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Salema Rice

Chief Data & Analytics Officer | Global AI Leader | Board Advisor | Women in Tech: Top 50 Influencer | Global Data Power Leader | Chief Product Officer 

Salema Rice is a Global Data & Analytics Leader, Global Managing Director of Applied Intelligence, and a leadership team member.

She is a senior executive with over 25 years’ experience directing data management strategies, AI transformation, digital innovation and advising large complex Fortune 500 companies.

Her focus today is on leveraging AI to make the world a better place!

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

When I started my career in the early 90’s computers were still very new back then; I can recall when we got our first IBM 360. It was the size of an office desk. I remember working on an M&A project at the time — grueling audit work. I was always the first to raise my hand and so I began reading the manuals on what this massive machine could do for us in terms of problem solving.

Then came my desk top… My travel machine (a Compaq) was bigger than full-size luggage today and the monitor was built into the bottom. New applications like Lotus 1,2,3, Dbase III, III+ and IV and then MS Access were really easy for me to learn simply by reading the owner’s manual. These manuals were still a fraction of the size of the ones from the IBM’s 360. So from that point forward I became the “data” subject matter expert on whatever team I was on.

I really became an advisor on how to use data as an asset, to tell a story instead of highly educated guesses which is what most had been doing prior. I can remember being introduced to SAS (that was the game changer) and thinking how long it took us to previously do the same work. Similar to DataRobot today. Weeks, months of work to derive a decision that can be compiled in just a matter of seconds.

I studied with Ralph Kimball, Bill Inmon and read so many books. I didn’t just want to know how to build databases for storage, I learned the fundamental theories of how to architect data for analytics. This was very different than what large organizations were teaching during those years.

My true passion was being a trusted advisor. A consigliore to the business and to my customers. I used data to provide quality fact-based decisions. That built their trust and earned me a seat at the table…

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

That’s a great question and over the years that has definitely changed. I would say most recently it has come to my attention that I have had zero attrition in my organization for over seven years now. This is a great career accomplishment that I am incredibly proud of in todays’ war on talent.

My teams are high-performing, high-impact, committed, agile and diverse across multiple verticals. I like to think I lead them in way that allows them to be creative, innovative and passionate about problem solving. Better together I guess. My mantra has been and continues to be ‘one-family’ and together, we deliver great products and create raving fans.

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

One of the challenges is how to determine the value of data. When you think about data, analytics, machine learning, AI; there is an inherent value. Whether that dollar amount belongs on the balance sheet or not is another question but there is a value and how you communicate that value to your board, shareholders, etc… seems to get more and more complex as we continue to digitally transform our organizations and align our deliverables to the overall strategic deliverables set by company. 

Second would have to be Data Literacy. It’s tricky teaching the business how to ask the right questions. When you think of the evolution of Business Intelligence, we used the never ending one word – “Why”.  As data professionals it’s easy for us to visualize, measure, story-tell and summarize data but teaching others is really an art. 

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

The evolution of the role of CDO has changed so much over the past 10 years. Look, let’s be frank, data is sexy now. We went from the basement or sub-division of IT to the board room, that’s quite phenomenal.

You know I love data and I’m very passionate about data management. For me, data management is the foundation. Data drives digital transformation. Without data management your building things like AI, Machine Learning, Data Science on sand. If our ultimate goal is to drive data as an asset and make quality fact-based decisions, then foundational data management principals such as data quality, master data, metadata, data governance have to be the core.

In the next 2 – 3 years I see the role of CDO’s becoming more centralized with line of business level leaders rolling up. I still believe policies, procedures, technology stack should be governed at the highest level. But the business has to also take responsibility for owning the data. Some CDO’s like myself have global responsibility for ALL things data – from data management to data science, even data product management. I think we will see more of this as these areas interact and work more closely aligned.

I really believe CDO’s are going to continue to see more strategic responsibility for using data to impact both top and bottom line revenue growth and for accelerating businesses strategy by improving business processes throughout their organizations.

Do you have any planned next steps for your career?

Make the world a better place…

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?

First is to seek to understand the business problem someone is trying to solve rather than just give them what they are asking for. How many times have we heard, I need a table or a business view with 100 columns?

Maybe the most important advice I would give is to not try and ‘boil the ocean’. Start small. Get quick wins and over communicate. You know we have learned a lot of lessons about critical data. There was a time when if you asked someone what data was critical they said, it’s all critical. Okay so all 20,000 data elements are critical, right? So we went on a mission to reverse engineer what data elements are shared externally, used in board reports. This subset of data was defined as truly critical because it could expose you from a financial or reputational risk perspective. Today, this isn’t the case. What’s critical is really what data is being used to solve the problems. That’s the data that needs to be governed, monitored, measured and quantified. There is no faster way to lose a customer than trust…  

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

In 2017, my husband Roberto and I started a non-profit called Compassion’s Way. We provide hope and empowerment to the homeless and underprivileged in our communities. We provide outreach services, resource discovery and work with them to help end their term on the streets. In the past year, we have served over 10,000 homeless men, women and children and we have over 200 volunteers in our program. Using data, we can more precisely identify locations, need, volume so that we can better predict exactly where they are and what they need at any given time. Sometimes I think being a data diva is how I make a living but Compassion’s Way is how I make a life…

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