19 Dec 2022

SME Member of the Week: The Data Shed

Hear from Anna Sutton, co-founder of the Data Shed, this week's SME Member of the Week

The Data Shed is the fourth of December's SME Member of the Week. This month, techUK are focused on social value and showcasing how our SME members are creating social impact through their business, such as through charitable or humanitarian causes, staff volunteering opportunities for employees, or community initiatives.

The Data Shed is to help organisations harness the power of their data asset, regardless of size, budget, or technical capability, to level the playing field for SMEs. 

How did your company start?

TDS is a consultancy specialising in data integration and analytical projects. Focused on driving value and operational excellence, we create technical solutions which enable clients to make better-informed decisions.

As Co-Founder and CEO, my journey into data started from a distinctly non-technical background. Throughout my career as a marketing manager I kept running into problems accessing and interpreting data - a difficulty which was compounded by technical language which excluded me as a non-technical end user. I understood the value of data, but few companies had systems which allowed me to retrieve it.

In 2013, with a two-year old at home and another baby due in a matter of weeks, and having been recently made redundant, my partner, Ed Thewlis, and I decided that we wanted to do something about this problem. We jointly founded The Data Shed with a view to building a new tool - The Data Refinery - which would allow anyone to access and activate the data they held within their company, empowering everybody within an organisation with insight to make better-informed decisions. 

With The Data Shed, we offer a range of services including Single View of a Customer, Data Transformation, Operational Insight, Analytics, and Modelling delivered by a team of highly skilled specialists.  And with The Data Refinery we’ve designed a fully automated, easy-to-use data platform that disseminates the power of data to a wider population.

Many technical solutions are built by specialists for specialists. But often the people who need to use the data don’t have a technical background. Our goal was to remove barriers to access, to put data into the hands of those who have the questions, regardless of their technical capability. By building-in data modelling and segmentation tools, all businesses can get the benefit of a data engineering and science function on smaller budgets.

We’ve spent the last few years building a highly successful business. And we measure that success not just in financial terms, but more importantly, through our ability to attract and retain a diverse range of exceptional talent - a significant challenge in this highly competitive industry.

We’ve become one of Yorkshire’s fastest-growing tech firms, and we’re really proud of the recognition we’ve received through industry awards such as  GP Bullhound, Computing Digital Technology Leaders, Leeds Digital Festival, The BusinessDesk and Women in IT among others.

How does your company contribute to this month's theme?

The Data Shed is driven by its core values and one of these is ‘Treat People Right’. This ethic is as important outside the Shed as it is within it. It means that The Shed is working hard to create a sector and a society that represents, values, and supports people from all walks of life, through the products they create, the clients they work with, and the staff they employ.
A particular focus for the team is equality and inclusivity in tech. We’re constantly seeking ways to support the development of tech talent that represents the diversity of the communities we serve. We do this through our Shed Academy - a programme that we designed in partnership with Generation to empower non-technical people to switch to a career in tech. We also work with NorthCoders and we’ve just partnered with Code First Girls, a global initiative seeking to eliminate the gender diversity gap and transform the tech landscape. These partnerships are really important to us because they connect us with specialists who share our aim of empowering underrepresented groups through education and opportunity.
We’re also really proud of the work we do with our clients. For example, we’ve been Gamstop's technical partner for over three years, helping them to provide a service that enables UK-based consumers to exclude themselves from online gambling.  It’s an important self-protection mechanism for over 215,000 vulnerable people, and the only system of its type in the world.
Before  GAMSTOP’s launch, individuals concerned about their gambling would have to self-exclude from every operator individually; with over 200 UK operators and thousands of gambling websites this was an almost impossible and potentially harmful task.
Together with GAMSTOP, we’re working towards an important goal: to ensure that anyone who wants to exclude themselves from gambling sites can do so in a secure and reliable way. 

This relationship has been a wonderful example of collaboration - we pool our insights and capabilities to enhance this technical layer of protection for some of the most vulnerable people in society, and the benefits are felt not just by the user, but also by their families, friends and colleagues.

Who's behind your company?

The Data Shed started life in 2013 with Co-Founders Anna Sutton and Ed Thewlis.  A self-confessed data geek, Ed is driven by his enthusiasm for data, and for making it accessible to everyone regardless of their technical literacy. 

As The Shed’s CCO, Ed is passionate about helping people and businesses to see how every aspect of our lives is interwoven with data - and the benefits and risks that brings. He believes that, in the right hands, data transforms and saves lives; it can teach us about the past and help us to predict the future, and he creates technology that helps organisations better understand the people they serve, and improve their lives as a result.

