A love of science coupled with “a healthy obsession with surfing”, says Matt Bartley, once led him on a path to becoming a marine biologist.

But after completing a marine sciences degree, he instead ‘fell into’ a career in technology – yet the pull of the ocean continues.

As Datacom’s General Manager Data and Analytics, Matt has spearheaded many high-profile projects, a number of which, coincidentally, have had a strong marine bent.

Working with Sealord, for example, Datacom’s data and analytics team used advanced analytics to optimise and improve the sustainability of the company’s fishing operations. The project was so successful, it’s now being rolled out across New Zealand’s fishing industry.

“This was a fascinating project, and with my background in marine sciences I relished the opportunity to be involved,” says Matt.

“It really is an industry-defining solution with numerous benefits – from optimising fishing operations to smarter fisheries management to minimising unwanted bycatch and reducing fuel consumption.”

Art of the possible

Matt has national responsibility for developing Datacom’s data and analytics capability. Effectively, he says, it’s about helping customers better use one of their most important assets – data.

It’s a fascinating, fast-moving space at the ‘pointy end’ of technology innovation. “The world of data, particularly now with AI and machine learning, is really driving thinking and wonder around the art of the possible within technology.”

So how did he get into the field?

“After my degree I did my OE, quickly discovering there wasn't a huge demand for marine scientists in London. In contrast, the tech sector was exploding. This was pre-2000 and it was like the Wild West. A lot of technologies and solutions – and customers’ appetites to use them – were in their infancy.”

After stints in IT recruitment and client-facing roles, he joined IBM, where in 2008 he managed the acquisition of pioneering analytics software firm Cognos into IBM’s New Zealand business.

“That was my first foray into the world of data, and that’s pretty much where I’ve been ever since.”

Startup mentality

Matt was working in a data warehouse automation startup when he was approached in late 2019 to join Datacom, which wanted to add a ‘startup-esque’ data and analytics business to its offering.

“I was told there was a huge amount of digital transformation taking place to make Datacom a highly agile organisation, and once I joined that certainly proved to be the case.

“The leadership really encourages and instils that startup mentality – that entrepreneurial approach to running a business that most people wouldn't associate with a company the size of Datacom – which is part of its secret sauce.”

Data-driven revolution

Matt had barely hit the ground at Datacom, however, when Covid-19 hit. But the pandemic hasn’t hindered Datacom’s pipeline of projects supporting customers to use data and analytics in interesting and powerful ways.

He outlines five key areas driving activity.

“Firstly, there’s been a data-driven revolution over the past five or so years as the technology has become democratised. There’s now huge potential for organisations to use data-driven tools to transform operational business models, provide deeper insights around industry, or create richer, more personalised customer experiences.”

A proliferation of data sources – everything from Internet of Things (IoT), social media, computer vision and mobile phone data, alongside that from third-parties – are combining to provide richer insights, while demand for real-time analytics is rising.

Organisations are also increasingly embedding customer data into their business decisions, he says, citing dynamic pricing – where companies vary pricing according to demand – as one example.

Lastly, machine learning and predictive analytics are two ‘very hot’ areas of activity.

He cites the Sealord project as one example, where machine learning was used to create real-time AI support for skippers. Another is an ongoing project with Marlborough District Council, focused on improving the productivity and sustainability of marine farming in the Marlborough Sounds.

The project has involved deploying IoT sensors in marine farms to gather water quality and other environmental data. Using advanced analytics it’s providing a better picture of what’s going on beneath the sea’s surface, and helping answer key questions, like why one farm is more productive than its neighbour.

People powered

When it comes to delivering on such dynamic and complex projects, says Matt, team is everything.

“We’re very lucky within the Datacom data and analytics team to have, I believe, some of the most talented and experienced data practitioners in New Zealand, if not the world.

“Fortunately a lot of what we do is repeatable and scalable, so having that depth and breadth of expertise allows us to bring decades of learning to the table so we can consistently deliver high-value outcomes to all our customers.”

To help meet the frenetic pace of industry change, and the recruitment challenges posed by a closed border, Matt’s also been able to leverage the power of Datacom’s network by forming commercial agreements with specialist teams around the world.

“For example, Datacom International has a team in Stockholm, Sweden, who specialise in advanced analytics and have delivered hundreds of machine learning AI projects across all industries,” he explains.

“That experience just doesn’t exist at present in New Zealand, so we leverage that experience to bring it to bear on our customers here, while our local team gets to learn a huge amount from these global thought leaders.

“It really is a win-win.”

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