Mike Evans Speaker Profile

Ahead of this month’s Comma Live Podcast, Comma founder and CTO Mike Evans talks to us about AI, Machine Learning…and knowing the difference between gimmicks and genuinely useful innovations.

What is your background?

I started out as a graduate trainee with Mitchells and Butlers back in 2006. I tried my hand in a variety of roles - from barman to business analyst. After a few years working with their software, I decided this was my preferred career choice and transitioned to Stibo Systems in 2012 as a business and application consultant. It got me into the wonderful world of MDM, and I’ve never looked back.

I spent a brief spell at Cognizant as an independent MDM consultant, before eventually re-joining my Mitchells and Butlers colleagues; Leigh Wells, Sam Goss and Mike Bonsall. The rest, as they say, is history. We founded Comma in 2015 and the company's success has surpassed our expectations. As Comma’s CTO, I’m genuinely excited to be driving the evolution of Comma’s service and technology, to support businesses embracing the digital age.

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Why did you choose to work in data? What are the biggest lessons you've learned?

I never consciously chose to work in data; however my journey into the world of data and MDM was rooted in my time at Mitchells and Butlers. As an aspiring Project Manager, I was asked to work on an analysis project to understand why some recent initiatives weren’t achieving expected results. It became apparent very quickly that a lack of focus on data was the root cause. This led to my first encounter with the concept of ‘Master Data Management’ which transformed my career.

Of course, our initial MDM project proposal was rejected outright! And I returned to being a Junior Project Manager. But two years later the project was resurrected, and I embarked on what was then the biggest learning experience of my career.

"If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt, it’s that you can’t cut corners in MDM. Success relies on the right balance of people, process and technology. It is as much to do with changing the culture of a company and embracing the value of data, as it is about technology or process."

How do you see the world of data changing in the near future? 

The world of data will change drastically in many ways - and in others, not at all. We'll continue to see global data volumes grow. Technological advances will enable us to process, interpret, draw conclusions from, and make decisions based upon data: faster and with less manual intervention. Businesses which fail to become data driven will struggle to survive, as the competitive advantage gained through the value of data continues to grow. 

That said, the need to manage master data will not go away. The core principles that apply to MDM today will continue to do so. In fact, they'll grow in importance. After all, organisations can only achieve real value from data analysis if they're able to tie that data back to the products they sell, the locations they trade from, and the customers they interact with. You can't make effective business decisions without reliable data. These challenges will never change.

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What is your view on AI and Machine Learning? How practical are they right now?

We must remember that AI - by its very definition - has been around for years. Chess champions were beaten by computers in the 1990s. It’s important to separate the buzzword that is AI from instances of genuine progress and innovation. That’s not to underplay the huge advances being made on an almost daily basis, or to dismiss the experience of AI and Machine Learning encountered by everyone, every day through search engines, facial recognition, home assistants like Alexa and Siri… and so on. But recognising the difference between gimmicks and genuinely useful innovations is imperative, particularly with regard to MDM and Data Governance.

Every software vendor talks about how their tool harnesses the latest in AI and Machine Learning. But what does this actually mean to the end user, and what business challenges does it solve? I look forward to exploring in more detail how we can apply AI and Machine Learning techniques to MDM to derive greater business value at unimaginably fast speeds. But, I’m not expecting the robots to take over just yet.

What is your favourite use of AI in pop culture?

There are many. I’m a huge fan of Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. More recently, I loved the Channel 4 drama ‘Humans’. However, I think I’ll have to go for Kryten from 90s sitcom Red Dwarf as my absolute favourite representation of an artificially intelligent being. I loved the concept of his crewmates ‘breaking’ his programming by teaching him less desirable human traits such as how to lie, insult a superior officer, and break his unwavering belief in ‘silicon heaven’ – “But that’s preposterous, where would all the calculators go?!”

Mike will be on the panel at our next Comma Live Podcast: The future of data – is Skynet coming? It’s taking place on 27th September at the Hoxton Grill. To register your interest, click here.

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