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Data as a Change Agent

Veda Bawo

Director of Data Governance @ Raymond James

Raymond James is a diversified financial services firm, focused on providing trusted advice and tailored, sophisticated solutions for individuals and institutions.

Transcript

Melissa Campbell:
I’m Melissa Campbell, Chief Revenue Officer of Tamr. And I’m excited to host today Veda Bawo, who’s the Director of Data Governance for Raymond James.

Melissa Campbell:
Hi, Veda! Thanks for joining me today. And congratulations on being selected to be part of this distinguished group of women leaders.

Veda Bawo:
Hey Melissa. I’m happy to chat with you. I’m not sure how it happened, but I appreciate the recognition.

Melissa Campbell:
No, it’s awesome. Really good. So I figure we can just jump right in. Is that okay?

Veda Bawo:
Sounds good.

Melissa Campbell:
All right. I think let’s just start by seeing if you can tell us a little bit about your career and maybe what brought you to data and how you ended up there?

Veda Bawo:
Absolutely. I started my career as an accountant. As anyone knows, any accountant, data is your bread and butter, right? You are kind of the steward or the person responsible for data.

Veda Bawo:
Did accounting, I’ve done auditing. And loved those roles, but learned quickly that I need a little bit more spice and variety of my life. Migrated away from accounting and audit into reporting. Because reporting is exciting, right? There’s the spice.

Veda Bawo:
In doing reporting, I quickly learned that one of the core challenges that we encountered every quarter in, every month in, every year in were challenges with data. And that then caused me to change, to become a person … I guess a data evangelist, right? I took the challenges and because I’m not a fan of Groundhog Day, I said, “Look, how do I fix these problems so that I’m not facing them every single cycle?” And that then led me down the path of data, right? Understanding the issues with master data or understanding the fact that folks didn’t understand some of the data choices they were making as they were booking transactions, right, et cetera. Which then turned into training and education around data, et cetera.

Veda Bawo:
I became a data enthusiastic out of self-defense. Because it was a recurring challenge for me. But now I’m just … I’m in love with all things data, right? Data management, data governance, et cetera. I focused on that in the later years of my career.

Melissa Campbell:
What brought you to Raymond James?

Veda Bawo:
Well, who doesn’t love Florida?

Melissa Campbell:
Yes.

Veda Bawo:
Right. That’s always a plus, when the company is headquartered in sunny, Florida. And I’m a native Floridian. It was time for me to come back home to look after my elderly parents. That was priority number one. And then it was awesome when I found a data job at Raymond James in Florida. It was like, “Okay, yeah, it’s time.” The stars and the moon and everything just aligned. And here I am doing the data governance startup at Raymond James in Florida.

Melissa Campbell:
That’s wonderful. Why don’t you tell us, what are some of the projects you’re most excited about or proud of?

Veda Bawo:
When I think about what gets me excited, honestly, it’s not specific projects. I get excited about the people and the partnerships that I’ve experienced throughout my career. I get excited when we’re able to make connections with people in the organization and help them to understand how data can help to improve the efficiency of their processes. Right. And just make their lives easier. I get excited when I get to partner with great colleagues inside the organization and vendor partners outside of the organization who were super smart. Super smart in terms of understanding their business domain, super smart in terms of understanding what’s happening in the data discipline, or about technology, innovation. Those are the things that get me really, really excited.

Veda Bawo:
I’ve come in my later years to understand or to appreciate the process in terms of how I get to the end result in the project, as much as, or even maybe even more than the end result of a given project. I can talk about multimillion dollar initiatives with tool onboarding and process implementations, but it’s the people. It’s the people and it’s the partnerships, they’re really, really … It makes me excited and it gives me reinvigorates my excitement.

Melissa Campbell:
No, that’s awesome. I guess on the flip side of that, what would you see are some of the toughest challenges you’ve had to deal with or experience in regards to handling data or in digital transformation overall?

Veda Bawo:
Look, I’m going to go back to the fundamentals. Data quality is hands down the biggest challenge that I’ve consistently faced throughout my career in data organizations and outside of data organizations. I don’t care how much transformation you do. I don’t care how much digitalization you do. At the core of most things is data. And if the data’s dirty, if the data is not accurate, completed, et cetera, then you’re going to have challenges with any initiative. AI built on top of dirty data is useless. It’s going to give you … it’s going to yield inaccurate or incorrect result. Quality and I’ll say complacency around that quality is the biggest challenge that I’ve seen.

Veda Bawo:
The question is how do you ask an already oversubscribed population to do more with respect to data quality? How do you convince folks that it’s important to focus on data quality or how to raise the bar with respect to data quality when they’re already time constrained, resource constrained? It’s art and science, right? You have to really win over the hearts and minds of folks. You really have to build a compelling business case and help them understand kind of the downstream, the longterm and lasting impacts of quality on the overall organization and its ability to continue as a growing concern. That, to me, I would say is the biggest challenge. And if anybody has a magic button that will solve that, call me up.

