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Aidan Millar, Chief Data and Analytics Officer, DNB

Aidan Millar discusses DNB's three-year journey to becoming and data-driven champion of innovation within financial services

Aidan Millar
DNB

Chief Data and Analytics Officer

DNB is Norway’s leading financial services provider with a market capitalisation of NOK 258 billion at year-end 2019; it is not just leading in regard to size, but also with its progressive data driven digital transformation program. In a Finalta benchmark analysis of the international banking sector, DNB was ranked number one in the world based on the efficiency of its branch network. Over the last 15 years, DNB has gone from having 550 branch offices to 57. The mobile bank has gone from a hundred thousand visits a year in 2010, to almost a million daily customer interactions in 2019. The success of the channel shift is remarkable. 

Digitalisation is continuing to fuel an explosive growth in data, bringing new challenges and opportunities. For DNB the imperative is, and will always be, to stay relevant to customers in their daily digital lives. DNB recognised early on that it is important to capitalise and store data in a safe and secure manner. DNB’s ability to protect and extract insight from data not only has the potential to create better and more relevant customer experiences, but also to form the basis for new data driven business models. This is the new reality for digital businesses.

In our first article back in early 2019, we talked with Aidan Millar, the newly appointed Chief Data and Analytics Officer. “Our customers are talking to us every second of the day on digital channels and must have the ability to listen and respond effectively to their needs,” says Aidan Millar, Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO) at DNB. This is the challenge of digitalisation that he believes is too often overlooked. “Everyone talks about going digital, but if you’re not capitalising on data streams that are generated through your digital channels, then you’re going digital without listening.” Millar explained that his role as the CDAO is to leverage digital interaction data to reconnect and stay relevant to our customers on digital channels. We reconnected with Millar to see how far DNB have come on their three-year data transformation journey and to share any lessons learned on the way. 

After two years, Millar remains highly energized in his role as the Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO). “It has been hard work, but a lot of fun, DNB is now in the final leg of a three-year DNB data transformation agenda and I feel that we are well positioned as a front runner when it comes to data and advanced analytics.” Millar says. “My role as CDAO is focused on communicating the art of the possible and the need to inject more ‘I’ into IT solutions – going digital to the core. That means understanding your data assets, and how data flows through digital business processes.” While strategies and detailed plans are important, Millar reiterates the importance of starting with promoting a ‘Data Culture’; changing how people think and act towards data. 

Data is a challenging and formidable topic. “It is easy to underestimate the amount of communication that's required to inform people on ‘the why’ when it comes to data and analytics.” It’s a challenge Millar likens to a musical orchestra. “You can make the analogy of the CDAO being a conductor, a Data Maestro. When you first arrive, the organisation (the orchestra) is playing out of sync! There’s a lot of people doing what they think is right, it is a cacophony of un-orchestrated silo thinking and behaviour, when it comes to data.” Millar explains. “The priority in a CDAO leadership role is to bring structure (the plan – the musical score), the organisation (people - the players) and the right systematic solutions (enabling data tools - the instruments) and most importantly the culture (the passion for data) to the table.”

Millar underlines the importance of simple messaging when developing your CDAO plan and story line – it must be put into a digital business context, so it is easy for business leaders to relate. “It all starts with people and organisational culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast every time, you have to fuel your enterprise data strategy with an organisational passion for data,” says Millar.

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You cannot overcommunicate when it comes to the importance of data and analytics in new digital business models

Aidan Millar | Chief Data and Analytics Officer

“The first leg of the DNB three-year transformation (2018) was focused on ‘Protecting the Bank’. The second leg (2019) was all about operationalizing processes and ways of working – ‘Making it Stick’, this was the hardest part,” Millar says. “The final leg (2020), ‘Grow the Bank’, is all about capitalising on shared data assets, new data models and advanced analytics to generate top line revenue growth and data driven efficiencies.”

2019 was the year DNB capitalised on the opportunities that came with building customer channels and analytics capabilities in the cloud; including a new DNB mobile bank, a savings app Spare, DNB Puls a management tool for small and medium-sized enterprises and IPA Insight Platform for Analytics to support data driven actionable insights. All this advanced technology underpinned by data and analytics is taking digital customer-centricity to the next level.

