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CDO MATTERS WITH MALCOLM HAWKER

CDO Matters Ep. 13 | The Journey to Thought Leadership with Anthony Algmin

December 16, 2022

Episode Overview:

Curiosity can lead you to unlikely places. For Malcolm Hawker, a simple curiosity about enterprise data led to a lasting career as an expert in the field and a thought leadership figure in the data and analytics space.

Malcolm is interviewed by Anthony Algmin on the Data Leadership Lessons podcast to discuss his personal journey to becoming a thought leader in the data field. In this lively conversation, he shares insights on his career progression starting as a phone-based Technical Support agent for AOL in the mid ‘90s making $7 an hour to where he is today. Along the way, Malcolm shares several valuable insights on the current state of data leadership with practical advice on how CDOs can leverage critical data to become a more data-driven organization. 

Malcolm dives into why he chose to leave his position as a Gartner Analyst and use podcasts, LinkedIn and other channels to share best practices with CDOs as a part of his mission to “raise the bar” on data leadership. A common thread across Malcolm’s interview is the idea that many of the best practices consistently shared with CDOs and other data leaders are not being implemented today. He attributes much of this as a failure to align business incentives with IT incentives, as well as a failure by CDOs with more of an IT background being unwilling to defer to other experts to help solve difficult problems — at least those who aren’t high-priced consultants.

Through this 45-minute conversation, Malcolm’s passion for helping CDOs consistently sits at the core with the support of his deep experience as a consultant, a software vendor, a CIO and a Gartner analyst. He explores the importance of CDOs having the right combination of business, technical and sales skills — and the importance of using the right messaging and mediums to ensure data organizations place business first, not technology.  

CDOs looking for new — and perhaps a bit irreverent — views on the state of data leadership today should find this episode of CDO Matters a breath of fresh air.  

Key Moments

  • [1:00] Malcolm’s Career Overview in the Data Space
  • [6:30] The Early Internet Days with AOL
    [9:20] Pursuing Data Management
  • [14:40] Adding Value as a Data Thought Leader
  • [15:43] The Appeal of Data Evangelism
  • [25:20] Practicing Humility as a Modern CDO
  • [31:50] Making Data Literacy Actionable
  • [36:15] The Buzz Behind Data Fabric and Data Mesh
  • [39:10] Learning from Data Mistakes

Key Takeaways

Wearing Multiple Hats in the Data Space (5:02)

“In many ways, I learned the wrong way in some instances. Or the less effective way, I should say, of doing MDM and data management and implementing a governance program. But those lessons really carried forward and through the rest of my career…I’m in a unique position of having seen what works both as a practitioner and an analyst and a consultant and a software vendor. So, I’ve worn every hat. — Malcolm Hawker

Malcolm’s Endgame for Data Thought Leadership (10:42)

“After 30 years of having been in this space, I feel like I know what works, and I know what doesn’t work. I’ve seen it work, and I have seen it fail. I’ve been on the end of the failures, so I really want to help people avoid that stuff. I want to help CDOs succeed. I want to help VPs of Data and Analytics succeed. I want to extend the tenures of CDOs. I’m in the right place. I feel like it is the right time.” — Malcolm Hawker

The Makings of an Effective CDO (28:25)

“It’s a bit of a unicorn skillset. The right CDO is certainly a bit of a unicorn. It’s half sales, half business and half technology — and yes, that’s three halves. So, it’s tough, but there are people out there that do it.” — Malcolm Hawker

 The Truth about Data Literacy (32:08)

“I was at a presentation…and they were talking about data literacy and I asked him a question that I thought just was a mic drop. I said, ‘If data leaders were more business literate, would we be asking business leaders to be more data literate?’…I tend to have a little bit of a problem with the phrase ‘data literacy’ because I think it’s condescending because the flipside of that is illiteracy.” — Malcolm Hawker

About the Guest

Anthony Algmin is the host and founder of Algmin Data Leadership and the Data Leadership Lessons podcast. He also serves as the Convergence Platform Program Lead at AbbVie, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm based in Chicago. Anthony is also the author of the book, Data Leadership: Stop Talking About Data and Start Making an Impact!, published with DATAVERSITY. He has made over a hundred speaking appearances to deliver data leadership insights to the masses.

Episode Links & Resources:

Episode Transcript:

Malcolm Hawker 

Hi, I’m Malcolm Hawker, and this is the CDO Matters podcast. The show where I dig deep into the strategic insights, best practices and practical recommendations that modern data leaders need to help their organizations become truly data-driven. TuneIn for thought provoking discussions with data. IT and business leaders to learn about the CDO matters that are top of mind for today’s chief data officers. 

Anthony Algmin 

Today on episode 94, we welcome Malcolm Hawker. Malcolm is a thought leader in the field of master data management and data governance. He’s consulted some of the largest businesses in the world on their enterprise information management strategies. Malcolm is a frequent public speaker on data and analytics best practices, and cherishes the opportunity to share practical. And actionable insights on how companies can achieve their strategic imperatives by improving their approach to data management. Malcolm welcome to the show. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to. Be here please, just. 

