Shaheen Saud – finding meaning in data
Shaheen’s path to lead RPS’ Data Analytics and Insights team can be traced back to a donation of computers given to his high school in Fiji.
09 November 2023 | 1 min read
Growing up in Fiji
Shaheen’s life today is in stark contrast to his early childhood.
Growing up in Fiji, Shaheen enjoyed the simpler things, including swimming at the picturesque Natadola Beach (which would eventually become home to the Intercontinental Fiji Resort) as well as playing soccer with friends. But a stroke of luck had a lasting impact on Shaheen’s life.
“I was incredibly lucky that the local high school I attended had computers, which was very, very rare in Fiji,” Shaheen says. “They’d been donated by countries like Australia and New Zealand.” When he switched on the clunky large machines with only handful of spreadsheet and word processing programs (with all games disabled!) – something clicked.
“It just made sense to me. I really liked the computer classes and creating spreadsheets and databases and excelled as the best computer studies student at school. So, when it came to think about my career, I naturally gravitated towards technology.”
Finding a new home in New Zealand
With the support of his parents, Shaheen made what he calls a “beautiful risk” to study information technology at Waikato Institute of Technology in New Zealand.
“It’s not an easy decision as an 18-year-old to move to another country on your own. Even though I had some cousins there, it was still daunting – but it paid off.”
After graduating, Shaheen took inspiration from his parents and joined the data-rich banking industry. “I ended up focussing on data analysis and reporting at university and banking seemed like the good first step as well as something familiar as both my parents worked in banks.”
Shaheen fine-tuned his financial analysis and customer relations skills then moved into the dairy industry where he put his data know-how to a different use at Fonterra. Then local government beckoned.
Turning community feedback into insights
Shaheen entered the Auckland City Council at a time of huge change. Eight smaller councils were amalgamated to become a large ‘mega city’.
“I led a team that took all the community feedback and provided the intel to council on what services were performing well, what the community wanted the council to do better, and so on. Our work was hugely impactful and helped the council make more informed decisions.”
Having a closer connection to the community and providing a more immediate practical use of data sat well with Shaheen. “It helped shape my own practices to ensure data is analysed and presented in a way that is accessible and relevant to the client as well as the stakeholders. And it was satisfying to see the positive application of our insights, being used for the benefit of the communities in which we live.
“I also visited local sacred meeting places and learnt about the indigenous people of New Zealand – further shaping my wish to use my skills to create a lasting impact on our communities.”
Continued focus on community benefits
In 2014, Shaheen migrated to Australia – another move that paid off.
“I’ve had very positive migrant experiences. I’ve been welcomed by both Kiwis and Aussies as a member of the vibrant ‘Pacific backyard’. I’ve bonded with people over a mutual familiarity of Fiji and its friendly people – as well as rugby. Although allegiances do get tested when Fiji plays the All Blacks or Wallabies!”
On the work front, Shaheen rejoined Fonterra and kept close to the practical delivery of his work. “I spent as much time out in the factories and on the farms as I as I did behind a desk on a computer, leveraging data and analytics to have conversations with farmers on milk production, market dynamics, product sales and more”.
Then he had another turn in the banking industry before setting up new data analytics teams within the energy and legal sectors.
Now, at RPS, Shaheen works with energy companies, infrastructure owners and governments to help organisations and communities better understand the complexities, impacts and opportunities of major projects.
Utilising new technologies as we forge ahead
Looking forward, Shaheen believes technological advances like artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue to enrich what is possible in terms of data and insights.
“We’re able to utilise so many more resources in a far more effective and efficient way. We can draw on things like geographic information systems (GIS), asset data, community engagement and publicly available information and statistics to create solutions and meaningful insights.”
While Shaheen and his team work on new developments, they increasingly help organisations better utilise their existing infrastructure and assets. They recently helped a university maximise its use of space across multiple campuses and helped a solar farm operator adjust the angles of photovoltaic panels to derive the most amount of sunlight for energy production.
“Our skills in using data to better utilise assets and resources will only increase as industries, governments and organisations seek to create more sustainable, environmentally responsible, and effective work practices.”
It’s been quite a journey from using the clunky donated computers in Fiji to AI software and working for global clients. But the core remains Shaheen’s drive to find meaning in data – albeit with a fancier spreadsheet.