With Mark Chillingworth, Editor & Julie Pierce, Food Standards Agency 

Designing Data Models for Responsive Organizations

UK government data and technology leader Julie Pierce tells the Cloud Counsel how it’s essential to design for remote working.

Creating and succeeding as a business that works remotely requires a design led approach, Julie Pierce, Director Openness, Data & Digital at the Food Standards Agency tells the Cloud Counsel. Like all business technology leaders, Pierce and her organization has had to change its operating model in recent weeks as the Coronavirus impacts the world economy. The difference for Pierce is that the Food Standards Agency designed its operating model to be remote working focused well before the virus demanded a national lockdown.

“We are the regulator for food in the UK, making sure it is safe to eat and authentic,” Pierce says of the non-ministerial UK government department. “Part of our role is to manage incidents when they occur,” she says, describing how the Food Standards Agency in the past has responded to and managed issues like the selling of horse meat by supermarket chain Tesco in the UK, which was a major scandal in 2013.

Managing major incidents is therefore part of the culture of the Food Standards Agency as well as the design of the data and digital services Pierce is responsible for.

“We have designed to be working in this remote way and have been able to support remote working for over two years,” Pierce says to The Cloud Counsel. The business technology leader says the two years of designing the security and policies around remote working and data usage has benefited the department during the sudden need to have the entire workforce working from home. 

“We have been working as an organization where people can choose where they work. The difference, as a result of Coronavirus, is the scale,” she says. 

The culture and experience of reacting to and managing major incidents has benefited the Food Standards Agency which has practiced how to respond. Data is one of the main responsibilities of Pierce and the Food Standards Agency.

“We are doing a lot of social media listening to track how people feel and how they are viewing the risks,” Pierce says of the current pandemic. “For a data driven organization it is important to be able to set up an intelligence team and provide briefings,” she adds of how data led organizations need to be agile in their technology and data usage to respond to sudden changes to the country or economy.

That agility has benefited the Food Standards Agency during the pandemic, giving the department the ability to rapidly work on new regulations for the food industry as it responds to the pandemic. “Work that typically took 12 months has been done in months,” she says. 

Cloud computing has played a role in enabling Pierce and the Food Standards Agency to respond and interestingly is driving start-up business behavior in the foods sector as it responds to the global pandemic. “We are seeing new business models coming out as organizations take up direct selling and delivery, and that will be a big change in the sector. These are digital and data driven organizations and we will see more of that,” Pierce says. 

“Two years ago we lost two datacentres within six months to a flood and a fire so that was our incentive to go to the cloud and we are now a 100% cloud organization,” she adds that the Food Standards Agency is now moving to a phase of “full optimization” of the cloud. The pandemic is demonstrating to all types of organization the power and flexibility of the cloud and it is likely that many organizations will now charge their CIOs and CTOs with extracting the full power of the cloud services available to them.

“We are now becoming sophisticated users of the cloud,” she says. “Everyone is starting to operate in new ways and across the organization they are finding tips and techniques and sharing them,” Pierce says of the greater use of the cloud by staff at the Food Standards Agency. Pierce says these are opportunities to help organizations understand how they can use technology to improve their operations and she advises technology teams to “be quick, be opportunistic and be agile” in demonstrating and delivering new tools and services. 

Pierce joined the Food Standards Agency in 2015 having been CIO for DEFRA, the government department for farming, agriculture and rural affairs in the UK. As a technology leader Pierce has also had major roles at the Home Office in the UK government and in financial services.  


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