Anthony Algmin 

Take a few minutes, give us kind of the story overview of your career and how your earlier experiences led up to doing what you do. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Ohhh story and overview. Well, it it it’s. It’s a relatively long story, but I’ll try to keep it fairly short. I did a 10 year career at this little Internet startup called AOL. I was really like my first job out of Graduate School. Believe it or not, I went to to work for AOL in 1995 answering tech support. Phone calls in. A call center making $7.00 an hour. I was I was troubleshooting Hayes modem connectivity where you try to you? Know help people understand OK? Are you connected? You’re not connected, are things working and and and with the intent of getting online. Line and and and troubleshooting and maybe taking some building questions and customer support questions and very quickly I I moved from the call center in Jacksonville, FL up up to the corporate headquarters in in suburban Virginia had a wonderful 10 year career with a well through the rise of of the Internet. So very much my DNA as as an employee. Is is is around things like failing fast is around things like experimentation and innovation and kind of forward thinking. And yes, I’m getting older these days and it’s it’s showing in the streaks of Gray hair, but very much that the kind of the time at AOL. Let me set me up while I was there. I had the pleasure of of doing a number of really cool things. I I I I managed a number of engineering teams even though I wasn’t an engineer, which was really really fun at. At one point I had a team of 13 or 14 Java engineers and we were building out chunks of of AOL’s advertising infrastructure. That at the time was taking kind of like the insane amounts of transactions for for the time. But I very quickly learned kind of the art of of software engineering, not as an engineer, but as as a manager. And the importance of data management through application development lens. I also had a number of jobs. And kind of on the. Product side of the house. When I finished my tenure at AOL I I moved to Austin, TX and I and I worked for a number of of companies, including Don and Brad. Street I work for a a startup doing project management software. I felt like I had to put some time in doing doing startup work. I was a consultant for a number of years, focused really kind of on on on on data and data management. I I felt a lot of needs there and and I really kind of came into my own when I was I was hired by this this this. Company based out of DC to to to what I thought was was answered like the simplest question in the world right? And and the question I was hired to answer was how many customers do we have? And at the time I was like, man, this is gonna be a slam dunk, right? Yeah, I’ll, I’ll I’ll, I’ll. I’ll run some BI. You know, I’ll, I’ll run a few reports and and get this figured out and and and no problem. And and maybe I’ll have to create a couple of data marks, which is what we call them at the time. Or or or create you. Know some customized reports should be easy. Enough, but I very, very quickly realized that. For this large company that was highly decentralized and had customer data all over the place that my task was not going to be an easy one at all. And and really, that kind of was my entryway my my gateway drug as it worked to to data management because I became enamored and fascinated with this idea that something so simple could be also concurrently so complex and and and that meaning something as simple as how many customers do we have or products or assets or locations. We have these things seem like infinitely simple questions to answer, but for large companies we’re incredibly perplexing and and that just drew me in and I’m like, OK. I got to figure this stuff out and I got to help companies figure this stuff out. So really that was my my entryway into. MDM for this company we we we tried a few different things early on we tried to kind of build some custom interfaces in Salesforce which was the CRM we tried to do some things from a reporting perspective. No matter what we did, all the kind of the bad data got carried through into those systems. We weren’t addressing any of the underlying governance issues. We didn’t invest in governance, so in many ways. I learned the wrong way in in some in some instances or the less effective way I should say of of doing MDM and doing data management and implementing a governance program. But those lessons really kind of carried forward through the rest of my career in subsequent positions, again at done in Bradstreet, and now with. See where where I just. I just love the complexity and the simplicity of of of MDM and I and and it’s really kind of like my life’s work now to try to help companies figure this out. Whether we’re talking about MDM or whether we’re talking more broadly about data management as a whole, I think there’s a lot of lessons that can be carried from one to the other that did lead to a beautiful amazing. Three-year run. Nearly three-year run at Gartner where I was a data analytics analyst at at Gartner I I co-authored 3 MDM Magic quadrants and and and a bunch of other research in the data space. Not just MDM but a few other areas as well. So I’m in a unique position of having seen what works both as a practitioner and an analyst and a consultant and a software vendor. So I’ve worn every hat. 

Anthony Algmin 

And and you’ve, you’ve been on the call center, helping people with with Internet issues before Internet was a thing people understood. 

Malcolm Hawker

Ohh my gosh. 

Anthony Algmin 

Well, they may not. Still understand it but but I just I. I can’t believe like I didn’t know that about you First off, and we’ve known each other for a while. Like I did not know that and I’m like. Finally, I’ve met a person on the other end of that phone call cause that must you there must be some stories from that. 

And like just how? 

Anthony Algmin 

Difficult at that time. Cause I mean there’s some people on that are watching this or listening to this that think of AOL as like a dinosaur company, AOL. Was the company in the mid to late 90s about anything with Internet and technology everywhere? I mean the CD’s in the mail and all the stuff like people they you don’t even remember how big AOL was, but they’re they were like the Tik T.O.K of their day. It was amazing. 

Oh yeah. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Thing yeah, absolutely. They they were the Tik T.O.K of their day and the Facebook of their day and the Google of their day because they they were the search engine for the Internet at the time. 

