Affiliated with:

Dr. Joseph Perez

Dr. Joseph Perez

Senior Systems Analyst, Chief Technology Officer, International Keynote Speaker, 2021 Thought Leader of the Year, Certified IT Professional

With advanced degrees in computers and secondary education, along with several IT certifications, Dr. Perez brings 35-plus years’ experience to this platform as an IT/higher ed professional. Having served as Business Intelligence Specialist at NC State University and currently serving as Senior Systems Analyst/Team Lead at the NC Dept of Health & Human Services (and Chief Technology Officer at SolonTek Corporation), Perez stays active in the IT community.

A published author, world-renowned keynote speaker, data viz/analytics expert, and specialist in efficiency/process improvement, he is indeed a much sought-after resource. Speaking at dozens of conferences each year, Perez, a recipient of the Industry Insights 2021 Thought Leader of the Year award, has extended his reach into more than twenty countries.

When taking a break from work, Joe sings, plays the piano, composes songs, and has performed PSA’s & voice-overs for schools and other organizations. He also serves as speaker, interpreter, and music director to his church’s Hispanic ministry and (if there’s any time left) produces a monthly military newsletter.  “I’m a firm believer that if I’m not innovating, I’m stagnating,” says Joe.

What attracted you to data management or IT, and why did you choose to pursue this career?

One of my minors in my graduate education was IT. During the summer months of my last six years as an educator, I took on increasingly responsible IT-related roles not only to supplement my teaching income, but also to hone my technical skills. This indirectly benefitted my teaching career in that I ran the school’s computer lab during my final year before transitioning full-time into IT. Conversely, my educational background benefitted my “newly-born” IT career, as the first 25 years after that transition I was employed at a university, rising through the ranks as an analyst programmer and business intelligence specialist, and utilizing those skills in designing data-related training programs.

In the same way that I received a great deal of satisfaction from seeing the “lights come on” in the eyes of my students when I could tell they grasped the contents I passionately taught, so also, it’s thrilling to see those same “lights come on” in the eyes of stakeholders when they’re deriving key insights from the BI/analytics I facilitate, making sound decisions, and creating value.

What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far, and why has it been important to your career?

Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”  To the extent that one can overcome challenges, adversity, and obstacles is the extent they can be said to have achievements. But to the extent that they can reach their goals and fulfill their passion is the extent that they can be said to have accomplishments.

In my case, I’ve always had an overwhelming passion to share knowledge with others.  A couple of topics that really light my fire are about using actionable data the right way to bring your ideas to reality, to see the urgency of adopting an innovative mindset and refuse to be satisfied with the status quo, and finally, to rethink the way you go about the training and retention of your staff.  More than anything, I want to ignite that same passion within the minds of my audience. The accomplishment here going from just one conference speaking engagement in each of the years of 2016 through 2018, to nine in 2019, to 26 in 2020, to more than 40 in 2021!  By the end of 2022, I will have extended my reach into more than twenty countries all over the world.

This has helped me to be a better communicator at work, has enhanced my analytical skills, and has enabled me to realize my dream of improving the lives of others not only with the knowledge I have shared, but also with the motivation I have imparted.

However, none of this would be possible without the blessing of God in my life.  Any good that anyone sees in me, any accomplishment they hear I’ve made, is totally by the grace of God. He alone deserves the glory for any success I might enjoy, for He is the One who has not only blessed me with these skills and talents, but also has allowed the circumstances and sequence of events that have made it all possible.

What are the two or three biggest challenges you face as a data management professional / CDO and how can we address them?

My biggest challenge is remembering to differentiate my approach to data storytelling when engaging with the data fluent versus with the data illiterate.  Having specialized in business intelligence for years, I’ve been data fluent, so it’s a natural thing for me to communicate with other like-minded individuals.  I suppose it’s not unlike when I’m speaking Spanish to other Latino friends and associates; you build upon the common ground you already share.  You tend to dig into more of the details and the mechanics of how things work.  We can address these challenges as follows.

First of all, recognize that the data-fluent tend to be interested more in the “how” – whereas the data illiterate want to know more about the WHY.  It’s almost like two different languages when you’re dealing with the data-fluent vs. the data illiterate. 

Secondly (helpful with the data fluent), be sure you’re “speaking data” with them.  That is, in keeping with this “building upon common ground” theme already mentioned, we talk about methodologies; we share notes; we bring ideas to the table; and maybe even pull up a few underlying tables from time to time; dig into the weeds; flush out the red herrings; identify the outliers; talk about what regression analysis techniques we’re going to use.

Now with the data illiterate, it’s a different story, because they’re NOT going to want you to get into the weeds. And while my conversation, style, and angle with them is going to be different, my end goal is exactly the same: you still have to build upon the common ground you share.  I like to use comparisons they can understand; I try to restate complex issues by relating them to something they already know; using metaphors and analogies.  Analogies have the power to “make it click” in their minds by drawing a comparison between something unknown and something familiar. You know what?  That makes new information less intimidating and more approachable – and as a result, more actionable!

