Data Dave Dives Deeper with Robert Wolf

Welcome to Data Dave Dives Deeper, the podcast that takes you on an enlightening journey into the world of data with your host, Data Dave. In this Talk Tech with Data Dave bonus series, Data Dave delves further into the intricacies, trends, and groundbreaking insights within everything data, everything cloud, everything technology, and everything D3Clarity.  In each episode, we will be joined by experts in the digital world for an educational, and hopefully entertaining, conversation.  

We invite you to explore the fascinating stories, techniques, and innovations that drive the data-driven world we live in, offering a deeper understanding of how technology shapes our lives and industries.  

This week, our expert, Robert Wolf of RENRGIS, joins us on a riveting adventure to decode the mysteries of data in an engaging and accessible way, empowering you to make informed decisions and truly grasp the power of data. 

HAVE A QUESTION?
Ask Data Dave about all things data, cloud, or technology.
We'll be happy to answer your question on the podcast.

or send us an email to: techtalk@d3clarity.com

Published:

October 16, 2023

Duration:

00:25:22

Transcript

Alexis
Hi everyone. Welcome to Data Dave Dives Deeper. I’m Alexis, your host of this podcast as well as our favorite Talk Tech with Data Dave. I’m here with my dear friend Data Dave and a special guest. Dave? 

Data Dave
Hi, I’m Dave to Dave, Dave Wilkinson, the CTO of D3 Clarity and professional data architect. and analyst. We’re here. With, as Alexis said, with Robert Wolfe, who’s going to talk to us a little bit about his career and how he got into data and all things data. So Robert, if you’d like to introduce yourself quickly, that would be awesome. 

Robert Wolf
Good afternoon, Dave. Thank you very much. I am Robert Wolfe with RENRGIS. I’ve been in technology for good 30 plus years now; started as a hobby. A self-proclaimed data programmer at the outset, teaching myself databases, data normalization programming, and creating applications based around databases and information. It was for a music business I had started, and soaked that in. Yeah, I was a record like, had my own record label and distribution business and turned that into a technology career.  

Taught myself how to build a computer from scratch. Got a job in a commercial real estate company where they needed a database specialist. And within less than a year, I became their network administrator, and another six months later became their IT director. 

Alexis
That’s a pretty cool story, Robert. My story goes something like… I applied for an executive assistant job. I got it. I like the sound of my own voice, and they put me on a podcast. 

Data Dave
You came up with the podcast Alexis. 

Alexis
So, your story’s much better. 

Data Dave
Yeah. So, I’m an engineer. I came into computers by accident, but I was a civil engineer originally and doing surveying and land surveying and building surveying. So not dissimilar, but nothing like music. 

Robert Wolf
Yeah, I came from a business management and economics background, but have a programming gene in my family. Both my mother and father were, you know, IBM-ers back in the day. That’s how they met. So, my mother is a brilliant computer programmer as well, so it was in the gene. So, I just found it a different way. 

Alexis
Wow. 

Robert Wolf
It was career-changing. I, you know, went from a completely…. and gradually moved out of the music business, as I said, into the technology field, commercial real estate. Got my real estate license, but also then got, you know, certified in technologies. Learned telecommunications and, you know, built a career around it. Eventually became a CIO for a major US real estate company, then eventually started my own consulting firm. And here I am today. 

Data Dave
Excellent. So, are you a believer that music and math are connected? 

Robert Wolf
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The numbers and time signatures, and yeah, absolutely. 

Data Dave
Okay. 

Alexis
My mother always said that’s why I was good at math, because I loved music so much. I’m in the same camp. I feel you guys. Well, Robert, you started out by telling us your company. Tell us a little bit more about your company. We’d love to hear more about what it is, what you do. 

Robert Wolf
So we started 14 years ago and it was purely by luck of a bad economy. I’m always the “glass is half-full” type person, and I took a downturn and a client challenge to say, “Hey, we can’t afford you, but we need you. What can you come up with?” 

