Data Analytics Consultant, Author, & Professor
Prashanth Southekal is the Managing Principal of DBP-Institute, a data and analytics consulting and education firm. He has consulted for over 75 organizations. Dr. Southekal is a published author of two books and a contributing writer on data, analytics, and machine learning in Forbes.com and CFO.University. Apart from his consulting pursuits, he has trained over 2,500 professionals world-wide in data and analytics, and he is also an Adjunct Professor of Data Analytics at IE Business School (Madrid, Spain). He has a PhD from ESC Lille (FR) and MBA from Kellogg School of Management (US). He lives in Calgary, Canada with his wife Shruthi, daughter Pranathi, son Prathik, and a high energy Goldendoodle dog Kanya. Outside work, Prashanth pursues juggling and cricket.
What attracted you to data management or IT, and why did you choose to pursue this career?
In my school and university days, I loved mathematics and programming. Early in my career days, when I was at General Electric (GE), I learned the impact of data on business performance using Lean Six Sigma Techniques. I was also a Lean Six Sigma instructor at GE. What people call today as data analytics; GE called it Lean Six Sigma. So, at GE, I combined my mathematics (or data) and programming skills, with business skills. These three skills gave me a good foundation to solve business problems with digital, data, and analytics.
Through my PhD and MBA, I gained a broader, deeper, and bigger perspective, and this was further bolstered by opportunities in consulting, writing books, speaking at conferences, teaching at universities, and more. Overall, I chose to pursue this career for my passion and love for solving business problems using digital, data, and analytics.
What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far, and why has it been important to your career?
Starting my own data analytics consulting and education firm (DBP Institute), in a foreign country i.e., Canada, and running it for the last 9 years at 15%+ YoY growth, that is my biggest career accomplishment so far.
It has been important because, when I came as an immigrant to Canada in 2012, I had very little support, financially and socially. In addition, during these 9 years, there were numerous business challenges. I adapted myself and my firm to stay relevant in the market. To this date, we have helped over 25 businesses leverage digital, data, and analytics to deliver measurable and monetizable business results.
What are the two or three biggest challenges you face as a data management professional / CDO and how can we address them?
Every company today is a data company. But many companies struggle to leverage data for business performance. I see three main data management challenges.
1. Education (Data and Analytics Literacy)
If data needs to be a core part of digital business, employees must have a basic ability to communicate and understand conversations about data.
2. Quality Data
Data can help in improving the company’s revenue, reduce expenses, and mitigate risk, only if the data quality is good.
Adoption of data is the third important challenge in realizing the value from data and converting it into business results.
Here are my high-level recommendations for the CDO to address these three challenges. When it comes to Data Literacy, focus on building competencies in the domains of the data lifecycle (DLC). Secondly, how can companies achieve quality? This is a big question, and I will talk of three key strategies to improve data quality.
- Data management should be use-case driven.
If the data managed does not clearly associate itself to the use case, there is a good chance that the data will eventually become dark data and ultimately poor-quality data.
- Data should be structured.
Over 80% of the business data is unstructured. With unstructured data, there is no predefined data model and data type. Hence, the unstructured data should be structured properly, to enable efficient data access and processing.
- Data should have an ownership.
Data, especially master data and reference data, should have the ownership so that there is governance in the company for managing data quality.
Thirdly, one major reason data projects fail is the lack of stakeholder buy-in, in other words, adoption. Below are five key recommended strategies businesses can take to increase the adoption of data in the company.
- Focus on the right business KPIs
- Promote decentralized decision-making
- Leverage the use-case library
- Deliver iteratively and incrementally
- Support the business users
How do you see data management / the role of the CDO / IT changing in the
next 2 – 3 years?
A typical digital architecture has 3 main layers – hardware, applications, and data. Up until 2010, IT had the ownership of hardware and applications, and in some cases even the ownership of data. With the advent of cloud computing, the ownership of hardware and application layers moved away from IT. With the emergence of big data, the CDO role was created in many firms to leverage data for business performance. This resulted in data also being moved away from the IT/CIO. So, today the role of IT/CIO is mostly on compliance or risk management of digital systems such as disaster recovery, back-up, archival, data integration, and so on. I believe in the next 2 – 3 years the performance of IT/CIO would be assessed mainly on cost savings and risk management.
Let us look at the “emerging” role of the CDO. For large enterprises (say greater the $10 billion in revenue) which are in the retail, financial services, and media sectors, the CDO will play a big role in the coming days. For regulations centric industries like oil/gas, mining, and pharma, the CFO will likely assume the role of the CDO. It will take a much longer time for the regulations centric companies to accept the role of CDO. Regardless, today, the focus of many CDOs is largely in offering analytics and ML (machine learning) capabilities to the internal stakeholders. But I believe in the next 2 – 3 years, the CDO will be working on data products, reducing the carbon footprint from the data centers, prescriptive analytics, and more. In other words, the CDO will facilitate data monetization and not data management. Just the way the CFOs are assessed on financial performance, the CDOs will be assessed on how they leverage data for business results.
Do you have any planned next steps for your career?
I am working on making DBP Institute the first option for small and medium sized businesses (up to ~$5 billion revenue) to create their digital, data, and analytics future. We have identified 7 areas and I am working on building these capabilities so that we can offer more value to our clients.
Personally, I am working on two projects. Firstly, I am writing my third book for IDMA (Insurance Data Management Association) on data quality, and it should be available in the market the spring of 2022. Secondly, I am working on training over 5,000 citizen data scientists by 2023. I am a strong supporter of citizen data scientists as I believe business professionals who are closer to data and business are in the best position to leverage data and analytics for improved business performance.
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 was at GE, my manager once said, “If you are selling gold in the onion market, it is your mistake. You cannot blame the customers who have come to buy onions”. In other words, you need to be in place where your skills and knowledge are respected and valued.
Since then, I have applied this advice on many occasions. I moved to Canada from India, as I found that my skills and knowledge are valued more in Canada. On behalf of DBP, I have been consulting for a large oil/gas client since 2012, as I am valued and respected by my client. In identifying prospects, we at DBP have consciously focused on the small and medium sized businesses (up to ~$5 billion revenue), as we believe we can offer more value to them in creating their digital, data, and analytics future. Basically, we look for a win-win situation and work on producing a mutually beneficial outcome that works for us and the client.
Can you share something about yourself as a person that people wouldn’t know about you?
I never travelled in an aeroplane until I was 27 years old. My first flight was from Bangalore (India) to London (UK).
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