Automated Data Governance Leader | Consultant | Data Strategist
Neil is the CEO and founder of Cognopia, a company that helps you make better decisions with data. He has been a passionate believer in the value of great data since the start of his career as a broker in London. One of the first to help roll out straight-through processing capabilities for the firm, he quickly understood the need for excellent transactional, reference, and counterpart data to ensure things work.
In subsequent roles, Neil helped finance teams clean up their “Excel hell” and streamline processes. This shaved months off monthly closes, which often took a quarter due to poorly reconciled data, and saved millions of dollars for banks, insurance firms, and telcos.
Since 2016, Neil has led the Cognopia team in Singapore. This work initially focused on automating data governance activities. Neil and the team realized that this was not the silver bullet. Instead, they focused on helping companies make better decisions with data. This may have involved setting up, tuning up and training teams in data governance, data management, and decision intelligence.
What attracted you to data management or IT, and why did you choose to pursue this career?
I started my career as a broker in the City of London. Like many junior brokers it was my responsibility to capture new trades in a timely manner, and to ensure the counterparties and transactional details were accurate. As part of this, I led the rollout of straight through processing initiatives on my desk, which showed just how much value you can get from great data. The savings in time, errors, and effort were substantial.
Moving out of the front office, I went to an IT role to help financial services firms improve their financial closing processes. Much of this work was related to identifying sources of data and standardizing them. The value unlocked was enormous.
In 2016, I had the chance to establish my firm and work with a major data governance tool vendor. I could easily see the value of this work because of my experience cleaning up the mess of silos and legacy systems before. I hate to see waste, cost, and pointless processes so, data management appeals to my desire to create order out of chaos.
What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far, and why has it been important to your career?
Leading my own firm for 5 years, through the Covid 19 pandemic. Like many small firms, we have experienced choppy waters for the past 18 months. Successfully reinventing the company and services to be relevant, accessible, and loved by our customers during this time has been challenging but hugely rewarding.
What are the two or three biggest challenges you face as a data management professional / CDO and how can we address them?
The challenges we typically see relate to a lack of access to the business or lack of business acumen. Many data management professionals treat the task as a technical one, which is only half right. Before you can roll up your sleeves and actually clean and organize data, you must know why you are doing it.
We have focused to help data teams place a dollar value on the data issues they face. This allows you to build a business case that executives care about and engage and maintain engagement with your data owners and stewards. This is enjoyable work, a mix of business and technical strategy plus financial savviness.
How do you see data management / the role of the CDO / IT changing in the next 2 – 3 years?
For CDOs that clearly focus on the business value and dollar impact of great data, I see a bright future. They ought to be strategically important for the business. After all, sensing changes in our environment and reacting to them relies on great data.
For those that continue with a technology-first mindset, I expect their firms will lose patience and continue to lag behind the curve when it comes to great data management.
Do you have any planned next steps for your career?
Continuing to lead Cognopia! I love my work and enjoy working with my team.
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?
Get the people and process right before you touch technology. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Realizing this, makes you question whether the approach you are about to take is the right one. Sometimes new technology is too exciting to ignore. But just because it is a great new tool does not make it relevant or applicable for everyone.
Can you share something about yourself as a person that people wouldn’t know about you?
I’m a huge fan of cooking. The lockdowns and work from home has meant my kitchen is now a gadget showroom, but we are eating great food every night.
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