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In this episode, Scott interviewed Stephen Galsworthy, former Head of Data at TomTom. Obviously, given he’s no longer with the company, he was only representing his own views.
Some key takeaways/thoughts from Stephen’s point of view:
- Just because the products you sell are made from data, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have a good process for leveraging data to make your products better. You need to embed information collection into how you create products, how customers interact with your offerings.
- The AI Flywheel: If you can get good information on product user experience, you can feed that into AI systems that generate incremental insights to improve your user experience even more. Hopefully, that generates more users which generate even more information to improve even further.
- If data collection on usage is not part of your business model – for a number of reasons – it can be hard to convince customers and/or partners to enable that data collection. Even if it’s simply to improve the user experience. Try to add it in to your product development as early as possible.
- If your organization is data hesitant, look for existing success stories from data. Look for something that couldn’t have happened without the data. And then share that success internally to drum up more interest.
- ?Controversial?: Data should rarely be THE deciding factor. Data should be a touch point that can strongly inform or give clarity. Use it for giving clarity or measuring as you iterate. Help execs understand it’s not magic and that it’s not all right or wrong.
- It’s easy to trust data when it confirms your intuition. How do you use it when it doesn’t? How much credence should you give the data?
- ?Controversial?: High performing companies tend to be those that use data to help make adjustments to their product strategy, using it as a tight feedback loop. It’s not as though the data decides but it constantly informs and confirms (but yes, not absolute confirmation).
- Don’t fall into the trap of collecting all the data you can. But do think about what you could do if you had additional data, what might that inform. Work ahead, you don’t get past data the day you implement.
- There is a big difference between producing data and producing data as a product. But if we don’t incentivize and assist teams to produce data as a product, few will and then your data practices will remain fragile.
- Data producers need to be able to understand who has taken a dependency on their data but it’s too hard in general right now for them to understand. Better technology offerings here can help.
- A great – possibly the best – incentive for a team to produce their data as a product is what their data consumers can provide back to them in the form of insights. How can a team managing an app get more insight to improve their app by sharing their data? That’s a cohesive org-wide data practice instead of domains only focusing on themselves.
- ‘In production’ should not be seen as the end or the key goal, that’s a project mindset. In production just means the start of a new phase for your data product.
- To get a team to data-driven, find a data ambassador within a team – and if there isn’t one, deploy one into that team. Really encourage someone to be the lead of wrangling their data. Work to develop a passion for data in someone in the team to spread to the rest of the team. Scott note: staying away from infectious analogies
- The most data-driven teams have a mindset of always be experimenting. It’s not about being right at the start, it’s about constantly trying, learning, and getting better.
Stephen started off with a bit about his background from working for companies consolidating information into a product they sell, such as TomTom taking in tons of data to create maps to sell. However, using data as a key aspect of your products doesn’t necessarily translate into collecting and analyzing information about how your products are actually used which would allow you to drive improvements like new features or even new products. Organizations that are focused on obtaining and analyzing information of usage and other market dynamics are likely to be those that win in the market more often going forward. Their user experience knowledge is going to be a much tighter feedback loop.
The AI flywheel is something Stephen mentioned that can create a virtuous cycle. You are creating data around interaction points with your products that feed AI to make the products better. The better they are, the more people interact with them generating more interaction points, meaning you can make your product even better. Essentially, collecting and analyzing data to make your product better -> you make your product better -> more people use the product -> more data to analyze to make your product better. However, if it’s not inherently part of your business model, trying to pivot to that information gathering practice can be a tough sell for customers and/or partners. Oftentimes, partners aren’t even allowed to hand over data. Think about how you’ll effectively collect data as early as possible even if you don’t start collecting it then.
A good way to build momentum around the importance of data to an organization is start small according to Stephen. It might sound great to try to convert the entire organization to being data driven at once but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Show some successes from working with data, find something that couldn’t have been done without leveraging data like a new product, and then share those successes internally and encourage more parts of the organization to try leveraging data.
Stephen believes that data should rarely be THE deciding factor in decisions. The human in the loop is crucial. And it’s crucial to make that clear to execs – you don’t want them to think data is a magic wand / silver bullet but they also don’t want the data making the decision. Data is a touch-point in decisions, it’s used to create better feedback loops as you iterate towards good solutions. Leveraging data well often isn’t really about making the right call, it’s about finding better and better ways.
It’s very important to frame the role of data in your organization well – it’s what differentiates high performing organizations in many cases based on Stephen’s history. Again, it’s not a silver bullet but data makes it so you can make smaller bets to quickly get to a better solution via tight test, learn, and then iterate loops. Again, you want to make data a companion to execs instead of an either/or to their intuition and experience. Data can help them arrive on the right decision.
Stephen laid out a data maturity journey for an organization or a team: you need to start with collecting data – it seems obvious but you need mechanisms to actually collect data as noted earlier. Once you start collecting data, you don’t need to become the most data driven team in the world overnight; start to process and analyze the data – find bits of information and insights to assist as you decide if there should be a formal data analyst/data scientist or not. From there, drive to faster experimentation and improve. The faster you can get solid information and iterate, the better. That will naturally lead to more data democratization as people see the value of the data and want to get involved. That can easily build from a team level up to larger organization level as well. But it’s a journey, it’s not a switch to flip.
Being cognizant of the cost of data acquisition has been relatively easy for Stephen since his past employers have been involved in hardware/IoT and there was a distinct cost to pipe the data back into the organization. But it’s easy to lose sight of the cost of data collection for many organizations. He recommends looking at what data you want to collect by specifically what you want to figure out and why it might inform a decision. Just collecting data for the sake of data isn’t good. Scott note: you really want to have these conversations as early as possible because the earlier you have the data, the more you can shape your decisions. If XYZ metric will be crucial for a decision in 6 months, you don’t want to start collecting the data for XYZ in 6 months.
For Stephen, the challenge of data producing teams understanding downstream dependencies on their data is getting better but is still not fixed. But we shouldn’t focus on just understanding who is using our data – it’s the difference between producing data and producing data as a product. If you are producing data as a product, you should be actually interacting with your consumers so it’s inherent that you should know who is consuming – and crucially, you know why they are consuming. But there is of course a cost to producing data as a product, lots of engineering time, especially if you don’t have the tooling and capabilities, so that should be incentivized whether you are doing data mesh or not.
The best incentive, the ‘best carrot’ rather than stick, for getting teams to really work on sharing their data as a product has been the insight flywheel from Stephen’s point of view. The team sharing their data, if the consumers then generate many useful insights that are helpful back to that producing team, that’s how data at an organization-wide scale hopefully works. The 1+1+1+1 = 10 kind of approach but it’s also hard to make sure that will happen and that teams make sure to give information back to the producing team as appropriate. You want to try to foster an org culture of ‘if another team wins from my data, that is a win for our team too’ but easier said than done 😀
In wrapping up, Stephen talked about how can you get a team that isn’t data driven to start heading down that pathway. There was the data maturity journey mentioned earlier but this is about developing a passion in someone on that team for data and then letting their enthusiasm for – and results from – data get everyone else on board. You may have to deploy someone into that team but make sure there is someone in the team driving them to be more data driven because of passion instead of simply try to use the stick.
Data Mesh Radio is hosted by Scott Hirleman. If you want to connect with Scott, reach out to him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scotthirleman/
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