Q&A: Putting data consumers first

Jaspar Casey
Product Marketing

Earlier this summer, Harbr’s co-founder Anthony Cosgrove sat down with Tech Exec magazine to discuss the changing way that organizations are facing data challenges. The interview was featured as part of a fascinating larger article on the role of the Chief Data Officer with accounting giant BDO’s Denholm Hesse.

Before we get to the interview, here are a few insights from Denholm that caught our attention:

Everyone wants to be data driven.

“If you look at most c-suites, all of them want to be data driven. But do they 100% understand what that means and how to get there? I honestly think the answer is no.”

It’s essential to change the way your organization values its data.

As a recent appointment as CDO, Denholm sees his responsibilities as fitting into three categories:

  1. “I’m focused on how we enable BDO to utilize data as a competitive advantage or strategic asset that adds value.” This is a common view amongst innovative companies, such as ADI.
  2. The need to protect the company from “liabilities that come from collecting, storing, processing, and provisioning data that is fit for purpose.” Key to executing this well is having the right technology that provides access while maintaining governance and security.
  3. Finally, Denholm is committed to making sure that BDO’s 8,000 employees are “empowered to use the data at their disposal.”

As you can see, the challenges of being the first CDO at a large organization are commensurate with the opportunities at stake. We’re excited to see how Denholm and his colleagues at BDO progress in the coming months and years.

Offering a view from the other side of the fence is our co-founder, Anthony Cosgrove. As someone who used to run a large data operation at a major global bank, Anthony is intimately familiar with the challenges of enabling a large organization to become more data driven. Starting Harbr was a direct reaction to this, so I found his perspective on the challenges of the CDO to be fascinating. Without further ado, here is Anthony’s chat with Tech Exec magazine.


Putting data consumers first

Tech Exec: I’ve heard you speak before about the need for CDOs to give users quicker access to data. Why do you think this is the first thing they should be looking to achieve?

Anthony: I think it all comes down to thinking about the data consumer experience. If you want to empower your people with data, you need to make it easy for them to get their hands on it. And when you talk to data consumers to understand what they want, they’ll tell you the quality they need, which format they prefer, the location they want it, how often it may need to be updated. These attributes will define the specification, and they’re all important. But if you start with focusing on getting the data to them in the first place, all of these questions can be answered in good time.

One of our partners recently said to me that when you give people access to data, the best way to demonstrate the need for quality and structure is to experience the lack of it. That’s why I think it makes sense to focus first on enabling this access.


How do data marketplaces enable this access and empower users?

Quick point, but the terminology around this stuff does tend to vary depending on who you talk to. With BDO, we’re talking about a platform that enables primarily internal users to access the data they need. Some people call this a private data marketplace, some people call it an exchange. We have other customers who use their platform for distributing commercial data products to external parties. So the business model and terminology can vary, but these are enabled by a common set of capabilities: a self-service user experience; the fact that users see a curated set of data products; a subscription system that helps enforce governance, with controls for who can access what, and what they can do with it; and automated distribution in the format and location preferred by the end user.


You and Denholm have both spoken about providing a self-service experience. Why is self-service so important?

I used to run a data and analytics function within a major global bank. I think a lot of people will recognise the challenges I faced: Where do you find data? How do you evaluate that data for your use case? How do we get that data into a shape where it will be useful?

Getting answers to these questions involves countless emails, meetings, and dead ends. And it goes without saying that most of the time, people just give up. Or the process takes so long that the opportunity is gone.

But CDOs like Denholm realize that they can provide a self-service user experience more akin to consumer digital technologies. Self-service means less friction for users to get the data they need. It also means lower operational overheads because rather than setting up custom pipelines, users can provision these resources on-demand. It means being able to work with data at source, without necessarily having to move it across systems and organizational boundaries. It means customizing the data products with tools that people already know how to use.


What do you see as the biggest challenge for CDOs? How can they overcome this?

If data isn’t being treated like an asset, CDOs are at risk of being stuck as a cost center within the business. And because the volume of data grows every year, these costs are only going to increase, outstripping any value they are able to generate.

To get around this, CDOs should focus on optimizing value extraction. You need to be good at quickly understanding the value of the data. You need to be able to quickly iterate on your data products. Traditionally, data teams spend a lot of time cleansing, moving, and structuring data to start the process of working out its value. But this isn’t agile. We need to take inspiration from the product mindset, with agile, rapid development, if we want to change the reality of data simply being a cost center and transform it into a value generator.