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Nigel Davis: sifting through datasets is challenging

I began my career at Willis in 1999 as a GIS consultant, building typhoon and flood risk models for Willis Re.

As the team grew, I specialised in GIS and technology. Between 2003 and 2007 I built Willis Re's catastrophe modelling Data Centres. This was really the period of industrialisation of risk analytics at Willis. Now I am part of the Management team in Willis' Global Analytics function. The team is a sixty-strong central group within the company, acting as an empowerment function. This means we bring technology, analytics, risk solutions and knowledge to the various business units across Willis.

I manage the 'Platforms and Delivery' function within Global Analytics, which involves using and delivering innovative risk technology solutions to Willis and Willis' clients. Spatial information and technology has become integral to insurance and consequently plays a significant part in my work. Within Global Analytics, we also manage the Willis Research Network within which Ordnance Survey is a long-standing member. These are exciting times for us because the company has began a new journey to define itself as the 'analytical broker' and we are seeing demand for our services continuously grow.

How long have you been using Ordnance Survey data?

I personally have worked with Ordnance Survey data ever since I began GIS at the University of Leeds. Beyond working with all the paper maps, I remember using OSCAR® data for my MSc. dissertation; I analysed routes to school versus traffic accident hotspots.

What do you find most useful?

Generally, Ordnance Survey addressing products assist with accumulation/proximity analysis, but also enhance exposure data used in catastrophe modelling. For the part of our business that insures corporate customers, addressing and other Ordnance Survey datasets stand to add value by helping us identify supply chain and infrastructure points-of-failure. This is something I’d like to do more of.

Why did you become interested in geographic information?

I always liked geography during school and continued to study it at university. I was able to study GIS for my undergraduates and Masters degrees, which married my like for physical geography with computational science. During my every-day work, I spend a lot of time focusing purely on IT, but with almost every analytics system we build, it is only a matter of time before someone suggests that we add a map or some spatial analysis and then I am back into GIS again.

What, in your opinion, are the key issues facing the financial services industry over the next three years?

Since I work in a technical team, I have to give a technical answer. In my mind, the issues lie around the use of data. There are many more datasets becoming available from real-time feeds and social media through to science, research and public information. The challenge in our domain is how to sift through all of it and pick the datasets that are useful and accurate in order to produce valuable information and insights. To explain what I mean, when you type a search in to Google®, you get pages and pages of stuff and you have to spend an amount of time refining your search to get what you want. For anyone working with data, we all know that you have to have a good understanding of what data is, how it was produced, its strengths, its weaknesses, who owns it and so on. Understanding these things will be the challenge.

How can geographic information help?

I am preaching to the converted I suspect, but in the insurance industry, we insure a wide range of assets, most of which are described spatially. When we analyse things we first often ask the simple questions such as 'what?', 'where?', 'when?'. In insurance, the 'where?' question is fundamental. If we can't accurately describe where something is then we cannot be certain about the impacts of external man-made and natural forces. Ultimately with all the data and knowledge we have today, we should be able to remove or minimise spatial uncertainty – yet it is surprising how much uncertainty remains. Insured properties don't move anywhere so it must be achievable to do a better job with property assets and then in the future, focus our attentions to the complexities of moving assets.

Tell us something not many people know about you?

Like many people, I reminisce to my youth when I was at the peak of my physical fitness. When I was 15 my school rugby team won the Daily Mail® national cup and I was lucky enough to play on the pitch at Twickenham. We won the national 7s when I was 16, so I have some genuine sports silverware somewhere at home.

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