And I said, you know, I’ll start my own consulting company. And I can, you know, support you part time, and here’s where I’ll charge you. That way, as things ebb and flow, you can, you know, spin the up or down to what you can support. And in the meantime, I can get on and build on other clients who I’ve made relationships through multiple industries. And so that’s what they did. I started consulting for them on their systems. Again, data has always been my bread and butter from day one, but I became an expert in a lot of different corporate systems, from ERP to supply chain to financial management, even sales CRM systems. So, I liked what ended up happening with my consulting firm as I started connecting all the dots. I’ve been doing a lot of these things in silos. And so now I’m taking all the pieces across the business silos and approaching it from a perspective, not a technology perspective. “What’s the business objective? How can we drive the business? How can my company be a partner with this company? To help them succeed and grow and be scalable, be sustainable.” 

I had been used to the ebbs and flow of the commercial real estate industry, and using that as a good backdrop, “How can we smooth out those peaks and valleys from a business cycle?”  

Case and point, because you have leverage your information, leverage your tool set, leverage people to go into other areas, and balance out your business model to provide other services that soften the blows when you’re at critical peaks, whether it’s leasing or property sales, top down. 

Alexis
So, you said that you have that love the data in your blood, if you will, what gives you that excitement when it comes to data? Why is it your favorite? I don’t know. I’m intrigued at this point. 

Robert Wolf
Well, it’s a little bit of that math too. And you’re right, it was my favorite subject in school. In fact, my favorite high school math teacher is still teaching at my same school to this day. Wow. Yeah, which goes to show, I mean, he had that same passion for. It’s data is like math. It’s like a puzzle. 

Dave
Right. 

Robert Wolf
And I loved taking these massive amounts of data people would do in spreadsheets and say, “Wow, there’s a lot of things together here.” Yeah, but they’re not all related, you know, like addresses. You could have a person with multiple addresses. I just started thinking logic, you know simple logic. But you’ve got five different sets of address fields along the same record. 

Dave
Right. 

Robert Wolf
Why not make it scalable so if one customer only has one address entry, that’s all it takes the space of. So, this is again way before you had thinking like this. This is the early 1990s and this was just starting to come around in terms of the day-to-day business world. Everybody otherwise saw of Lotus. 123 and spreadsheets or CSV files. 

Alexis
Wait? Lotus 123? 

Robert Wolf
You do not remember it? 

Alexis
Am I showing my age? 

Robert Wolf
I’m showing my age. 

Data Dave
I remember Lotus 123 and WordPerfect, so yes. 

Alexis
Okay, was Lotus 123 an Excel sort of thing? 

Robert Wolf
A precursor to excel. 

Data Dave
Precursor from a different company owned by Lotus, now owned by IBM, that was the competitor, the original competitor for Excel and they actually invented the spreadsheet I used Lotus 123. 

Robert Wolf
Lotus 123 was owned by another company. 

Alexis
I learned something new. 

Data Dave
So, you talked about silos of data and coming at it from that perspective. So, what’s your thought on that? Right? You said you come at it from looking at the silos and then breaking out. So breaking out into where? 

Robert Wolf
So, I love using the example of just say a manufacturing business where you have a product team with data on the product you’ve got. Then a sales team that has product information, but they manage them in two different places, two different systems. What I’ve often find, even to this day, is they’re not connected seamlessly and real time, and that what immediately happens is there’s all of a sudden in your sales system, there’s gaps in the data or even in the product system.  

I’ll say you get people who don’t manage it on a database, and they add new products. They don’t add all the attributes that are needed downstream, not necessarily for sales. Then there’s another silo for shipping in supply chain or ordering parts.  

And so, I have a client even, you know, today I’m working with that’s facing this kind of challenge. Yet they have great state-of-the-art or common modern systems. It’s not like they’re on legacy products, but they don’t have, didn’t have, I should say. They’re now starting to understand and go through this evolution of, well, if the products starts here, let’s start a lifecycle map and trace it through.  