Melissa Campbell:
All right. Well maybe we will call you from Tamr, because that’s the biggest thing we solve in regards to … We call it garbage in garbage out, right?

Veda Bawo:
Absolutely.

Melissa Campbell:
Yeah, no, I love that. Thank you for that answer. When you think about how data and analytics are serving your company, how do you see it evolving and what do you think is really needed to achieve better business results other than I guess, data quality, what you just said?

Veda Bawo:
Yeah. I mean, look, I think that the evolution is awesome. I think it’s excellent that folks are recognizing the importance of data more and more. I think that the recognition is going to be further bolstered when I see a chief data officer reporting directly to a CEO with strong ties to the board of directors. I think that’ll go a long way, just basically saying that data is at the core of everything that we do so we need to get this right as an organization. Versus it being the tail wagging the dog, if you will. Constantly pulling teeth, just trying to get a data initiative right off the ground and funded and resourced and staffed appropriately. But I think that’s a huge change that would help or that hopefully will come about in the coming years.

Veda Bawo:
I think that having the regulators constantly focused on data risks and controls, having the second and third line functions constantly focused on data risks and control will help to bolster our ability to continue to push and to encourage data literacy and the formerly recognized, those risks. Again, having that CDO who is pushing that agenda is important.

Veda Bawo:
And I think we’re going to see a change in terms of us formally recognizing the monetization of data, right? It is truly an asset. Which in theory, should be valued on the balance sheet that does generate real revenue, which we should see on the P and L.

Veda Bawo:
I think when that happens, then there will be no question that CDO is as important as any other line of business head within the organization, will be given much more gravitas, I’ll say, within each organization or institution.

Melissa Campbell:
That’s music to my ears, everything you were just saying, for sure, and the problems that we’re trying to solve. When it comes to kind of that triangle of technology, people, process, what do you think … Which part of that do you think is the most challenging? And how do you guys at Raymond James make it work together?

Veda Bawo:
I mean, technology is constantly evolving. We’re always going to have new toys to play with in the toy box that do amazing things. The thing with technology is there’s always going to be a technology solution to most problems. The question is, do you have the money, right? Do you have the people to put behind it? I’m going to take technology out of the triangle, because there’s always some great innovative solution to solve many, many problems.

Veda Bawo:
Then that leaves people and process. Yeah? And so process, to me, is a function of people? Process is defined by a person, has to be implemented, generally, by a person, or person that’s leveraging technology, et cetera. I’m going to get back to people. People, we have to win the hearts and minds of people across the organization, across the institution, in order to truly address some of the challenges that we have within the data space.

Veda Bawo:
And oftentimes I encounter that people just aren’t aware. They just don’t know. It’s not that I think … At the core people want to do the right thing. They want to do a really, really good job, but often they just don’t know. They don’t know that what they’re doing is outdated or not good enough for some purpose, et cetera.

Veda Bawo:
I think people would be number one for me. And we need to definitely focus more and spend more time and energy in getting people educated, getting folks excited and energized and equipped in order to help us to advance in the agenda. And to help us to make sure that we have the right processes and controls in place and make sure we have the right technology implemented appropriately, et cetera.

Veda Bawo:
It’s really a mind shift. We have to stop using 1980 solutions to 2020 problems. And we see this over and over again. We look at architecture diagrams, it’s like, “What are we doing, folks?” We look at design documents for technology initiatives or change projects. And it’s like, “Are we really thinking about this the best way?” Again, that comes down to people, right? People need to be well equipped and well-versed to make better decisions and to take better actions as we are managing change throughout an organization, which impacts data, as we’re managing ongoing operational activities within our organization, and as we’re visioning and planning and strategizing for the future. Long winded answer.

Melissa Campbell:
No, it’s very … It’s so relevant. People are the critical crux, I heard that in the triangle. But when you do need a technology, there is a lot of noise in the market, as you indicated, about bright, shiny objects and new tools. How is it that you personally learn about new technologies or what makes you navigate to try a certain new technology?

Veda Bawo:
Yeah, honestly I learned about new technologies by reading, right? They’re often great articles to come out that will help to highlight kind of what’s happening in the marketplace. Of course, you have your Gartner’s and the folks that will do the comparisons and the rankings, et cetera. That is helpful for sure.

Veda Bawo:
I also rely on advice from vendor partners. I can’t spend my entire day chasing or observing or monitoring every tool that’s out there in the marketplace. I rely on my vendor partners who I have relationships with to talk through the pros and cons and to provide advice in their viewpoints on tools.

Veda Bawo:
And then lastly, I’ll say that I also rely on my colleagues, my peers in the industry. After you’ve done … After you’ve been in industry for 25 plus years, you kind of know a few folks. I rely on their feedback on, “What are you using at your organization and how is that working for you? What are the drawbacks that you’re seeing?” Et cetera. That will be the last source of information in terms of tool selection.

