Analytics
In post since: November 2012
Reports to: Group Managing Director
Office location: Feltham, Heathrow

Chris is an experienced and highly competent leader of business intelligence, insight and analytics teams.  Chris's career to date includes a number of "green field" roles with large organisations who are looking to develop an industry-leading business insight and data analytics capability to drive incremental revenue and competitor advantage.

Company Factfile

What does your current role involve?
As Director of Insight and Analytics my role is to lead a team of talented professionals who use the power of Business Intelligence tools to turn data into revenue. As an industry the Betting and Gambling community generate vast amounts of data which on its own is interesting but not that meaningful. Investment in data warehousing and Business Intelligence is how we convert the high volume and velocity of data into revenue. There are multiple steps in the data to revenue conversion process as well as the need to invest in technology, software, people and processes to conduct this efficiently. It is my role to ensure that SG Gaming we has all the necessary components in place and working efficiently to deliver a service that really puts evidence-based decision making at the heart of the business. 

Even though my team don't physically go out and sell products I consider the team as a profit centre for the business and not a cost centre. The insight and recommendations they deliver when implemented, measured and tracked deliver incremental revenue to the business and it is my role to ensure that the team deliver a positive return on investment to the business. My objective for the team is to deliver value to a range of different business functions by using fit for purpose technology to deliver commercially aligned insight and analytics.

Why did you first get into Technology?
I first got into Business Intelligence because I believed there had to be a way to make my life easier! Early versions of Excel in the late 90's were limiting my ability to understand what was happening across the business and I was offered the opportunity to work in a new department called Business Services. This was a support function to the sales and account management team whose purpose was to help my internal customers better understand the performance of different products and customer revenue trends. The process often involved one tool to extract the data, one to manipulate the data and typically using another tool to present the end result to the end-user audience.

The area that I really enjoyed and was therefore of the most interest to me was the data manipulation and analysis. The mental challenge of how to turn data into a compelling proposition or deliver a clear picture of what was going on. Early versions of Business Intelligence tools tended to be quite cumbersome and typically desktop based however the ability to quickly and effectively source and analyse data really appealed to me. 

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
The fact I'm still actively involved in Business Intelligence, have a passion for it and the opportunity to push this technology more into the business is an achievement in itself. Having been in this sector for over 15 years and seen BI evolve and change from a niche tool for a handful of power users to en Enterprise wide technology is something that I am proud to have been a part of.

Who has been the most influential Technology person in your career to date?
I was very fortunate in my early career to work with an IT Director who was very forward thinking and understood the need for a Business Intelligence function that sit within the business. He didn't believe that technology was just a tool to keep the lights on in a business but one that could be used to add benefit and help drive revenue.
He guided me through the more technical aspects of Business Intelligence and with his help I put in place some early BI solutions. He had the vision and belief in me that I could deliver a service that in turn would add value to the business.

Thoughts Download

What has been the biggest development in the Business Intelligence space in the past 5 years?
I think BI in general is evolving and is becoming easier to work with. In its earlier days many BI tools were designed only for power-users and you needed to have a high level of technical understanding even as an end-user to use these early tools. The biggest advance in the BI sphere is its mass consumerisation, it is now a tool that is usable by anyone in the organisation from the Chief Exec to the shop floor. 

Companies such as IBM and Oracle have evolved their products to appeal to a broader audience. People want powerful analytics in a black box solution. It's great to see the strategies the vendors are taking as they look to extend the capabilities and definition of BI- IBM bought SPSS which has data mining and predictive analytics to complement their existing BI suite. SG Gaming use IBM Cognos for mass user BI which gives the flexibility we need. This allows us to cater for board/exec level presentations through dash boards and score card presentations; to the intermediate user creating multi-dimensional cubes and advanced users creating report queries. When combined with IBM SPSS Data modeller we can do some very detailed data mining on our large data sets to really understand player patterns and consumer behaviour.

One particular challenge for all organisations is defining where the ownership of Business Intelligence sits within the business. In my career to date I have reported to a Finance Director, IT Director, Chief Operating Office and a Group Managing Director. Talking to other professionals in the BI space suggests that this is not uncommon and suggests that BI hasn't found a natural and consistent place within the organisational structure. 