Anthony Algmin 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Malcolm Hawker 

So no, when I was in the call center, my gosh this was 1995. So you know a a reasonable modem speed at that time was like 28 eight K VOD modem right where? Oh I, I was answering tech support calls and you know it’s like people call up and say, well, I you know my cup holder is broken. I got that one and and the cup holder was was the disc tray, right? The CD-ROM disc tray that would open up and like the the cup holders. Broken, oh you mean I put that little thing in the in my cup holder, meaning that the little thing was the disc that that AOL was carpet bombing the planet with at the. Time, which were the? Install disks, oh, you mean I put that thing in my cup holder? I had that one with that. I doubt I. I I had that one. I had the I had the one where OK I got the disk and I got a computer and now I’m ready to get online and they call me and I and I’d say OK well do you have a modem? And then me like, what do you mean? What’s a modem? Oh I, I heard that too because at the time modems were peripheral, right, there were a separate thing that you plugged into your computer. 

No yeah yeah. 

Malcolm Hawker 

So you you name it. I’ve heard it, but yeah, at the time AOL for for the vast majority of Americans was the Internet because, you know at the time. You know the the fledgling Internet was. I mean, there were very, very few applications that were written specifically for the Internet. That was go. For there was ways. There was a few other things that allowed file transfer. There was a few things that allowed mess. Managing really basic messaging, but in terms of like viewing of content or like of reading an online newspaper or magazine. Yeah, what was it? Because it was. It was the only thing that was, you know, that had kind of consumer grade applications that were riding the Internet. 

Anthony Algmin 

Yeah, it brings me back this is. Like I didn’t, I did not I. Didn’t not expect. This to be part of the the conversation today, but so the the question I want to ask you before we get because I I feel there’s a lot of parallels in my own. And experience different storylines, different places, and and the kind of thing, but I’ve I feel like I’ve navigated around a bunch of different things and then ultimately ended up in the place doing the things I was always meant to do right. And and it seems like you’ve kind of figured that out. Similarly, along the way, like you knew data management, you got introduced to it, you started doing. You did consult like you’ve been everywhere you’re wearing. You’ve worn all these hats, but in in my mind you you have all of these. You, you’ve unveiled the facets of a jewel like of of what your life’s work is about and and I really get the sense that and having talked to you previously and and I’m sure the people the audience out there, you know they get the sense like you are doing what you are always meant to have been doing, like that that it’s been calling to you throughout your career is. That a fair statement. 

I think so, and and I think the proof is in the pudding if. You get a chance to. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Meet with me or watch any of my videos online or watch me in a meeting like I’m really passionate about this stuff. Like maybe like disproportionately so like maybe like maybe this. Guy needs to chill a little bit. Passionate about it, but I really honestly AM. Because after all of this, after my time at Gartner, after my time at the Treacheries after my time of managing engineers, you know it. It sounds crazy to say this because I I can’t believe it’s coming out of my mouth. But 30 years. Yes, 3030 years of of being kind of it, at least in this space. We’re very, very adjacent to this space. Feel like I know what works and. I know what. Doesn’t work, and I’ve seen it work, and I’ve. Seen it fail. I’ve been the on the end. Of the failures. So I I really wanna help people avoid that stuff. I wanna help CDO’s succeed I wanna help VP’s of data and analytics succeed. I want to extend the 10 years of of of. CDO so yes, I’m I’m in the right place. I feel like it’s the right time you’re in the right place in the right time. I didn’t honestly, until the last three years with with Gartner. This really kind of solidified at Gartner, but I didn’t realize until then the the kind of the for lack of a better word. The evangelical angle here that actually does appeal to. Me as well I. I didn’t think that it would. Right, because I’ve never considered myself a salesperson. Right like I I just like sales is like this, you know. That’s somebody else’s job. But On the contrary, I actually quite passionate about selling the value of good data management, selling the the, the, the value of a CDO, selling the value of data quality and in a way that is is meaningful to the business, right? Because I was the guy that was trying to sell an MDM program through better. Data I was the guy that was trying to sell an enterprise information management strategy. Through capabilities and through features and that didn’t work and it didn’t work as well. As it could. But this notion of doing it through the lens of business enablement, right of selling more, reducing your cost of reducing your risk. These are things that I’m. Learning as I go and that. Loan, behold, I’m actually quite. Happy to be doing through through mediums. Like this and podcasts and and and other mediums. So yes. It took me a while, but but all the roads seem to lead to here and it doesn’t. Doesn’t on the surface sound like you know. Being a tech support. Rep for a, you know, an Internet company. It doesn’t sound like that’s the you know, you know going to lead you to where you want to get to, but I always remained open to opportunities. I always remained open and I always listened and I always. Feel like. The number one thing that has been guiding me the the the most is if there was one thing is this passion for problem solving? And and and I think I could probably. I could probably make that work in other fields, but in the in the data field I don’t know there’s something special there and and again I think it has to do with this paradox of what appears simple, but it’s really not like that twist to me there. There’s something challenging there that makes me just want to. Bite in and not let go. 

