We recently welcomed Richard Davis to Ofcom, taking up his role as Chief Data Officer within the Technology, Data and Innovation Group. We wanted to find out more about Richard so asked him a few questions now he’s settled in to the role.
Hi Richard, welcome to Ofcom! Tell us a bit about your background
Thank you, I'm very happy to be here. I’m a mathematician and scientist by training, with a passion for machine learning and all things data.
I’ve studied Maths, Economics, Biology, Chemistry and Management to graduate/postgrad levels, so as you might guess I have a passion for learning! I have always sought to apply what I learn and find real world impacts, for instance my Masters dissertation developed a neural network to predict when aphids would attack crops based on weather data, and was used to minimise the amount of time crops were sprayed with insecticide.
My PhD used evolutionary computing (a machine learning technique) to determine whether cows had BSE based on blood samples, enabling a faster (and less lethal compared to traditional brain biopsies) diagnostic.
And where were you working before you joined Ofcom?
For the past 11 years I worked in Lloyds Banking Group, most recently as Head of Innovation, where I set up a hub-and-spoke model of data scientists, innovation and tech experts to help deliver advanced data methodologies to inform real-time decision making. A key part of this work was to help colleagues across the group access the data they needed through a social collaboration tool, using cloud based analytical platforms. This required close teamwork with the delivery teams, IT, Risk and Legal to ensure rapid prototyping could be turned into real world solutions.
What are you passionate about?
As you can see from my background, I’m passionate about education. I’m extremely curious and want to know and learn as much as I can. I finished my executive apprenticeship in 2021 gaining an MBA, and this year I spent time becoming a professional diver with a Dive Master qualification. I have kept up associations with universities, research institutions and tech companies across the world and regularly speak at international conferences on all things data and innovation.
And this goes beyond work, even at home I love future technology, I have automated my house so everything can be controlled by voice. Being a data geek, I created a dashboard to monitor appliance usage so I could automate routines as much as possible. This is coming to the fore with the cost-of-living crisis where I am able to control heating and electricity use much more carefully. To the extent the house can ‘count’ the people in and out and turn off all devices and heating when the last person leaves.
Why did you want to join Ofcom?
I’ve always been attracted to solving big problems and public service. My Masters looked at non-linear dynamics of carbon flows to prove human impact in climate change. My PhD looked at developing a test for mad-cow disease at the height of that pandemic. I joined Lloyds Banking Group just after the financial crisis.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I started to look at my life and wanted to do more with my background to help solve some of the biggest problems. At that time, I saw the importance that communications had to help everyone stay in touch, to work, and live. This attracted me to Ofcom.
But then as I looked more into the remit of the Online Safety Bill, I knew this was the place to be. Just months before I was shocked to hear that my teenage niece was constantly being recommended images and advice regarding self-harm on her social media account. The work that Ofcom will do in this area is so important to our society and I couldn’t not be part of that.
And what are you hoping to achieve in this role?
A key aspect of my role is to help Ofcom become a world leader in data-driven regulation and thought leaders in the artificial intelligence, machine learning and data space. I have always sought to build strong communities of people who use data effectively in their decision-making process, which means making it easy for people to be involved through the technology, but also through training. There is a huge opportunity to deliver advanced analytical methods that help Ofcom deliver across its whole remit, and data is at the core of our evidence-based policy.
To deliver these ambitious goals would mean developing diverse teams of people who are connected to wider research, academic and government agencies and making sure we have high impact deliveries that help Ofcom achieve our strategic goals. It also means building a world-class infrastructure that enables us to rapidly ingest, prepare and use complex data with advanced analytical techniques to provide useable insights both internally and externally.
Aside from thinking up new ways to tech your home, what do you do for fun?
I have a passion for photography and travel (I’ve been to over 80 countries) and have won competitions for photos (including a highly commended travel competition from National Geographic). Over the past few years, I have combined this with diving and now take the SLR down with full underwater housing.
One of my favourite experiences was on a tiny island in the Philippines called Malapascua where I was waking at 5am every day to photograph thresher sharks at a cleaning station just as the sun was rising, before they disappeared into the deep blue.
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