And this is where I talk about breaking down the files. And our data maturity assessments, we do, you know, then well, how do we connect those to establish a real-time connection? And establish rules for passing that data to the next step in its life cycle. So okay, is it going to mark it in sales first, or does it next logically go to the ERP into the logistics system so that it can be both inventoried and shipped out? 

Data Dave
Because we see this all the time, right? We see the exactly the same thing frequently in understanding what the business is really doing from the data and explaining to people what their business is doing. So often you find that by analyzing the data and analyzing the multiple silos and looking at what I call the data ecosystem structure or the data architecture. Starting to explain to people what their business is really doing. 

Robert Wolf
Yes. And for me and for my clients, every client is unique and that’s what I keep passionate and I love doing this is I find it’s a new puzzle for me. 

Data Dave
Yes, absolutely. 

Robert Wolf
And it’s aligning the business approach, the business process, the people aspect of that data and then tying it to the system. Because, if you think back many years ago, everybody was so system-centric. They weren’t taking into consideration special business conditions, exceptions, rules, other things like that, and they just said, “Oh, we’ll connect the dots and plug this all together.” And then they wondered when they walked away and left and said, “Oh, we successfully implemented this system,” and they get lots of support tickets or calls or frustrated clients to say this system’s terrible. We need to move or do, you know, and go back to what we were doing. That’s what usually happens too. They start reverting to old processes, manual processes work. 

Data Dave
And tribal knowledge rather than data comes back up to the forefront. We use the metaphor. You can see the picture behind me of the landscape. Righ?. So, we talk about the technology landscape and the data landscape that exists in a business based off of the idea that says a lot of people have assembled their business from putting in these mountains. 

Putting in an ERP system, putting in our CRM system. Each one of these is a silo or a mountain of data, but very few people actually understand the whole landscape as they walk through it. So, one of the things we talk about is the metaphor of exploring this landscape and understanding what the business is really. And what the data does and trying to connect, “Does your data truly describe your business scenario that we find the assessment?”. So, I’m interested to see whether you find the same kind of structure and the same kind of problems. 

Robert Wolf
Yes, and I find it across a wide swath of different industries, which is pretty amazing. You know, industries where I’ve been in, and I know they seem to be much more technologically cutting edge or advanced and yet behind the scenes. They still don’t understand the geography that goes with that landscape. They don’t understand, It’s not for lack of effort. But sometimes, they don’t put the people involved at the ground level of handling that data. So, if you think about whether it’s a product team and a design or, you know, putting the specs together for a new product versus a salesperson entering the new product and making a marketing piece for it. And what information goes with that versus an accountant, what they have to track from the financial perspective. 

Data Dave
Right. Right. So? 

Robert Wolf
And that whole ecosystem, it’s a communication aspect. It’s not just the physical data, it’s them understanding, oh, this is how you use the data because that’s the eye-opening moment. A lot of times for when I first start with the client, is getting all those pieces and people in a room, you have a very high level talking through that description. And they’re like, “Oh, that’s how you use the data,” and letting those people speak to what they do with the data. And also, it’s a learning moment and a change management opportunity. 

Data Dave
Yes. And do you find that they? We take a very similar viewpoint. Do you find that they’re talking the same language or not? 

Robert Wolf
No, it’s very frequent, and again, case in point, my current client. The current client I’m working with those people, great technology, great and passionate people and that’s great. Just, they haven’t had the continuity and the right team of people to guide them. You know, whether it be consultants, system vendors because some companies depend on the system vendors to give them that guidance. But again, for them, those system guidance, there’s nothing against them, but they have a defined swim lane. 

Data Dave
Yes. So yeah. So, what we find often is that each silo has its own language within the business. Each silo has a system. Each system has its own language. Within it, based off of their silo, and they all used the same words. 

