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George Yuhasz

Executive Leader at the Intersection of all things Data, Analytics, & Technology.

Trusted business and technology advisor to executive stakeholders. Data champion enabling practitioners to excel (Yes, sometimes even with Excel).

I’ve personally led the implementation of Data & Information Strategy, Governance, Analytics, Architecture, & Technology in Financial Services, Pharma, Global Manufacturing, Health Care, Higher Education, and Military & Defense.  As an author and speaker, I’ve been published and led keynote sessions.  I’ve built my career focusing on value-based outcomes while navigating the paths between organizational culture, business imperatives, and technology capabilities and enablement.

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

Very much a case of “find the need and fill it” as my Pappy (ok, Grandad) always told me.  I had to take statistics in college for one of my majors, ending up being pretty good at it.  After dallying with professional theater post bachelor’s degree, I decided it was time to go back to school and get a “real” job.  While doing graduate work at Penn State – one of the first data/IT related gigs was leading a satellite office for the PA Census Bureau Affiliate (PA State Data Center – a research unit – not to be confused with an IT server farm) which provides a wide variety of Census products and data services to the Commonwealth, Governor’s Office, State Legislature, etc.

This led to a more corporate gig for a healthcare payer that was very acquisition-centric, normalizing the data of plans they bought into their universal healthcare model in a very traditional data warehouse and business intelligence type of operation.  From there several years in consulting across a wide variety of industries, then back to creating enterprise programs for a top 20 commercial bank, the inventors of the Chicken McNuggets for McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, a top 5 national non-bank mortgage company, and now most recently joining Walgreens Boots Alliance in April 2022.

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

Building a modern data platform at a previous organization from scratch with a footprint across all three of the major cloud providers – especially given that the starting legacy tech was virtually all on-premises, there was no data governance to speak of, and the entire data & analytics operations were happening in silos by unit and function.  While there remains plenty of work to be done in that environment based on the culture stabilizing, determining where it needs to additionally invest, and how it can further streamline the business/tech data & analytics operational footprint – the core platform is best of breed, cost-effective, and ready to scale to meet any demand for batch or real-time workloads. A huge accomplishment and I’m optimistic that the team has everything it needs to continue the journey and drive further success.

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

Individually, the biggest challenge is almost always adapting one’s style and competency to a particular organization’s way of working and being able to meet them where they are to craft a compelling, credible journey to get them to the promised land of data & analytics as a strategic engine of value.  The second challenge is that the role is often set up either to not have a seat at the leadership table (subservient to CIO, COO, CFO, CRO, etc.) or lacking dedicated business + technical resources – so can be functioning at the distinct disadvantage of fielding multiple unrealistic stakeholder expectations while being woefully underequipped to meet them.  The third challenge is that along with the prior two challenges, the balancing act of executive acumen, technical skill, and depth of knowledge spanning governance to architecture to analytics. It is a very scarce set of attributes to find in just one person.  This means organizations seeking to staff this role must compete for a narrow candidate pool (assuming they understand what they need to be successful, not all do), settle for what they can find, or grow the skills and experience from within.  Each path is potentially treacherous and likely contributing to the average ~2-year tenure of someone in this seat.  Continuing to grow general data literacy will be a big help but organizations will need to commit to educating themselves and investing in this competency in order to reap the benefits.

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

Either it will be recognized as a necessary leadership role alongside the CFO, COO, and CIO -in order to get the biggest benefit – or it will get subsumed as many of the quasi-functional technical C-level roles already are where you’ve got the Chief Technology & Product & Digital & Data Officer – I do laugh a bit when I see those titles on LinkedIn.  I think it’s a funny carryover from startup cultures where everyone must wear multiple hats, but to take it further I think that there’s going to have to be an acknowledgment over time. At some level, there’s a strong foundational alignment needed of people, process, and technology-enabled by a culture that’s table stakes required for a Data & Analytics program to be successful.  So many organizations that are large, saddled with legacy tech debt and potentially bloated bureaucracies try to emulate the startups and soon learn you can’t ignore the skeletons because eventually, you’ll run out of closet space.  Likewise, for startups that hit the inevitable tipping point of scale and stability then must start emulating some of that stodgy “enterprise” behavior that they could ignore when they were smaller.  At some point, the enterprise data role is going to be better understood as the intersection of marketing/sales, risk, ops, finance, and tech because they all require trusted, curated data in order to do their best work.

Do you have any planned next steps for your career?

At this point, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join the ranks of brilliant folks at the Walgreens Boots Alliance and just looking to add as much value as I can to their mission of creating a better world through health and wellness.

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?

When I first started to take on big, complex problems in the data space, a trusted mentor advised me to never be arrogant enough to assume that something that worked before will work the same way a second time.  In revisiting that, it’s been so key because while there may be data-related patterns that work – they always, always, ALWAYS must be tuned to be specific for the instance, environment, org, etc. that is seeking to leverage them. 

What that means is that there must be both breadth and depth of skill/competency AND awareness of the why, what, and how value will be gained from data to fully realize the opportunity.  A big mistake I see is folks with a little bit of experience trying to force through something that worked for them before in an entirely different context, without realizing the nuances involved that may require tweaking at a minimum, if not an entirely different approach.  

That said, it’s often a necessary part of the journey as people learn to work together towards common objectives, but it can be greatly enabled and accelerated if you 1) Have an experienced and capable captain enabling an evolving crew 2) The organization lives into a “diet & fitness” plan required to credibly compete and win in the “sport” of data & analytics 3) Tangible outcomes that drive real business value are always front and center driving the why, what, and how.

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

I am a lifelong martial arts enthusiast. I’ve been away from the mainstream for several years but at one time I was teaching and training most days in a combination of modern sports combative and older traditional systems.  These days I primarily practice my own system blending different types of traditional strength training with aspects of modern grappling and pugilism.

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