Veda Bawo:
And sometimes even with all of those inputs, you don’t know what you don’t know. Right? You think that you have the right answer and sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. But I think it’s really, really important for vendors to really stay close post-implementation and to provide those additional services around customization or product expansion, et cetera. To make sure that their solutions really work for the customer on that they’ve sold them.

Melissa Campbell:
Yeah. It’s all about adding value. And one of our sayings at Tamr is customer success is our success. That part is really so crucial to ongoing value add for all customers like Raymond James.

Melissa Campbell:
I guess my last question would be, a few years from now, what do you see or what do you think are going to be some of the biggest changes we’re going to see in regards to data management within an organization?

Veda Bawo:
Biggest changes. My hope … Okay, I have a dream. I have a dream that one day data management will be just as prominent as risk management. Okay. Everyone in financial services understands risk management. You understand your organization’s risk appetite, understand what your role is in the risk management process. You attest to the fact that you understand these things and there’s specific steps that you do to assess your risks and your controls and to self identify where you’re doing well and you’re not doing well. And you have an action plan to fix your challenges. That’s all we need for data, right? That’s all. That’s it.

Melissa Campbell:
Simple.

Veda Bawo:
So I have a dream. [crosstalk 00:15:13] one day we’ll have that discipline in place as it relates to data. I also have a dream that one day data is going to become just as second nature as waking up and brushing your teeth.

Veda Bawo:
Managing data and managing data quality should just become a natural part of what we do. It’s like blinking. It’s like breathing. It’s like personal hygiene, right? No one has to tell you to do it. You just do it. And when you don’t do it well, someone, maybe a close friend, hopefully, or family member’s going to say, “You know what? Maybe you didn’t brush your teeth today. Can you maybe address that?”

Veda Bawo:
We need to get to that point where it’s just ingrained in everything that we do. Data governance, data management, data quality just needs to become a natural part of our existence within the organization.

Melissa Campbell:
No, that’s great. Well, maybe I fibbed a little bit. I do have one last question.

Veda Bawo:
Oh, boy.

Melissa Campbell:
This is an easy one though. We’ve all experienced really dramatic changes and challenges with COVID-19. And I just wanted to see how the pandemic has impacted Raymond James. And were you able to use data for any of the challenges? Or just in general, how did the pandemic impact your company?

Veda Bawo:
Yeah, these are definitely unprecedented times. I don’t think there’s anyone on the globe that hasn’t been impacted by this pandemic. It certainly changed the way that we work. We’re all accustomed or most of us are accustomed to driving to the office to work X number of hours a day. Most of our teams are now working remotely.

Veda Bawo:
But the good news is that we were prepared. We had those remote work options in place. The technology existed. It was just a matter of activating it for those who hadn’t used those options before. That’s different.

Veda Bawo:
But the good news is that we’re still interacting well with each other. We’re still providing support to each other. And we’re still absolutely servicing our clients. That commitment to our clients and to each other hasn’t changed during this pandemic, which is awesome.

Veda Bawo:
And I think it’s also awesome that it has really shown the strength of our culture. It’s really brought to the forefront that when we say, “We’re in the business of people,” it’s really come through. Folks have a level of flexibility to manage personal situations. If you have children at home that you have to worry about doing homeschooling as well as work, it’s like we work around it. We’re accustomed now to hearing barking dogs and children running around in the background of the Zoom. It’s okay. We’ve encouraged them to come into the screen, because we want to see the cute furry creature, then the little people, and all that stuff. That’s definitely different.

Veda Bawo:
And I think in terms of using data … We use data as you would in any normal operations, to track call volumes, to track system monitoring, network capacity, et cetera. That’s all data. That helped us to understand where do we need to reallocate resources to deal with higher volumes on a certain area? Or do we need to check our capacity to handle higher trade volumes?

Veda Bawo:
And of course the monitoring data from outside of the organization. So market volatility. There was some high trading days out there. So we’re kind of looking at that volatility as an indicator of, “Okay, what’s to come?” Of course data’s at the center of all of that, right? During the apex, I’ll say, of the market volatility during the pandemic.

Veda Bawo:
And then now, as we’re thinking about returning to office or even monitoring folks who are not in the office, we’re using data to collect and track that information to understand who’s working remotely, who’s planning to return to the office? And for those who are returning to the office, collecting data as it relates to their health assess station or other information that’s relevant for folks who want to go back onsite.

Veda Bawo:
Again, data’s at the core of most things that we do, right? Whether it’s related to our core business and processes or related to managing our employees or just navigating our personal lives. Right?

Melissa Campbell:
Right.

Veda Bawo:
[inaudible 00:19:44]

Melissa Campbell:
No. Well, Veda, this has been truly a pleasure for me, personally. And I think some of your information and answers were super helpful. And I just want to thank you again for joining us today and for taking the time. And for all those watching, please visit CDOMagazine.tech for additional interviews like Veda’s.