Anthony Algmin 

There there’s a couple of threads that I wanna pull on here because it’s. That notion of of it seems simple, but it, but it definitely isn’t. And and I wanna. I think I wanna come back to that because I think that one will carry us for a while. But I’m curious because I I I would tend to agree with it. I’ve long said I’m I’m not a huge fan of of sales jobs like I don’t get fundamentally motivated by the money I don’t get, but I. But I like the problem solving and I think the connection to problem solving that you’ve drawn is is exactly right. Like I think that’s. Exactly what? What it is, but I think if you’re if you’re a change agent, if you’re if if a person that is trying to do something in a business that isn’t happening already, you gotta get at least somewhat comfortable with sales like the that that is a fundamental part, the the currency is different. If you’re asking for something internal, you’re not asking for a statement of work. For a check exactly, but you’re asking for some sort of support. You’re asking for some sort of resources. It is not a huge departure from a traditional sales role, so if you are a change agent becoming somewhat familiar with sales and and comfortable with sales is an essential part of of your job. I’m curious though, on this journey that you’ve been on, because clearly you’re you’re passionate about this. Clearly, this kind of podcast and stuff is as part of your job as an evangelist as and and clearly passionate about MDM and and and data management topics. At what point in that journey did you realize that becoming a speaker or thought? Leader or content creator, author. However you you think about it in your own mind? When did you insert that into your career and realize this is going to be an important part of who I am? And what I do in this data space that I’m in? 

Malcolm Hawker 

I I can tell you, I can tell you the galvanizing moment. There was one and and this may sound trite and it and it may sound no. I don’t believe it but but. Literally there was one. And which makes for a better story. But it also happens to be true, which makes it actually even. For a better story, that’s right. I was working for Dun and Bradstreet. I was my title was distinguished architect, and I traveled the world with the data whisperer. Scott Taylor and we were going around to DB clients and DB prospects talking about the transformative nature of. Data and that was good, and that was awesome. And if you ever get the opportunity to travel the world with Scott Taylor, I say take it. 

Anthony Algmin 

It’ll be a. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Good time if you ever if you can. 

Anthony Algmin

I bet. 

Malcolm Hawker 

It would, but that but that. But that aside, you know I was speaking. I was speaking probably two or three times a week with multiple companies, and I was having, you know, really meaningful conversations with with data leaders and with business leaders. But the the audience at the time was relatively small, meaning I would go and meet with maybe 5 or maybe 10 people with the company A and then I would go do it again with Company B and I’d go do a company C and I had a few conference speaking sessions as well that were pretty cool. But it was. It was really kind of siloed for lack of a of a better description. And when I was with DMB we were sponsoring a Gartner event and it was at one of the data and analytics summits that was still happening. It was in Orlando. It hadn’t actually transitioned over to to Dallas Fort Worth, so we were in Orlando. I I can’t remember which. And and. It was the kind of the keynote speak speaker speech. It was the morning of of day one. And the the conference chair was a gentleman named Michael Moran who was an MDM analyst at at Gartner and and who just so happened to live in the same town that I was living in and and had been living in previously Austin, TX and and and Michael gets up on the stage. And and I listened to him speak. And I listened to him talk about, you know the Data Analytics summit and I I listened to to to him, you know, opening the event and I said to myself. I could do that job and it would excite me to do that job, and I think that I have value to add to that position, right? Not not that I could just do it. I I actually said to myself, I think I. Could add value to the people. Here and I could do it in a way that was significantly kind of a force multiplier. Against what I had been doing previously in my other position, and it was at that. Moment that I was like, aha. I need the kind of the. It’s not that. I need, it’s just that if I had a bigger stage, more people could actually benefit and I could. I could have a more meaningful impact on the industry that I was becoming to care about immensely. So after that event I actually reached out to to Michael. Wait, he had previously worked at Dell. I had a bunch of friends that worked at Dell. If you live in Austin, TX you, it’s like 1 degree of separation to Dell. There’s always somebody that you know that knows somebody else that worked at Dell. In this case, it was a gentleman named Jason Simmons, who one of my one of my ex peers at, at at Dun and Bradstreet, and said, hey, could you give me Michael Moran’s e-mail address? Here? You go reached out to Michael Moran, said, hey, Michael. I’m I’m, I’ll be blunt. I want your job. That’s kind of. That’s kind of how I am. I I just like to throw it out there. I don’t want to beat it on the Bush and it’s so funny because he. Just said it. So happens that I just resigned my position and I I’m on leave for a couple of weeks while we kind of sort out my affairs and transition and transitioning away from Gartner into my next position, which he ended up going to work for the chief, he was becoming the chief of staff for. The CEO at SAP. Sat down with Michael and said I want your job. He introduced me to a bunch of people and then. Kind of that’s it. For I I I got in with Gartner and I ended up. I ended up taking Michael’s job, but that’s that’s the answer to the question, which is when did I know, and when did I know that kind of evangelism angle here would be important to me. It it was sitting in a Gartner event. And figuring, yeah, I could do that. 

