Affiliated with:

Steven Adler

Steven Adler

Ocean Data Expert | Data Strategist | Data Governance Expert | Author | Consultant

The Ocean Data Alliance had its launch at the United Nations and is working on business solutions to critical ocean challenges.

Prior to The Ocean Data Alliance, Steven was IBM’s Chief Data Strategist and member of the IBM Academy of Technology Leadership Team. He helped invent Internet Insurance and the Data Governance Industry. He served on the US Commerce Department Data Advisory Council, NY Civil Liberties Board of Directors, and was a co-chair of industry standards committees at W3C and OASIS. He holds four patents and two US President’s Volunteer Leadership Awards, has co-authored marine science papers, white papers on Smart Cities, and gave a TEDx Talk on Africa Open Data.

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

In 2004, I was selling the IBM Enterprise Privacy Architecture to Goldman Sachs. The CISO at the time was looking through my deck while I was giving my intro and told me, “data privacy is important but we have a lot of data here with many informal unwritten policies and we don’t know how to govern it. That was the first time I had heard those words “data” and “governance” in the same sentence, and I thought it was pretty interesting as a concept and that got me hooked.

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

In June 2015, I made my first trip to Lima, Peru and my first business meeting was with the Peruvian Press Council in a room surrounded by photos of how journalists had been oppressed by the dictator Arturo Fujimore. We discussed at length the role of open data and open government in building public trust in government and how vital trust is in a post-autocratic government. Later, I met with the Cabinet Secretary staff and we discussed their nascent open data strategy. The Government of Peru had been told by the OECD that they needed an open data program as a condition of OECD membership, and they had developed a purely technical strategy without consulting with the private sector and the media. Following the announcement of their first strategy in late July, Peru’s media published full page denouncements of the government’s program. This caused a lot of anxiety in the government as they were concerned that multi-national institutions like OECD and The World Bank were watching. They came to me for advice.

Working with the Peruvian Press Council and CIOs from many private and public companies, I organised an Open Data Strategy Council meeting in Lima to help provide critical feedback to the government on how to build an inclusive strategy that opened up key data sources and won support of the media, civil society, and business. Later, I worked with the World Bank and the Canadian Embassy to organise and host The Data Cooking Show, which was a two-day event at the Modern Museum of Art in Lima that educated journalists on how to analyse the open data published by the Peruvian government. We told journalists that working with Open Data was as easy as cooking Cevice, and I had the father of the Peruvian culinary revolution come and make Cevice as a goodwill demonstration.

We wanted journalists to see Open Data as an exciting new resource and become a source of demand for government open data. Because data supply without demand has no value. We had all the owners of Peru’s major news media participate and we got great national press coverage. Some weeks later, I was invited by the Prime Minister’s Office to appear at a special meeting at the Presidential Palace to advise the CIOs from all government ministries on how to develop a Chief Data Officer role and a culture of data governance. Years later, I got an unsolicited note from a former IBM Peru colleague who had left IBM to work for the government. She told me my work had changed the way the Peruvian government thought about Open Data and Data Governance, and she could see the changes. I doubt many people outside of a small group in Peru are aware of my work there. I don’t speak Spanish. I had never been to Peru before 2015. But I feel like I had an impact on the evolution of data management and democracy in that country and I’m proud of that.  The process and all the great people involved was the best part.

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

Money, Culture, and Politics. Data doesn’t mean a thing if people don’t feel safe to discuss, debate, and disagree about what it means. Far too often, people use data to confirm their conclusions and reinforce their bias. We have to insist on rigorous scientific processes and internal peer reviews on how we collect, process, and interpret data and constantly audit our results with the intellectual integrity to admit and correct mistakes.

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

We have a persistent problem with fiction, lies, and toxic content in business, government, and society. Without facts, data is a tool that reinforces the will of power over progress and more data professionals need to stand up for truth.

Do you have any planned next steps for your career?

I am focusing the rest of my career on developing innovative data solutions to fight climate change and biodiversity loss.

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?

Challenge the status quo. Stand for something important. Ignore the naysayers who quickly find problems and tell you what you can’t do.

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

I am not the drummer for Guns and Roses.

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