One area that has benefitted from such insights is the continued development of DNB’s online and mobile digital services. “We’re looking at digital channel interaction data to assess customer journeys on our digital channels using a leading-edge real-time digital capture solution”, Millar explains. “We can assess whether our digital channels are aligned to customer preferences and continuously improve the digital experience.” The platforms can also be optimised to deliver highly tailored digital offerings to meet anticipated customer needs and wants, he says. “Our analytics capabilities are focused on delivering the right product, at the right price, through the right channel, at the right time,” says Millar.

With the foundations in place, numerous tangible data-driven projects have come into effect - with data compliance and ethical considerations always at the top of the agenda. “Everything we do at DNB is not just compliant, it's ethically compliant. We're a trusted financial custodian and now a trusted data custodian; and must not break that trust. Doing the right thing for our customers, is a core tenant of everything we do at DNB. DNB’s ability to extract insight from data not only has the potential to create better and more relevant customer experiences, but also form the basis for new data driven business models.”

Millar elaborates on a variety of projects that capitalise on data and ensure that DNB stays relevant in the daily digital lives of our customers. “DNB is starting to harvest the value of data in a compliant and ethical way.” One such project involved an advanced online chat-bot, enhancing service quality and efficiency thanks to sophisticated natural language processing solutions to improve the digital services provided to our customers. Millar continues, another focuses on leveraging real-time digital behaviour to identify possible fraudulent digital activities on customer accounts or providing relevant digital offerings. DNB has also deployed new innovative data driven products that provide market-based analysis and benchmarking to small business and large corporates. DNB has also played an important role in supporting Norwegian society and the Government during the pandemic, by providing contextual data insights (at an aggregated level) to assess the impact of the crisis and remediating policies on the economy.

The data itself is managed within DNB’s multi cloud solution. “From a data perspective the cloud platforms provide highly secure, massively scalable and agile delivery solutions,” says Millar. The cornerstone of DNB enterprise data and analytics platform, Millar says, has been the establishment of DNB’s advanced cloud-based data science laboratory (IPA) which provides the analytics capability and the technical scalability to over 40 data scientists across the organisation. Millar is quick to add that DNB takes a holistic approach to its vendor partnerships, representing a break from the approach the sector has taken in the past: DNB has taken a different route, bringing in the flexible, best of breed solutions: R-Studio, Jupyter Notebook, Spark, Neo4j among others, for their data science capabilities; Trillium for data quality and Collibra for its crowdsourcing, ‘business orientated’, data governance toolset; and the Celebrus platform from D4T4 for real-time, tag-free data capture across our digital channels; Infosys as the strategic data partner leveraging their capabilities and accelerators related to shaping data strategy, data governance tooling, analytics tooling and data engineering. When it comes to managing this array of vendors, Millar believes that DNB’s approach promotes reciprocity. “I see our technology solution vendors as trusted solution partners,” he says. “We work closely together with our vendors to foster a trusted-partnerships where we co-create and deliver value together.” 

DNB’s data transformation remains on course, despite the headwinds of COVID-19 pandemic. Millar believes DNB has been well positioned to cope with the challenges of the pandemic and the next frontier of digitalisation. “The investments made in data, underpinned by a data driven culture has enabled DNB to respond to these types of global crises much more effectively.” Millar has observed that IT solutions now have data and information at the core. “2020 is the year for DNB to harvest the value of data to be even more relevant to our customers in their daily digital lives,” says Millar. ”Looking forward, our ‘Next Frontier’ data strategy centres on the concept of connected data ecosystems, ‘Wide Data’ and the adoption of advanced AI solutions to continue to optimise service delivery.”

As a final question, we asked Millar if there was one thing he would do differently if he could take a step back in time…“What mistakes did I make…that’s what you want to know!” Millar chuckles. “I would stress the importance of investing in an effective data literacy training program and not to underestimate the time and resources required to communicate. To be effective, a CDAO must communicate, communicate, communicate and constantly refine the messaging to be relevant to the audience. You cannot overcommunicate when it comes to the importance of data and analytics in new digital business models” he concludes.

The focus on reconnecting with customers, not only to deliver added value but also to generate impactful insights to steer strategy effectively, is bolstered by Millar’s focus on maintaining DNB’s reputation as a trusted data custodian. Through the application of data analytics and advanced technologies to optimise both internal efficiency and the customer experience, DNB is well on its way to maximising the value of the bank’s digital transformation to become both a trusted financial and data custodian.

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