Anthony Algmin 

That is a cool story. That is I I that I love the the moment type of story. When you know all of a sudden something that’s been probably in the back of your head for a while. All of a sudden comes right to the front and says hey, you Remember Me I’m I’m here now and and that’s that’s a really cool thing that you were able to actually achieve that. And it’s those kinds of stories are are I love those mysteries. They’re they’re. They’re just odd little things that that happen throughout your career. These odd moments that you know some somehow makes sense in the end, so that’s that’s really cool, so let’s get back to the the the topic of data itself, and so. 

Anthony Algmin 

You know, as we think about. Master data the the customers employee like the things that should be easy but aren’t. As you’ve been talking about. Umm, how how are we gonna fix this? Like I I feel like I’ve been doing this for a long time too and it’s like we’re not. Considerably closer to these simple things, we’ve got all this power. Now we can do AI stuff and machine learning stuff. Everything’s you know supercharged, but yet we can’t still somehow manage some of these things that should be simple. What’s the answer going to be? 

I don’t know, I I don’t know. But but I will I will, I will. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Fight through my to. My last breath to try to make it right and to try to figure it out. But this is a good dovetail into the why did I leave Gartner conversation? Cause for people who do what? I did I. Mean you could. You could argue that I kind of, you know, hit the pinnacle right in terms of being a trusted resource for best practices around data management, data management strategy, you name it. I mean Gartner’s, a pretty good. Place to be if. You want to be seen as somebody. Who knows some stuff? So so I was in a pretty good spot, but what I found Anthony was. I was having a lot of the same conversation over and over again, and that in and of itself is not bad. But what I found was that I was having the same conversation with the same company. Over and over and over, and almost always that conversation came back to focus on outcomes, quantify your outcomes, build a business case, understand the connection between data and business. You gotta do this. You gotta do this. You gotta do this. And companies weren’t doing it and I had to take a kind of a hard step back and and and. The same is true, by the way. It’s not just MDM and building an MDM business case, it’s around a data quality business case. It’s around understanding the connection between data management as a whole. Right as as a practice as a discipline. As a program. And how you’re? Impacting business outcomes and so it’s not just, this isn’t just about MDM, this is happening everywhere. It’s about governance. When when I was there one of one of my peers at Gartner Saul, Judah published a a note at Gartner saying the state of governance is worse. Than you think. And I could quote numbers. In there that that that. Are like just go like as long as my arm that that kind of quote where there is lots and lots and lots of opportunity to improve so. I had to take a kind of a hard step back and. 

Anthony Algmin

Say to myself, OK, why? 

Malcolm Hawker 

Why, if we, if we know these things work and it and it’s not just pointy headed people like me saying you need to do this cause? I’m smart, we had data. We had research that said things like when you focus on governance when you focus on outcomes. When you have a well articulated data strategy, good things happen right? And and we can quantify those. All sorts of. Data that that say you know data leaders need to take, you know more of a structured approach here and need to put some rigor in governance and need to put some rigor in MDM. So we had lots of data to back it up, but over and over and over again in my conversations it. Wasn’t happening, so I think there’s a lot. Of reasons why. You know, I think I. Think a lot of it has. To do with incentives. Plain and simple, right? That that IT leaders are incented in a different way than business leaders are incented, and if it leaders had had kind of P&L responsibility potentially. But then a. Lot of IT leaders wouldn’t take those jobs right? So so it’s it’s a bit of a catch 22 but I think it has a lot to do with incentives. I think it has a lot to do. With this, a number of things, but I’m I’m committed to trying to make things right and one of the reasons why I left Gartner is because. I think that as a thought leader, we need to be accessing all channels. We need to be using, not just published white papers, and not just one-on-one phone conversations and not just conferences but podcasts but LinkedIn, smoke signal carrier pigeon. Blimps is something I said when I was in a conversation with Scott a couple. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Like I don’t know right how we get those messages out there, but those messages need to get. Out there and in a way that is relevant to to today leaders so you know, I I see LinkedIn as a really, really increasingly powerful platform for sharing this. I know you think the same way and others think the same way, but however the message needs to get there. I’m I’m committed to to trying across multiple channels across multiple media is to get the message out there because we know it works. So I don’t have all the magic answers just yet. I’m trying to figure things out I I do think that incentives have have a lot to do. I think that organizational structures have a lot to do with it. I think that competencies you know and backgrounds and experiences of of IT leaders have a lot to do with it. I am optimistic that the role of the CDO’s will help break through some of these things. This is one of the reasons why I’m. I’m focused on supporting CDO’s is because I I have a lot of optimism there. You know we we know that 25 upwards of 25% of CDO’s now have actual P&L responsibility for digital transformation. So if you’re on the line to deliver business results, you’re more likely to actually track those business results, and you know how you got there through data, so I’m optimistic. I’m absolutely optimistic and I’m passionate about solving for it, but I think the answers here are fairly complex. But but yeah, we. There’s still a lot of challenges out there. 

