Silos Run Deep: Sept 2020 Executive Roundtable Recap

Transform by Simon Data held a private, invite-only executive roundtable yesterday led by Nick Drake, VP of Global Marketing at Google, Doina Harris, CPO at Simon, and Richard Demato, Head of Transformation at Simon. 

The event brought our speakers together with ten marketing and experience leaders; CMOs, CDOs, COOs, and VPs from across verticals, including finance, social media, retail, technology, and entertainment. Our focus was on exploring how brands are leveraging data to transform their marketing and end-to-end customer experience.

This is a critical and urgent conversation for leaders. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gartner had already predicted that in 2020, customers would manage 85% of their relationships with enterprise businesses without any human interaction. And now, it’s projected that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation roadmaps by 3 to 10 years, depending on the vertical.

For this reason, we created these private roundtable discussions as a safe, candid space for marketing and experience leaders to share what’s working, what needs fixing or optimizing, and how they plan to ensure their company succeeds in their data-driven transformation.

The major recurring themes of the discussion were:

  1. How to break down organizational silos to achieve customer-centric goals powered by digital transformation
  2. How to be more nimble with ingesting, transforming, and utilizing data across business units while democratizing its use for faster go-to-market

These two topics are inextricably interwoven. As such, our recap will reflect how attendees are simultaneously framing and working to break down operational silos and make data democratically accessible to succeed in their data-driven marketing and customer experience transformation efforts.

The topics themselves were so interwoven that it’s impossible to give a concise summary of what was said on each topic. In the scope of digital transformation, breaking down operational silos and making data democratically accessible are inseparable. 

Democratizing data across the organization

In response to eliminating silos, one guest found data to be one of the roots of siloing. 

Their company is working on a unified data platform to ingest and warehouse all of its customer data, not just the most immediately useful data. The reasoning here is that, with a large enterprise broken into business units, no one can anticipate what data will be useful to whom and when. 

Despite the up-front engineering hours, a fully-fledged ingestion and transformation system for data becomes a compounding investment to make data self-service for easy activation throughout the enterprise.

Accepting the complex nature of an ever-changing data landscape

Another guest brought up the challenge of anticipating how to define data in the future. Customers’ ways of interacting with brands are changing fast, so the complicating factor is creating a flexible, agile ingestion system that can continue to ingest everything while adding, defining, and subtracting. 

The other difficulty is that seemingly simple things are quite complicated to realize in the real world, such as combining batched and streaming data in real time and at scale. 

The real struggle that our guests agreed upon is staying ahead of the data. As one guest put it, it’s one thing to organize the data one time and make it consumable. But the challenge is that data continues to change — a new application release, a new product launch, a recent acquisition — and the endless evolution of the business and the wider digital world works to destabilize whatever order has been established.  


Perfecting your data is only one of many large steps

Even at an incredibly data-driven legacy financial institution, the representative from that company described the downside of their recent large-scale data transformation process. Despite the massive gains from such an endeavor, the “soft” pieces of digital transformation — people, process, and culture — remain broken and cause problems across the enterprise.

The silos that have yet to be broken are those separating the “data producers”  (e.g., data engineers, data analysts) and “data consumers” (e.g., product and marketing teams).

“And so, for example, we have these breakdowns where there are plenty of [data consumers] that want data from everywhere. But there’s no incentive for every data producer to give them the data that they want in the way that they want it, prioritized according to what every consumer wants. And so we have this impasse all across the organization.” 

The above is a symptom of misaligned incentives, as this guest was more than happy to point out. 

As they see it, the solution is a shared data marketplace that combines aligned incentives and mechanisms that make it simpler for connecting “producers” and ”consumers” of data to unlock the flows that need to be created. 

Until the technological and organizational silos are razed, in this guest’s own words, “I think we’re just going to struggle and struggle and struggle because it is an ongoing challenge. It can’t be solved through a one-time investment. It’s now a forever problem.”

In other words, the problems that underlie the need for digital transformation run much deeper and wider than the technological component. A true full digital transformation also entails people, process, and culture. 

For more on the four digital transformation pillars, check out our Nick Drake webinar replay, Digital Transformation: The Marketing and Experience Imperative.

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