CIO Karriem Shakoor on harnessing the power of data democratization

At UL Solutions, CIO Karriem Shakoor has identified clear cultural and architectural requirements for achieving data democratization so that IT can get out of the reports business and into driving revenue.

Recently, I had the chance to speak at length with Shakoor about data strategy at the global safety science company, which has over 15,000 employees in 40 countries. What follows is an edited version of our interview.

Martha Heller: How is software changing UL Solutions as a business?

Karriem Shakoor: UL Solutions’ ambition is to be our customers’ most trusted, scienced-based safety, security, and sustainability partner, which means that we need best-in-class technology infrastructure. For example, investing in industry-leading customer relationship management software lets us leverage the collective innovation of that software company’s entire customer base toward meeting our own transformation goals, rather than starting from scratch. That allows our sales teams to run and track their activities with feature-rich and fully integrated processes.

But the software tools are only as powerful as our ability to create a consistent view of our customer base. We can digitize our services and enable their appropriate pricing and configuration for a customer, but to fully leverage the software investment, we also need reliable, accurate customer and account data to support direct marketing, lead generation, and personalization.

What are the steps toward having a data strategy that fully leverages the software?

Good governance is a must if you want to harness the full power of data for new products and services and achieve data democratization.

Every company must be intentional about governing and proactively managing the quantities of data it creates each year, using effective standards and quality rules. If not, they risk diluting the value they can derive, and slowing decision-making.

Email offers a simple example. In order to use email marketing to engage customers, it’s critical to build an accurate and trusted repository of email addresses. Without enforcing a convention for how those addresses are formatted and ensuring that the systems that record those addresses — whether manually or using automation — conform to that convention, you jeopardize the usability of key data.

What is data democratization and why is it important?

Democratizing data empowers stakeholders to access and use that data to answer questions on their own without working through an IT broker. For example, a stakeholder should be able to run a report without having to request that IT pull the information. After IT certifies datasets that meet validated stakeholder needs and makes them available internally, end users can draw from those datasets on demand, speeding stakeholder decision-making and getting IT out of the business of running reports.

In addition to standards and governance, what else does an organization need for data democratization?

Effective data democratization requires a data management culture that empowers business stakeholders to define how certain information will be used. This also means holding people accountable for using that information appropriately and subject to good governance.

Data democratization also requires subject matter experts inside business units and functions who understand data analytics and reporting. IT alone simply cannot drive successful data democratization.

What is your architectural strategy for enabling the democratization of data?

There really is no single best architectural design. You need adherence to strong data governance and consistent practices for defining your data and mastering it with the right tools to achieve a standard, concise view of key data types across your business.

What is the CIO’s role in leading data strategy?

An effective data strategy must connect to a business imperative. Every CIO needs to understand the company’s multi-year strategy and desired outcomes, and the data-related capabilities necessary to drive those outcomes.

At UL Solutions, tapping into our data to build a deeper understanding of customer needs and buying behaviors can help expand our relationships with existing customers.

What advice do you have for CIOs on developing a culture of data democratization?

Start with a clear strategic intention. Connecting our data democratization proposals to the company’s business strategy went a long way toward helping our executive team appreciate why we prioritized building a single, consistent view of our customers. This approach really helped generate enthusiasm and build the commitment we needed.

I also recommend that CIOs resist trying to execute a data strategy with their IT teams alone. In any company, there are at least three different groups outside of IT that think about your key data every day. For example, pricing managers, product managers, and inside sales teams need to buy into the data strategy, and so do your executive peers. You need your chief revenue or chief commercial officers sitting right next to you, championing the importance of data governance and quality.

Finally, understand that your most important work as CIO is to bring the right data leadership into the IT organization. You cannot wait to be asked to build out a data team; as CIO, you have to be one step ahead.

Data Management, IT Leadership