Anthony Algmin 

You know, so Malcolm and I before we started recording the podcast we were we were chatting about an event we were at weeks ago around CDO’s in in in Boston and. And we had. We saw each other there, we’re chatting there and we both noted that that Group A lot of CDO. ‘s At this event. Was a uniquely good event and for having these kind of deeper conversations and I start to. Under and I’m like Malcolm, you’ve been all over the place in your career. I’ve been all over the place in my career. Is that the career trajectory? Like is that our our career path for a CEO is have all the jobs and then you can have enough understanding to be a CEO with all of these multifaceted responsibilities and P&L responsibilities that. That tie to the business in ways that technologists like to your point, often don’t connect to at that depth. Is that what we’re missing is? 

That, like, is that part of it? I think it’s impossible to have all the jobs you could try. I mean, I think it’s but, but I think. If I if I had. 

Malcolm Hawker 

To pick between a business leader and a technology. Leader to to to lead. A data analytics function to drive a data strategy to build a governance organization. I’d give a 5149 edge to to to the business side, maybe maybe 5545 to to the business side that said. One of the common themes that that I don’t know if you heard this when we were in Boston, but I certainly heard it in a number of presentations was, and this was really, really refreshing. I I took this very, very, positively what I heard a lot of the CDO’s there say over and over again was be humble. Be humble, acknowledge where we have failed to drive business benefit in the past. Acknowledge where we haven’t really listened very well to business requirements. That that there’s a lot more work that we need to do and be humbled there, right? Don’t go in with the answers. Go in with questions right? And I heard this is a recurring. 

Speaker 

Oh yeah. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Theme and I found that really refreshing because I think in the IT world. We really put a premium on being the smartest person in the room and already having the answers because we get paid for that right? We we we get paid to have the answers we get paid. To figure out. How to you know to to solve for the rubix? Cube, and it’s not necessarily in our nature to have other people tell us how to solve for things as IT leaders. We are the ones to help solve for those things so often what I’ve experienced in in my past. I don’t know if this is the same with everybody, but we’re often, you know, technologists kind of tend to. Lead with answers. Right and and they and they tend to lead with solutions. They lead with capabilities. They lead with features and functions and as a as you know an outcome of that is is a disconnect right with with with the business so. I know I I. Love this notion of being humble because to me it’s like OK. How do we collaborate? How do we figure out where you’re coming from? How do you figure out where they’re coming from and how do we bring it all together? And you know again, there there are some CDO’s out there that are that are. That are high. Functioning that are doing an unbelievable job, which is another nice angle of that conference in Boston, which was. We don’t hear nearly enough about the success stories, but we did in Boston and that was that was pretty cool so. So yeah, I, I think I think it’s it’s it’s. It’s a bit of a Unicorn skill set. There’s no doubt about that, right? CDO the right CDO is is. Certainly a bit of. A Unicorn, right? It’s it’s it’s half sales, half business and half technology. And yes, that actually, that that’s three halves. But that’s kind of what we’re going for here, so it it. It’s tough, but there. But there are people out there that. 

Anthony Algmin 

I really like that the be humble, that kind of sense of curiosity, that recognition that you don’t have all the answers if you try to lead with the answers 1st you are going to be a bottleneck and you are. Going to be wrong, yeah? 

It’s just like. 

Anthony Algmin 

The businesses move too much. The data is changing too much. The systems are changing too much. I, I would say that like you said, there’s kind of three groupings of 50%. Like I I definitely think you need to understand technology and business to be effective as a CEO. And and be an effective change agent which we which we mentioned is as that sales component to it. And I just think about the trajectory of my own career where I’ve had roles as a CEO. I’ve done consulting a lot and I actually not, you know, a couple years ago took a a job back in the industry side because I got tired of just talking I. Got tired of just? Saying hey, do this and watching client after client not being able to see it all the way through and not being able to be part of that with them because? Is the contract would end or they needed different skills or what have you? And and really what it comes back to in these kinds of CEO roles or any kind of data leadership role is somehow being able to merge the influence and that communication getting the message out. Being that enthusiast about the things that need to happen broadly in the organization, but also having some of that builder mentality too. Do cause cause just words is not going to solve data problems because there needs to be technology to kind of harness it all the power is too great to just hold in your hand and. Here is data data data. You you need technology tools, you need platforms. You need security. You need all of these things that make data work in our organizations and you need somebody who can lead the charge of building those things on top of just talking about the value of those things and and you need it. And it really isn’t an easily defined. Skill set because the nature of data. Is horizontal through the organization. We want data from everywhere and we want to be able to use it everywhere and we want that to be OK and accepted and and supported, and our organizations are very vertical in their in their organizational structures, and I think that’s necessary. Like it’s not like our organizations don’t work, we make stuff. We’re good at it, you know. There’s challenges when it comes to data or other horizontal functions that this isn’t the first time we’ve had problems or challenges like. Anybody have challenges with recruiting with their HR organization? Trying to find the right people? How do you screen the right people? How do you get the right skill sets? How do you even know how to interview people with very specialized skill sets? These are very tricky questions and they we’ve put a lot of effort towards it in the HR world, but I think that data can learn some things from HR and how they structure their organizations and also recognizing. And one thing that I’ve been thinking about lately too, is how many organizations have put nearly as much effort or energy into data as they have to their people. And I’m not saying they should, I’m just saying if they’re parallel in their complexity, the amount of effort to solve them may be complementary. Comparable as. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Well yeah, totally and completely agree. One story I I tell coming out of that that that CDO conference in in Boston was I was at a a presentation by Joe Caserta, who who’s ex consultants Super Smart. And he was talking about data literacy. And I asked him a question that I thought was just like a mic drop, right? I I I said, you know, if data leaders were more business literate, would we be asking business leaders to be more data literate like I thought I thought? That was like checkmate, right? Right? Because because I I I tend to have a little bit of a problem with the phrase data literacy because I think it’s condescending. Right, because the the the the flip side of that is is is illiteracy. 