And finally, I appeal to their sense of loyalty and quality.  I’m in health and human services; I care about what happens to the people we serve, and whether we’re serving them to the best of our ability, and whether we’re being good stewards with the resources entrusted to us by the government.  Knowing the story that you’re telling with your data is a concrete, specific, measurable way to tell whether you’re doing that.  THAT is my angle of approach with the data illiterate, because I know they want the same thing I want.  Therefore, I will focus on knowing what their challenges are; what decisions must be made; what questions they want answered; what issues they need resolved.  And if I keep the focus on that, and what I can do with presenting the data that will indeed provide the insight to meet that challenge, make that decision, answer that question, or solve that problem, then I will have kept those lines of communication open.

Whatever you do, whether you’re a data scientist, a data storyteller, an analyst, a business intelligence specialist, or somewhere in between, it all comes down to two things: know your data, know your audience, and let that guide your way.

How do you see data management / the role of the CDO / IT changing in the next 2 – 3 years?

I believe it’s going to take a more customer-centric and innovative approach for information technology professionals and their organizations to thrive in the coming years. I’m convinced that to ensure an organization is providing the best service for their customers, it’s imperative that their systems run as efficiently and as quickly as possible.   For instance, whether they’re browsing the company website, speaking with a representative in the call center, interacting with the payment system, these customers (whether potential or existing) want to find what they want when they want it – and they want to do it in a way that’s the most convenient, hassle-free, and transparent as possible. 

And making that happen for our customers largely falls on technology providers.  If you really want this to happen in your business, then you need to stay current with the technologies that impact your customer’s interactions WITH your business.  They need to know they can count on your underlying technology to facilitate that experience and make it as pleasant as possible, knowing that if you’re successful, these customers just might be more likely to come back for more later.

Of course, you don’t want to be on a never-ending vicious cycle of continual upgrades; that would be like a perfect storm, especially for organizations that have been around for a while.  For them, on the one side, there’s the vast accumulated legacy landscape of applications of systems that they must keep maintaining, nursing, and supporting.  Then on the other, there’s the ever-quickening pace of technology change itself, squeezing them to do more and more, often with less and less (money). In addition, you have a growing list of new platforms and technologies for cloud computing, mobile data, edge computing, AI/machine learning, and more.  Too many competing priorities added to the mix would ensure the formation of the aforementioned perfect storm.

Do you have any planned next steps for your career?

I love my job. I’m happy at DHHS and I have no plans to go elsewhere. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t aspire of moving up in the ranks here as I did in the 25 years that I worked at NC State University. The ultimate dream would be to retire one day as Chief Analytics Officer, but I’m OK with at least moving up from a manager’s position to a director’s position.

Whether I make it that far up the ladder or not, I still plan on working on my professional skills and seeking to raise the level of each one.  I have always had that conviction and I always will.  I believe that a good character trait is for people to always be looking for ways to improve. It’s all about asking yourself some tough questions. How can I accomplish more tomorrow than I did today? How can I perform these tasks more quickly and efficiently today than I did yesterday? What new skills can I gain? What mistakes can I learn from? What better solutions can I consider? This line of thinking shows initiative, growth, drive, and healthy strength.  And with this mentality, you can’t help but enhance your career standing, whether you move up or not.

What is the single best piece of advice you have received in your data management / IT career so far?  Why has it been so important to you?

Stick to the three Cs of clear communication through data storytelling: be concise, be consistent, and be compelling. Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  We live in a world where people tend to want things right away; the microwave has our food ready in seconds; the evening news is fed to us in sound bites; the average attention span on a web page is less than ten seconds; Twitter only gives you 280 characters to write your tweet. 

With that in mind, first, try to be as concise as possible, but provide the opportunity to drill into detail if needed. A dashboard is exactly that; a place to put summarized top-level representations of your KPI’s – the key performance indicators.  Just like the dashboard of a car doesn’t go into any narrative detail; its sole purpose is to provide a quick glance.  So, it is with data visualizations, we should do the same thing; provide a quick glance, be concise. 

Secondly, be consistent; that is, have a unified, non-contradicting message. This has been referred to as having “one version of the truth” enterprise wide. Doing so builds trust.  People tend to believe what they can trust, so one must put a high premium on that trust.  Trust is a strange thing; it’s difficult to win, easy to lose, but nearly impossible to regain. 

Lastly, be compelling.  With so much noise vying for our time, it is the compelling story that grabs our attention, draws us into the plot, and challenges us to act.  That’s exactly what needs to happen with your stakeholders and decision-makers; get their attention, draw them into the plot, and challenge them to act with the compelling story you tell about the data in those dashboards.

Can you share something about yourself as a person that people wouldn’t know about you?

In addition to singing and playing the piano, I have written more than a dozen songs, including two for my wife and two for my in-laws.  Related brush with greatness: I met and shook hands with Liberace when I was a 12-year-old boy.

If you have any questions about this interview, or if we can be of any service, please do not hesitate to contact us

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