Ed is guided by his belief that the key to success lies not in focusing on the new fashionable data architecture or tool, but by building products that get people to Ground Zero of capability within hours, not years, and by getting the right data into the hands of the people who can make a difference.
Anna Sutton is The Data Shed’s CEO, responsible for the operations, recruitment, L&D, and cultural strategies of the firm. Within TDS, Anna is focused on balancing the demands of providing a first-class service to clients with the need for innovation, and developing staff.
Beyond the Shed, Anna’s real passion is breaking down barriers - especially language barriers - to promote diversity within the digital and tech sector. For Anna, jargon is enemy number one. She challenges exclusive language at every opportunity and highlights the value of different perspectives in the sector. She’s been instrumental in creating and contributing to the thriving female network of talent in Yorkshire and recently she co-founded a network of Female Data Founders which embraces founders from around the UK. She’s often found speaking at events and conferences to share her experience of starting a tech business as a non-technical person, and encouraging others - especially women - to take the plunge into the tech world.
The Data Shed is driven by the entire team and everyone has an important part to play in our success. But the glue that holds us together is the culture that we’ve created and work so hard to maintain, and for this we rely on Steph Varley, our Employee Engagement Officer, and Clare Dobson, our Head of People. They are utterly committed to our goal of a truly equitable, diverse Shed, and together, they ensure that we embody our values in every aspect of our business - from the moment a job advert is placed right through to an employee exit. Our success in achieving that is really down to them. We were thrilled that Clare and Steph were able to collect the award when we won Employer of the Year at the Business Masters Awards recently, as it was great to see them get that public recognition for their achievements.

What’s your perspective on the present and the future of this month's theme?

In line with the theme of social impact, the future of the tech sector must absolutely focus on increasing diversity throughout the entire ecosystem.  It aligns closely with our own outlook at The Data Shed.

We’ve found that having a diverse workforce brings a greater range of experiences and minds to solve problems and find solutions. This broad range of perspectives means that there is more awareness of potential problems and biases in the first place - if we can’t see that a particular way of doing things might cause problems for some people, then we can’t begin to think about how we might do it differently.

As Data and Analytical specialists, we identify behavioural patterns, so this is especially critical for us. Data is generated by people from many different backgrounds, so to create solutions that work, we need our team to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. The more diverse brains we have on the job, the better for everyone.

It’s not just about embracing diversity as a business or a sector - it’s about actively helping people to understand the value of their own unique perspective, whether that uniqueness comes from other ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations religions, or cultures.

We’ve set out to make TDS a place where people feel they can be their whole self at work. Differences are welcomed and celebrated since it’s those very differences that make our teams so successful. 

As part of this we’ve implemented company-wide training around unconscious bias so that we can all identify and understand our own inherent biases. Without this awareness we can all be complicit in holding back the progress that’s needed to achieve impactful change.

We collaborate  with different organisations to help educate the next generation of talent. For example, we’ve partnered with Generation and Code First Girls, initiatives that train and support individuals from underrepresented communities into careers that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. 

We’re starting to see improvements in terms of broader representation within the sector, but to have a real social impact, we have to address the lack of diversity in tech from a much earlier age. 

According to recent UCAS data provided by HESA, only 35% of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women. We must educate our young people about the opportunities that a career in tech can offer them, and we need to make sure that these opportunities are grasped by girls, young people of colour, and people representing the full range of communities within our education system.

Recent Success

However you measure success, we’ve had quite a year! There’s the obvious measure of increased financial turnover and winning new contracts, and we’ve certainly achieved both of those. But for us, success is more about living our core values, delivering precisely tailored projects for our clients, sparking innovation within the team, and celebrating our staff.   We’re also really proud that we’ve won several awards that reflect different aspects of our business, from Best Place to Work, Entrepreneur of the Year, SME of the Year, and Tech for Good.   Together we go all out to create outstanding solutions for our clients, within an inclusive and stimulating work environment, and industry recognition across such a broad range of awards is a fantastic boost for the entire team.  

What does the future look like for your company?

2022 has been a really busy year with 50% year-on-year growth projected to the end of this FY. We’ll continue to grow and scale the great work we're doing for our clients, and we’re focussing on working with more businesses to help them get value from data. As part of this, we’ll be opening an Edinburgh office, and we also plan to expand into Europe.  

In line with our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, we’ll be continuing to work hard on increasing the diversity of our own workforce. At the same time we’ll keep building relationships with organisations who set best practice for recruiting and developing more data enthusiasts from a wide range of communities and backgrounds, for the benefit of our region and our sector.

Asks for other members  

We’re all about collaboration. We've found that great things happen when organisations come together to share knowledge and bounce ideas off each other, so we love getting together with others to create or contribute to events, panels, roundtable discussions, and community-focused projects.
And of course, we’d love to connect with any members looking for support in their data transformation projects. We can provide a range of services including Single View of a Customer, Data Transformation, Operational Insight, Analytics, and Modelling. We pride ourselves on giving our clients exactly what they need - and none of what they don’t - whether that’s a single consultation or full-blown bespoke data system design, build and maintenance.
We’re always happy to chat, and we promise to keep the geek-speak to a minimum!  

More information

LinkedIn: The Data Shed
Website: https://thedatashed.co.uk/ 

SME Member of the Week: January, Digital trade

For January's SME Member of the Week, we’ll be focusing on digital trade. Digital trade offers a powerful route to economic growth for SMEs, as businesses with international footprint are more profitable, productive, resilient and see expansion in growth. For Janauary, we want to showcase SME member's who have tapped into overseas export opportunities and taken advantage of the UK’s trading partnerships worldwide to successfully export their product or service in international markets. Submit your case study here.