 

Yeah, yeah. 

Malcolm Hawker 

But this does tie back to kind of your notion to investments in data and getting people familiar with it and then then then as a response there was. I had this really this. Brilliant aha moment and and where Joe said, OK, well, you know, think of it this way. Uh, you know, and he used the metaphor of a thermostat like he goes, if you walk outside right now and you look at your phone and you look at the thermostat and your phone, you’re going to know the difference between hot and cold. You inherently know how it works. You, you, you’ve got you. You know the you know what each of the markings means on your thermostat and maybe if you thought about data. Literacy that way. 

That would. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Me enough. Right and I was like aha there right? And and I. I I maybe could have making this bigger than it really really was, but like that is how we, you, me and other pundits in this space help our clients. Our industry, our fellow data leaders get over this hump of why are we not being as effective as we can? Yeah, because if you could if if somebody could, at least for me in my mind, in like 2 sentences take data literacy and make it actionable and put a boundary around it and and make it insightful and and describe it in a way that would be infinitely actionable by a business leader. That’s what we need. We we need more of that and. It it’s I I I I I learned this when I was traveling the world with Scott Taylor because he will tell you. Do over and over and over again. He’s not a technologist, he’s not a technology. He’s not a technologist. He’s never actually even managed the data organization. But the words he uses and the way that he communicates those words, maybe it’s with a finger puppet. Maybe it’s with the children’s story, I don’t know, but they’re actionable and insightful and they’re meaningful, and they’re digestible. Right, like that’s what we as data leaders need to do more of whether we’re talking about data literacy, which in theory I get, by the way, like I, I get it. But let’s stop using data literacy. Let’s stop, you know, being you know technology first, right? This is. This is my first. This is my biggest gripe about data fabrics and data mesh is. Like, who cares? Right? Like let’s not talk about the architecture. Let’s talk about the business needs 1st and maybe a mesh or fabric would align to that. But maybe it doesn’t, but I can guarantee you that your chief revenue officer doesn’t care about data mesh or data fabric, right? Let’s have a conversation about cross seller upsell or other business outcomes. So I think how we communicate and the words that we use. And can can be incredibly powerful and I and I think that if we start doing things more. Along the lines of what I was talking about before actionable, digestible, meaningful in in ways that don’t really necessarily involve complex technological subjects, we’ll be much farther ahead. 

Anthony Algmin 

Yeah, I completely agree. I mean This is why in in the work that I’ve done with data leadership is I always connect it to data value and and I define data value as this differential and outcomes business outcomes. Real outcomes that are measurable. Based on all this stuff that we’re doing and and and my strength and weakness is that I oversimplify for a fact like that’s what I do. I I make the analogy, I tell the thing that somebody can understand, but it’s way simpler than reality and and I get that. And it’s not the whole answer, but it’s a helpful part of the answer, and in many cases. I’m glad too that you mentioned. The other thing that was all over that event in Boston, which was data mesh and data fabric. And like where did these come from and why am I supposed to care about them all of a sudden? 

Speaker 

Well, the the. 

Malcolm Hawker 

The the the short answer. Well there are a few shorter answers. One of them is you can blame my old employer. Gartner is pounding the data, fabric drum, pretty hard and and the more they pound the data fabric drum, the data mesh people want to hurt. They’re drum to be heard, so there is this. These these growing factions of of mesh and fabric and it’s meat. No meat and it’s like OK. There there are merits, certainly to both, but they are inherently architectural patterns, right? And I think the data mesh people are now listening to this. Like no, it’s not. It’s more than that, it’s. It’s it’s it’s. An operating model OK, but but it’s a way of managing technology and and when we when we lead with architecture when we lead with a technology. Pattern and we don’t lead with business needs and we don’t lead with requirements that that ends up undercutting everything. We’re trying to do so. You know, it’s no surprise that. That data fabric is. It is, according to Gartner, is a top trend in in in the data management space. Because Gartner is talking about it over and over and over again with their clients and then their clients go talk to other clients and their other clients. And other companies and. Then it becomes a thing. There’s a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy there, but but I I would invite. All the data leaders that are listening to this I don’t. I don’t have a horse in that game, right? Meaning meaning data fabric, I think could be transformational. I I I love the idea of active metadata. I love the idea of using AI and ML and graph and. Other cool stuff. To allow the data to start informing its own classification and its own use, and doing so in a seamless, highly virtualized way. I love it. I love data mesh. I love the notion of centralized and decentralized and solving for both and allowing data products to exist at the point of consumption. I I love. Them both, they sound they sound. Fantastic to me. If we can get there. But I would invite all the data leaders just don’t lead with the technology. Sit down with your business stakeholders and ask what can’t you do today that you want to do today because of the limitation of data. They’re not going to. They’re not going to tell you about. Well, I don’t. I have an I have a shortage of active metadata or or or I don’t have a a robust data virtualization platform. That’s not what they’re going to tell you. They’re going to tell you. I like to know when my customers are traversing our lines of products so I can sell product data. Customer B, you know, and that’s what they’re going to tell you, and maybe that will lead you to a mesh. Maybe that will lead you to a. Fabric, but you’ll get a lot farther and you’ll get a lot more credibility and you’ll get a lot more support if you’re having conversations about business pains and not talking about how cool data meshes are. 

