The view from here – Anna Sutton, The Data Shed

Head and shoulders portrait of Anna Sutton, Anna is stood and smiling to camera

In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.

In our latest instalment we caught up with Anna Sutton, Co-Founder and CEO of data consultancy The Data Shed.

Anna shares her thoughts on the business impact of the pandemic and told us there was tentative positivity from the tech sector for 2021, despite the ever-changing landscape.

How has your business fared under the challenges of the pandemic?

We’re really fortunate to have clients whose businesses have not been adversely impacted by the pandemic and in the medtech sector, where support has never been more necessary.

There was a great deal of anxiety and stressful re-thinking and realignment back in March, but our team has shown incredible resilience and adaptability. You have to be authentic and truthful with your teams and Ed (Co-Founder, The Data Shed) and I were determined that would be our focus – what we found really helpful was the availability and accessibility of other business owners across the region. We’ve both had really inspiring coffee walks in the park, sharing experience, ideas and best practice.

Many businesses have seen lockdown as an opportunity to get their proverbial together -tackling legacy data issues and setting their stall out for the future. Our client organisations have recognised the vital importance of their data, both in terms of risk management and as an asset, providing critical user insights and facilitating more informed management decisions.


What are the key changes you’ve seen?

In common with many businesses, we’ve adapted to working from home and for tech-based businesses that has been less of a challenge. We have daily “scrum” meetings on Teams, join regular online gatherings through Leeds Digital Festival and enjoy the wider benefits of the region’s tech ecosystem through ongoing introductions, webinars and virtual meetings.

But we are an office-centric business at heart and there is a great sense of needing to work together in a physical space again, the value of human contact and the need to learn from each other – we’re looking forward to when that’s possible.

Presentations, of course, are much easier to facilitate virtually. Before, we needed to get a boardroom full of people; now the client can hear us from his or her home office or kitchen table.  We’ve had great meetings: one with the FD breaking off to help his young son make and fly a paper aeroplane, another with a senior business leader suddenly pelted with a ball of plasticine!

You’re not taking your client out for dinner, but you’re being invited into their homes, getting a very real insight into their lives and breaking down lots of barriers.


What does Leeds and the wider city region offer for tech-based businesses?

Leeds is an amazing place to do business and Yorkshire truly recognises the benefits of collaborative working. Nexus and the University of Leeds are integral to that collaboration. Even if you are not a business which can directly benefit from Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, for example, there is an open and mutually beneficial partnership ethos.

This is a region which is not about every person for themselves – the pie can be shared: if someone gets a generous slice, it doesn’t mean there is a lot less for everyone else – it generally creates a bigger pie and more opportunities for inter-connected and collaborative businesses. It also means that we’re all working together to enhance the local talent pool, something we all very much benefit from.


How will data help inform our progress in the future?

There has been what many people are calling an “infodemic” around the pandemic and the associated media and Government communications. The general public has been exposed to data as never before – with endless charts and statistics.

Good data, clearly presented, must be used to tackle any misinformation, whatever the new world presents us with. We know that businesses – from startups to international groups – are putting fairness and quality of life firmly at the top of their corporate objectives and business plan agendas. Diversity and inclusion commitments are about actions rather than words and good data provides the unbiased insights to inform those actions.

Data isn’t going away – it’s becoming even more important and the truth of data is fundamental to our politics, economy and society. Clear insights will help to ensure better decisions and I see a tentative positivity across the tech sector as we work to achieve that.

Explore more insights from our ‘the view from here’ series: