No matter where in the world you live, healthcare is likely to be one of the most complex, data-intensive industries. It stands to reason that being a data leader in healthcare means you shouldn't make any decision unless you have the data, the analysis and insights to support it. Another way of saying this is that gut-based, finger-in-the-air decision-making shouldn’t really appeal to you.

Part of my role at The National Health Service (NHS) is to spearhead the move away from an organization that thinks about data as a nebulous concept. This mode of thinking rarely yields satisfactory solutions. What does work is to start to treat data more as a product, one that has its own provenance and unique ability to drive impact. 

Three Data Leadership Principles

Whatever your industry, if you’re a data leader the onus is on you to define that leadership based on a few principles:

  1. Socialize the idea that data serves a purpose, that we need to understand what we're doing with it, and that we know how we get to the end point – which is data-informed decisions. Ideas need to be bold and ambitious and not protectionist about continuing with more of the current practices.
  2. Push against hermetic ways of talking about data among data and analytics teams. Too much data easily can overwhelm medical and administrative staff, and data customers must understand what you’re doing or they quickly will fall back on the ways they work today
  3. Be a strong marketer of what you do with data, which means convincing internal and external customers about 
  • what data can do for them
  • how data can make their lives easier
  • how they can use data to make a difference to the lives of customers (in our case, patients and citizens)

This is a critically important moment for data leadership in healthcare, because it has lagged far behind many other industries. Change needs to be monumental but it often feels incremental. 

Ultimately, a lot of practicing data leadership is imagining the art of the possible. If you can tap into and generate genuine intention and will, you can advance your data leadership and your organization with surprisingly powerful results. 

Note. The views here represent those of the author and are not necessarily those of NHS England and NHS Improvement.


Sukhmeet Panesar (Suki) trained as a doctor in emergency medicine and public health and is skilled management consultancy, health policy and academia. At EY and Accenture, his work has focused on the national program for designing new care models. He has also been the chief clinical safety officer for deploying national solutions such as NHS Mail. In his current role, he leads digital transformation, strategy and development across 270+ individuals aggregated together from NHS England and NHS Improvement into one of the largest Data, Analysis and Intelligence Service (DAIS) teams, whose purpose is to help integrated care systems deliver population health management initiatives.