Anthony Algmin 

Uh, 100% and and it reminds me too, like because this this ties to the data leader. The data literacy piece as well. It’s it’s it’s, I think, about early in my consulting career I was doing a lot of data, strategy work and a lot of like data governance initiation types of things for for clients. And I had A at a senior person at my consulting firm. He said in on a talk that I gave just internally trying to get people understanding what what data governance was all about and and how our data strategy practice was working stuff and he kind of he took talk to me afterwards. It’s like So what? And he just he’s like why do I care? And he said it very bluntly and and it stuck with me and I’m like. But and and and I like stumbled around it for a while and I never had a good answer. And it’s like the data literacy, the data mesh. The data fabric. Like if we would just answer that. So what if like the if there’s a reason they should care, then they’ll learn it. They’ll they’ll care, they’ll do the things that are new. Sorry, but if. If we’re trying to sell them something that we care about that we think is important, that is not relevant to them. They’re gonna know let’s not pretend that, yeah, we understand their role and what they do as well as they do like we just don’t. Yeah, let’s recognize, yeah. 

Malcolm Hawker 

So in in the the The funny thing that I’m it’s not funny. It’s kind of actually. A little bit. Tragic, I’m old enough to have survived big data. Right and I’m I’m old. Enough to remember when the answer to every question was Hadoop. Right and and and and it seems like we didn’t learn much from that. I know a lot of companies that sank millions into deploying Hadoop clusters where what they ended up standing up and what they ended up doing was creating a lot of. Very very very. Interesting answers to questions that didn’t exist. Right, I can answer all sorts of things I can. 

Yes, yes. 

Malcolm Hawker 

I can I can show you where there’s a correlation between eye color and length of employment tenure. Right, OK, that’s that’s cool, but but is HR asking for that, you know, is is? Is HR looking to to hire more blue eyed people is I? I’m I’m being very glib here, you you. You you get. My point, which is which is OK, don’t don’t go. Don’t go building infrastructure in in the hopes that the business is going to ask those questions. Or have those needs understand the needs 1st and and and and you’ll get. There, but you know at at that conference and other conversations and other conferences I’ve I’ve I’ve seen, I’ve seen more of this kind of technology 1st and, and it just it. It’s always a red. It’s always a red flag to me because I’ve seen organizations go way down the wrong path so. 

Anthony Algmin 

Yeah and interesting and impactful are two very different things. Like a lot of the stuff is really. Let’s just say it doesn’t necessarily move the needle on the stuff that actually matters. And what does matter for us right now is that in typical data leadership lessons fashion, we are way over time, so we’re gonna have to cut it there before we go. Malcolm, what’s the what’s the best way for? Folks to find you. 

Malcolm Hawker 

LinkedIn if you search for Malcolm Hawker, there’s only three of us on the planet. I think my my spelling. My first name is a little tricky. There’s a second L, but if you search for Hawker HWK ER, chances are. You’ll you’ll know somebody that I know and and then I’ll show up pretty quickly in LinkedIn. But yes, please, I would invite all of your listeners to connect with me on LinkedIn. If you’ve got. Questions about data management. About MDM, data quality, data strategy, anything that you would otherwise wanna ask. A Gartner analyst, you can ask me, hit me up on LinkedIn. I I will happy to support. I’ve actually started implementing some regular. Office hours as well through prophecy, which I’m I’m I’m, you know I’ll advertise on on LinkedIn as well. So if you’ve got questions, it’s my mission to help data leaders become, you know, and build companies that are more data-driven. So please reach out on LinkedIn. 

Anthony Algmin 

Malcolm, thank you so much for the awesome conversation for being on the show today. 

Malcolm Hawker 

Thanks so much Anthony. It’s a pleasure. 

 

ABOUT THE SHOW

How can today’s Chief Data Officers help their organizations become more data-driven? Join former Gartner analyst Malcolm Hawker as he interviews on thought leaders on all things data management – ranging from data fabrics to blockchain and more — and learns why they matter to today’s CDOs. If you want to dig deep into the CDO Matters that are top-of-mind for today’s modern data leaders, this show is for you.

Malcolm Hawker
Malcolm Hawker is an experienced thought leader in data management and governance and has consulted on thousands of software implementations in his years as a Gartner analyst, architect at Dun & Bradstreet and more. Now as an evangelist for helping companies become truly data-driven, he’s here to help CDOs understand how data can be a competitive advantage.
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