October 11, 2023
Refinery Life

Team Data Refinery Take on Big Data London 23

On the 20th and 21st September, the team at the Data Refinery packed their bags and descended upon London to hit up one of the UK’s biggest data events – Big Data London. Keep reading to find out some key takeaways from our group adventure.
Team Data Refinery take on Big Data London 2023

Two weeks ago, the team descended upon London to attend one of the biggest data events in the country; Big Data London. It was a great experience in terms of team building and stepping away from our screens for a few days. We took the opportunity to immerse ourselves in all things data and emerging industry trends.  With hundreds of exhibitors and a jam-packed seminar schedule, the team decided to divide and conquer.  

From AI to language models, to team talent and data strategy, we could probably write a short story on our time at Big Data London, but as no one has that much time to spare, here are some snippets from the team and a little insight into some of their favourite talks over the event...  

Andy, our Product Director (aka Mastermind Maestro) headed to Databricks HQ to learn about, ‘Using Causal AI to Transform Customer Marketing’...

“This talk was great and aligned massively with stuff we do day to day with our customers. The key message from the talk was the fact that it’s easy to analyse customer data and group customers RFM style into audiences or segments for marketing, but there is a few more layers to that data that will reveal if you should actually market to those customers and what the consequence of such action would be, E.G. In some cases, you may lose customers by marketing to them. It’s a great use case for the application of AI”

Head of Growth Holly, (aka Client Whisperer) descended upon ‘The Great Data Debate – Barr Moses’

“The talk was super insightful and confirmed that the emerging trend in data is Generative AI. The debate broke it down into three simple use cases for AI, 1) the democratisation of data – non technical people being able to ask questions of their data, 2) for supply chains, 3) for internal employee knowledge management – with these 3 cases barely scratching the surface of AI’s capabilities. I learnt that at its core and more fundamentally it’s Changing the way we interact with software (human machine interaction) – and so could have more influence in the UI/UX space for tech vendors in the future. The panel noted that in larger enterprises, they are pushing data expertise and access out into business teams i.e. marketing rather than centralising this in IT. Some key take aways for me included, enabling my teams with data and skills, building strong foundations, start with data architecture and (easier said than done) don’t get distracted.”

Our Founding Data Scientist Tom (aka The Oracle) attended ‘Empowering Marketing Analytics with Search & AI – Sonny Rivera (Thoughtspot)’ here is what he had to say...

“Fivetran hosted a talk by ThoughtSpot that was particularly interesting. They are essentially doing a similar process as our platform but using DBT rather than a common data model. Their main aim though is to give direct data access to anyone, not just analysts. One point of the talk was that the more hands that data goes through, the more diluted the messaging can get depending on how it is processed (a bit like the telephone game). This self-service data for all positions in the company is more and more becoming the norm which is something we have always tried to provide to our customers.”

Our Operations Manager (aka The Order Overlord) Lizzie went to learn about all things talent, culture and leadership, with a notable steer on the ‘Managing Teams in the age of AI’ talk...

“This talk was a panel discussion from Claire Thompson (Legal and General), Vasudha Khandeparkar (Barclays) and Chris Pearce (Esure). One of the key themes was the industry fear that AI will in time wipe out many of our existing jobs, however the panel assured that 60% of today's jobs didn’t exist 20-30 years ago, meaning yes, we will lose jobs to AI but many more will come through needs that we do not yet know of. The panel did not sway from the fact that yes, teams will need to learn to fail fast, adopt and stay relevant, but the human aspects of job roles will always be the key differentiator and ultimately, the biggest limitation of AI.”

Founding Data Engineer Ste (aka The Pipeline Professor) popped along to, ‘Truata - Making Data Safe for cross company Analytics’

“Truata specialise in data anonymisation and offer this as a service in it's own right. This talk was initially around the lengths at which Truata go to in order to consider data anonymised, this is far more than just hashing, it covered multiple aspects such as deidentification, masking and synthesizing, common techniques for data privacy. Data once sufficiently anonymised is no longer considered PII, and as such can be retained for analytics beyond the scope of regulatory boundaries (GDPR), very beneficial when looking at building segmentation, while you not be able to contact people you should still be able to use the data to build a picture of your audiences is in the anonymised format. The interesting part of this talk was how he then went on to describe how the companies using this anonymisation can build a 'lens' (essentially rules for an audience) which can then be applied across companies, this can then allow companies to uncover additional segmentation which they may not have even known existed. Taking the time to understand what is really possible once data is anonymised is a very interesting path worth investigating in the future.”

Lucy in Business Development (aka The Prospect Pied Piper) took particular interest in, ‘Everything that went wrong with Vanquis’ data strategy’

“The talk resonated because it highlighted that even a well-known company, such as Vanquis, faced the same data problems as everybody else no matter the company size and money backing it. A list of pain points included; analysts running jobs, manual reporting, not enough data engineers, no data governance, deploying models, siloed teams, no dashboards, no self-serve, bottlenecks, and more... Rather than a huge focus on the latest jaw-dropping technical solution, it pinpointed that all companies have experienced these issues and was particularly beneficial to me to understand a wider variety of the pain points they share.”

Founding Data Engineer Joe (aka Quiet Query Conqueror) shares his thoughts on, ‘A History of Language Models – Terry McCann’  

“I really enjoyed the talk for several reasons. Firstly, it provided a comprehensive overview of the evolutionary steps that have led us to the current state of language models. This historical perspective helped me appreciate the progress made in the field and understand the challenges that were overcome. Innovations like ChatGPT may seem to have emerged suddenly but are the culmination of a gradual and continuous process of research and development. Despite the potentially complex nature of the topic, the speaker's explanation made it accessible and engaging for the audience. The talk confirmed we're heading in the right direction with our generative AI features, and I'm really looking forward to seeing AI’s future potential!”

So that’s a wrap for Big Data London 2023; we’ll be sure to see you in 2024, potentially as an exhibitor ourselves next time to share all things data – watch this space!  

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Operations Manager at The Data Refinery

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