To some extent, this is not an issue. What matters most is that there is a clear owner of Business Intelligence and there is a clear commercial strategy around the delivery and on-going investment and development. Given the typically large volumes of data and the need for hardware and software, the IT / Technology function are critical in delivering an effective BI toolset however in my view, the commercial ownership sits outside of IT.

The need to closely align the BI strategy and vision with the commercial strategy is most effectively done when there is clear commercial ownership. It's also not just about technology and data; people and processes are critical components in any effective BI solution.

Executive level sponsorship is also critical in securing the investment in BI as well as helping to drive business-wide adoption of new technology.

How have you innovated to place SG Gaming at the cutting edge and counter-act challenges? 
We have tried to keep things simple and do the basics well. A 'do it once, do it right' approach has seen us invest in the right architecture, hardware and software. Part of my role is identifying the right components to put these foundations in place; from the database, server and through to the BI interface layer it all has to complement.

However that's only the starting point! What is just as important is finding the right people to make the most of those tools. We need smart people with a blend of both technological know-how and commercial acumen. Great analytical skills need to be complemented with the ability to effectively communicate the results of the analysis and help pitch the recommendations. 

At SG Gaming I am building and developing a team with great technical skills and analytical ability but who also have a commercial awareness and empathy with the business. Finding technically competent and commercially astute analysts can be a real challenge however these are the critical components that will help ensure that investment in Business Intelligence delivers a positive return on investment year after year. 

In your opinion, what is the most significant changes in the Business Intelligence space in the last 5yrs?
I have seen two major changes; first the volume of data we hold will grow and grow; we need to find solutions to handle both the volume and find ways to apply some structure to an increasingly unstructured data world. The era of 'big data' contains a variety of challenges and we will need to find effective solutions if we want to find the 'big answers'. 
In addition to the growing volume and complexity of data the second challenge is how we effectively synthesise business intelligence and human intelligence. The often qualitative input from human intelligence is often a missing factor and optimal decision making is when both analytics and human intelligence are blended. 

Business Intelligence is the foundation that allows businesses to understand What has happened, Where it has happened, When it has happened and through the more complex tools How it has happened. If you combine all this with Human Intelligence we should be able to look at Why it has happened.

What are your views on the recent "Big Data" craze?
Big data is a great rebranding exercise. Many BI strategies haven't delivered the right return on investment mainly because of lack of clarity as to what the deliverables were meant to be at the outset and a lack of business ownership. The rebranding under "big data" is a relaunch that has allowed companies to buy into Business Intelligence. It isn't a new thing! The lower cost of storage, increased speed of processing power and more unstructured data being generated through social media have created an opportunity for organisations both large and small to reinvest in this area. 

What technology company do you most admire, and why?
I have to say Apple. They succeed in charging a high price for their products however the technology just works! It does what it says on the tin and that's something I'm willing to pay for!
With Apple you get great usability, functionality and innovation, in a day and age where time is precious that is invaluable. Sure, there were a few glitches with the first iOS 7 release but I'm sticking with Apple (at least for now).

How does the UK education system produce great future analysts? 
I see many candidates whose communication skills just simply aren't up to scratch. Even in the most technical of roles you need to be able to communicate to your peers effectively and have a certain degree of commercial acumen. I see many graduates that don't have that commercial focus and whilst technically they look fantastic on paper, they can't effectively integrate within the commercial culture. 

Personal Technology

What's the latest personal Technology gadget you have bought?
I love technology and gadgets particularly my Sonos multi-room audio system. Gone are all the CD's cluttering up the house to be replaced with a NAS drive. I love music and the Sonos solution allows me to play different music in different rooms either direct from my phone, from the local server or via a streaming service. 

What's the best App you have ever downloaded?    
'Map my ride' is a great app which I use when out cycling to track my speed, distance and a whole range of other metrics. It links in with the 'my fitness pal' app so I can earn extra calories for my daily allowance!

What is on your iPod/MP3 right now?
My musical tastes are all firmly rooted in the 1990's. A mixture of rave, indie, dance music, Brit Pop right through to heavy metal.

What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time! I have a demanding job so anytime I have free is spent with my wife and 2 children. Outside of that there isn't much time! I used to enjoy reading books however I think the last book I read was on holiday in 2004 !

Interviewed by 
Elizabeth Whitehead, Technology Consultant at Harvey Nash plc