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#ModernDataMasters: David Balzan, Business Unit Manager MDM

Kate Tickner, Reltio

    David Balzan, Business Unit Manager MDM, VIQTOR DAVIS is a driven data management professional, enthusiastic leader and technical architect. David has nearly 20 years’ experience delivering data management solutions across most vertical markets and a huge amount of practical MDM experience.

    What is your background and what was your route into data management?

    As a kid I was a bit of a geek and I was always into IT. It was the late ‘90s with all the year 2K stuff going on when I was deciding what to study at university. A lot of companies were going through a transformation, recognising IT as critical to operational business processes. I thought it could be a great area to build a career in and the University of Kent was one of the first to offer Java courses.

    I joined Entity Group (now VIQTOR DAVIS) about a year or two after leaving there and focused on Java and Microsoft development predominantly for the first few years. I progressed into Data Architecture and then eventually Enterprise Architecture.

    I recognised early in my career that when data management projects fail, they often do so due to people, processes and politics rather than technology.  This pushed me to engage more on the business side.”

    How would you define “modern” data management and what does it /should it mean for organisations that adopt it?

    Modern data management for me is a move away from the existing product terminology (MDM, RDM, DI, AI, ML, BPM etc) to developing platforms and initiatives that combine pieces of these capabilities together to achieve quick incremental business benefits. I think that we are probably going to have to stop using these terms and that we’ll need to do it quite soon due to how quickly the market is moving. Ten years ago we were selling MDM into IT but that’s mostly not the case now:

    “It’s business we are selling to and they want to know in pounds and pence what this investment will bring them. They don’t care about the acronyms – they want to know what the business benefits will be – analytical and operational.”

    Modern data management requires that organisations create the right cultural, commercial and technical environment to enable this to happen. Reltio is a good example of that – it doesn’t fit neatly into one of the legacy boxes. It recognises that customers have a whole swathe of data management requirements that often need a little bit of everything.

    For example, you can’t do MDM without data integration – you probably can’t do it without data quality either. If you do any data steward-ship you’ll need some kind of business process management so rather than talking about all these as individual products in siloes, let’s talk about capabilities and platforms.

    “Modern data masters shouldn’t be trying to fit projects into the boxes we’ve had in the past – they need to be business-focused, understand that you need capability across all the boxes but not be IN the boxes – they need to talk about outcomes.”

    What aspects of modern data management do you focus on in your role and how do you help deliver it?

    I’ve been very happy doing MDM for as long as I have because at the beginning it was really about the technical challenges and bringing data together from different parts of the business. I really enjoyed doing that but then I began to recognise that it doesn’t matter if you get the tech right because if you don’t make enough progress on the people and process side then your project will fail.

    I focus on helping organisations manage their most important master data.  Particularly the party domain – individuals and organisations.  Many of my projects are about helping organisations create an operational 360 view and/or achieving better data compliance.  My role is primarily as an architect and advisor but I wanted to make a difference to customer outcomes which meant I needed to develop my people skills.

    “I really enjoy working with organisations to make sure they get the most out of the technology they have bought by getting the roles, responsibilities and processes right. That’s the best way to effect positive business change.”

    What are your top 3 tips or resources to share for aspiring modern data masters?

    • Adopt a top down approach for a “thin slice” of your business. At VIQTOR DAVIS we cover this in detail in our book “Crossing the Data Delta”. Understand your business objectives, the data you have, where and how that data is used. Measure its value and quality and decide the correct level of management to apply to it.
    • Focus on the necessary changes you need to make to people and processes, not just the changes to technology. Good data management often requires cultural changes in the organisation to be effective. This is partly why we feel that offering advisory services is so important because it can drive that vital board-level sponsorship for the projects we engage in. This sponsorship ensures that the stakeholder understanding and buy-in is there across an organisation and that can be the most difficult part of the whole journey.
    • Don’t try to do this yourself. Engage with a specialist data focused organisation who can provide you with both the technical and advisory skills to make your data management programme a success.

    As a services provider, you would say that – why shouldn’t someone try and do it themselves?

    (Laughs). That’s true, but it’s because you’ve got to get everything right, at the same time. You need to have done it before – more than once – to have a chance to achieve that. In addition, having a service provider that can offer all the required skills will help you orchestrate the people, process and technology together to ensure a joined-up project delivery.

    Some organisations spread a project across multiple advisors eg Strategy advisors at Board level; Systems Integrators doing the delivery and working with IT to implement the technology and then perhaps the business process re-engineering etc being done as an internal project.  It’s really difficult for those three pieces to join up and deliver success.

    How important is experience versus willingness-to-innovate for a modern data master?

    I think you need both.  The world is littered with failed data management projects and it is important to work with an experienced organisation who can help you avoid the same mistakes.   But I think it is also important to think big.  We are seeing industries being disrupted by organisations using data in ways that are creative, ingenious and inventive.  It is hugely important for established organisations that they innovate in order to defend against their data-savvy competitors.

    This is how VIQTOR DAVIS describe who we are – how we see our role. There are many new age organisations have built data into the heart of what they do and are really disrupting the market.

    “We’re here to help the new age defenders – the more established organisations – who, over the next 5-10 years, need to fight like hell to stop these newer, more dynamic, data-driven organisations from eating their lunch.”

    What trends or changes do you predict to the data management arena in the next few years?

    I believe that operational data governance will continue to rise in importance. It’s the balancing act – unlocking data out of siloes to use it more effectively is essential, but it must be done within regulatory boundaries. You can only do that and demonstrate that you have done it is via excellent data governance – the systems and processes must be in place to do this.

    It’s what we call opportunity versus obligation. Organisations need to be able to demonstrate exactly what data is being used, where, by whom, why and when.

    “You only need to read a paper to see news about organisations who have got the balance wrong – they have gone for opportunity at the expense of obligation and are now paying the price.”

    What question would you like to have been asked and what is the answer?

    • Question: How many data engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
    • Answer: 20 senior engineers to discuss the approach and one intern to copy the answer from StackOverflow 😊

    Which is your favourite science fiction book, programme or film and why?

    I love Red Dwarf.  It’s just a little, bit, odd. It was a great little geeky UK show shot on a low budget that is full of original ideas and razor-sharp wit. It ran and ran, gathering a cult following and was all packaged in a format that appealed to its target audience. I don’t think it has caught on anywhere else – we all know someone who’s a little bit like Rimmer – it’s that sarcastic British humour we love.