John Telford Speaker Profile

John Telford, Head of Data Architecture at Trainline, talks to Comma about the recent events that have altered the Data landscape – and the future trends that will be shaping our industry in the years to come.


Why did you get into data in the first place? 

What sort of background did you have coming into the job that you are in now?

I got interested in data about 15 years ago, back when I was working with Channel 4 TV. I am now in the field of Big Data and Machine Learning, but my in-road to this sector was through Data Warehousing. I was working on analysing large sets of data to do with Interactive TV, Clickstream, Ad Servers, and Video on Demand. As soon as I started working on it, I was hooked. It really was – and still is – fascinating to me. 

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How do you see the world of Data changing in the future? 

What sort of trends do you see coming up?

I think Cambridge Analytica and GDPR combined to create a perfect storm. They have effectively changed the landscape and brought attention to the professionalism and level of care that we need to take with personal data. They’ve highlighted the need to make proper, thorough, professional ways of working with personal data the highest priority.

The repercussions of these two changes will continue for years to come. The impact of GDPR has been felt far and wide, and individuals whose data is collected by businesses will quite reasonably ask, if they don’t already: what’s in it for me? Being able to explain the value exchange with customers, relating to the data stored about them, is essential. 


How practical are the Machine Learning and AI trends that are gaining momentum at the moment? 

What your hopes are for the future if these technologies?

They are entirely practical trends now but both (in their current state) require specialist expertise from data engineers and data scientists, which can be quite hard to find. The technology is still hard to orchestrate in a production environment, and although I do believe that this will be made a lot easier in the coming years, right now the emphasis is still on people. Both trends need the right brains to work properly: businesses need to employ those who are able to deal with what is essentially immature technology, one that needs steady housekeeping and care to make it work. 

That said, the signs are very promising. Public Cloud Vendors, for example, have machine learning services that can simplify the process a great deal – I can see Machine Learning as a Service becoming a great trend. As to whether people are using those services in a large-scale production sphere... it’s hard to say. There is still a lot of hard technical work to be done to make these things as effective as they could be.

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What real world applications of AI inspire you the most?

Alexa voice assistants are all around my house and I absolutely love these little cylinders. My wife and I have two young daughters who are nine and ten years old, and what I find fascinating is that they will only know a world where you can shout out, “Alexa, who was the first prime minister after WW2?” or “Alexa, what is the answer to this equation?” in order to solve many of life’s great big questions. This journey for me as a young boy involved hopping on a bus to Luton Central Library and spending hours searching for the answer within the many reference and telephone books that lined the shelves. That information is now not only attainable through a screen, but via voice control too, and even though I work in technology it never fails to amaze me. It really does feel as though we are living in the future or within a science fiction novel. Star Wars depicted computers that would talk: now we have them living in our house, and I really didn’t see this coming.   

Voice interface really will take off in the future. As an industry, it’s fascinating to work out when to use voice control and when to use a screen – a more traditional user interface. 

How has this influenced the way you work, and the solutions you offer to customers?

Our voice app built for the Google Assistant, helps our customers with their travel needs. After all, the best way to explain what you need is by voice. The transport industry is inherently complex, and one of our main missions as a company is to make everything much simpler for our customers, helping them get from A to B in the fastest, most cost effective, and simplest way. 

Have a listen to John Telford and the rest of our panel of speakers discuss: The future of data – is Skynet coming? At the latest Comma Podcast. 

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