Julie Smith, Director of Data and Analytics at Alation, speaks with Robert Lutton, VP of Sandhill Consultants and Editorial Board Vice Chair at CDO Magazine, in a video interview about the evolution of data beyond IT, the cross-functional role of data, the need for business to understand data, future of data professionals, the impact of AI, the importance of data observability, and building a strong data foundation for a solid AI foundation.
Alation is an enterprise data intelligence solutions provider enabling self-service analytics, cloud transformation, and data governance.
Smith begins by discussing the evolution of data from being an IT function. Looking back at her initial days, she asserts finding data interesting even when it was an IT function. She recalls combining technical ability with business knowledge to try and understand business drivers. That was when she recognized that data is not an IT function but a function in its own right.
Adding, Smith says that data has a cross-functional role in tech and business alike. She affirms seeing increased involvement from the business with senior leaders and CDOs. She further adds that many from a commercial background are turning into data professionals.
In continuation, Smith maintains that for the business side to use data, it must be in the heads of business people, and they should be able to comprehend the challenges, drivers, and benefits of its use.
As the role evolves, data practitioners are becoming more hybrid, says Smith, and the best ones understand the business. She wishes to see data as a skill and its usage become a day-to-day thing for a business person.
When asked to predict the evolving future of data professionals, Smith stresses the merging of commercial backgrounds. She maintains that to see business outcomes, one must fully understand the art of the possible and how to take data forward.
Referring to AI, Smith affirms that job roles have already evolved and there will be more dedicated roles within organizations. She advises individuals to keep up with the latest technologies like AI and large language models.
Referring to the Big Data London conference, Smith recalls walking around the stores and noticing how AI was used. A part of the problem with technology, she says, is assessing what is important and what would move things along.
Smith believes that data observability is gaining a foothold and that is an evolution. However, she is cautious about the hype and notes that it is critical to take a step back and think. She prefers looking at Gartner Hype cycles for a better understanding.
With newer technologies coming through, Smith’s concern revolves around fading away from basic foundational skills. The basics of how to treat, respect, and manage data are the foundations that should not get carried away since AI feeds only on good quality data, she adds.
To build a solid AI foundation, organizations must have a solid data foundation, with governance, data quality, definitions, understanding of data provenance, and possible data biases, says Smith. Further, she advises organizations to start small and build gradually while trying to achieve with AI.
In conclusion, Smith states that there have been instances where organizations create dashboards that people blindly trust because they look good. However, in reality, bad data will give bad results which have devastating consequences.
CDO Magazine appreciates Julie Smith for sharing her invaluable data insights with our global community.