After working offshore for almost two decades, Matthew Polson had a hunch about where he might make an impact with his skills and experience when he returned home.

“I could see the potential for data and analytics in the environmental field, especially around water quality,” says Datacom’s CTO – Data and Analytics. “And having seen some of the rivers of my youth become polluted, it was something of personal interest to me.”

His hunch was right. Since returning to New Zealand in 2018, Matt has played a leading role in a number of innovative data and analytics projects making a positive impact in our waters.

An early project building a data platform for Nelson City Council created smarter ways to manage and monitor the city’s infrastructure and natural environment. This included offering real-time data access and analytics to improve water management.

Matt’s team also built a data platform for Cawthron Institute, enabling data collected from the institute’s aquaculture research park to be accessed, analysed and shared in real time. The organisations continue working together on projects to gather IoT data from a network of offshore buoys, and find smarter ways for scientists to analyse DNA data sets.

And an award-winning project for Sealord drew on large and diverse datasets, and harnessed advanced analytics and machine learning to drive more sustainable fishing practices.

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Since his return to New Zealand, Matthew Polson's hunch that he would make an impact in the environmental field has been proven right as he has continually taken on projects making a positive difference to the nation's waters.

Power to transform

As well as creating positive environmental, social and commercial outcomes, such projects showcase the transformative power of data and analytics, says Matt.

“They really demonstrated what you can do with these sorts of techniques, and that’s been an instigator of the growth we’ve experienced in our practice over the last three or four years.”

Datacom’s data and analytics practice was in its nascent stage when Matt joined the company, initially as a senior analytics consultant in its Nelson office (and Datacom’s only South Island-based data practitioner).

It’s since grown to become arguably New Zealand’s leading data services provider, with Matt now technical head of a team of around 70 in New Zealand and 40 in Australia.

His current role focuses on two main areas: the first involves deeply understanding customers’ business priorities, pain points and aspirations around data and analytics; the second is ensuring he’s across the data industry’s latest global developments and trends so Datacom’s vision, offerings and capabilities remain at the cutting edge.

“And it’s at the intersection of both – where you bring that cutting-edge technical knowledge into those customer conversations – where a lot of the magic happens. Being able to facilitate those kinds of conversations is what makes my job rewarding.”

The accidental expert

While Matt’s now recognised as one of the country’s foremost technical experts in his field, he fell into it by accident rather than design.

He studied international relations and history at the University of Otago, before heading to Australia and then London, where he worked as a data analyst on a project for the then-Department for Constitutional Affairs. As the amount of data generated by the department grew, he began building databases and reporting solutions to manage it, leading to freelance work for a range of other organisations.

After eight years in the UK, Matt moved to Sweden where he worked on assignments across Europe with one of the Nordics’ leading data and analytics providers. There he honed his skills and gained exposure to emerging technologies of the time such as cloud data platforms, IoT and machine learning.

Considering a return home for family reasons, Matt reached out from Sweden to Datacom to see if there was a home for his skills at the company’s Nelson office. Having grown his entire career offshore, he initially had limited understanding of New Zealand’s commercial landscape, he says, but joining the Datacom team opened many doors.

“What I've learnt is how fundamental Datacom is to New Zealand. It helps run a lot of our most important infrastructure and touches so many different organisations and customers. And those relationships have in turn helped start conversations around what data and analytics can do for organisations to help grow that side of our business.”

As examples, he cites a multi-year project with Transpower to deliver a modern data and analytics platform that supports critical energy infrastructure, and another working with the University of Canterbury to modernise its data infrastructure, data management practices and support better student outcomes through analytics.

Driven by increased media coverage and accessibility of technologies to manage and harness insights from data, most New Zealand organisations now consider a good data strategy and better use of analytics as key, he says.

And as economic headwinds gather, that focus is more important than ever.

“As times get tougher, there are ways you can use data to become more efficient and make smarter decisions to fine tune your operations and make savings. But there are also a lot of opportunities to create new products and generate income with data that companies are exploring. It really has the power to take your business in whole new directions.”

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