Robert Wolf
But to mean different things. 

Alexis
The customer, customer, customer, customer. 

Data Dave 

They mean completely different things, meaning completely different things. 

Robert Wolf
Yes, and again, this is again why I just,  I love going into completely new situations and it doesn’t, and I learned new things each time. Whether it’s just about the product or revision approaches, I’ve used in the past and say, “Well it worked great for this client, but for this client, we’ve got to tweak that and rethink because they have some unique things,” which every business has and this is where I talk a lot about the scalability, sustainability of what you implement. So, if I dial it back to the whole data perspective, whether it’s the governance, the management, the road map, the master data management, the quality control, there’s also that scalability, sustainability part which comes into play. And that’s where that whole evolution of the business because, right now, I’m dealing with them at a point in time.  

Yeah, that could change a month from now. Three years from now. And understanding that, asking the questions, you can learn some of that and understand where they’re going, but it still doesn’t tell you everything. So, I try to think out of the box, but also from my past experiences. What have I seen in situations that I can apply here that will help them be as scalable as possible? 

Data Dave
Yep, absolutely. And give them the path to become self-sufficient and continually evolving. Right, because what we find a lot of is, in fact Alexis and I were talking about it just yesterday, actually about the evolution and building road maps that are a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is where we obviously have to go next and helping people move through this journey and keeping the end in goal, but moving through the journey. 

Robert Wolf
And here’s the one danger I found with road maps. Actually, with a client from a few years ago. Sometimes you have to carefully and repeatedly give the caveat, “This does not lock you into it, so if things change, you need to be prepared to adapt to the forks in the road or things that aren’t in the map.” 

Let’s say somebody puts a new development on that map that wasn’t there or shifted the course of that road around. That development that will hinder traffic flow, how are you, as a business, going to adapt to that, and that’s scalability, but it’s also that sustainability and self-sufficiency.  

Think on your feet but keep the collaborative part. So, what I try to do with points pivoting off that point is to make sure before I exit, I’ve set up some type of sustainability in teams where they have checkpoints on that once a year to review business strategy. Review the data, and process not in the granular weeds, but at the high level. “What’s changing evolutionarily? You acquired a new business that’s going to impact things. Are you investing things or ending a product line that could change things?” 

There’s so many different variables. So, I said I can’t predict them all, but this is where each of you stop being silos. You still have your day-to-day jobs where you’re in the sobs, but now this is the recurring time you come together as business leadership and address those things and reevaluate those things. 

Data Dave
Right. And getting that alignment between the data path and the business path. “How is the business evolving? How is the data evolving? How is the technology landscape evolving? How is it all coming together from an alignment perspective?” 

 So what do you find the biggest challenge? 

Robert Wolf
Oh, is she going to say? 

Alexis
I was going to actually ask the same question. Yeah, we are kind of wrapping up the end of our time here, and I was going to ask what do you find to be your biggest pain points? What do you find to be your biggest challenge? 

Robert Wolf
Biggest challenges? Well, that does vary from client to client. Sometimes it is upper at the senior most management not understanding well, “Why do we have to do XY and Z?” and the leaders within the silos absolutely get it. But when you talk at the C level, and having been a C level, I know how to take that and turn it into the things that a CFO or CEO or a CEO wants to hear about the strategy, about the financial return on that investment and how it is while in the short term it may be indirect, in the long term it can be very direct. It can impact your sales, your profit margin, it can impact your supply chain and costs things like that. And that’s actually what I’m involved in today. Again, the current one of my current big clients is facing this very thing, and I’ve had to directly interface with those executives to kind of paint that picture for them because they were so deep in the weeds of trying to steer this company through some massive growth that they were so worried about how they were investing this time and money and changes in their systems. 

Data Dave
Right. 

Robert Wolf
So that’s one area. You know the executive. The other I find is technology resistance. Surprisingly enough, I find less business resistance today than ever before. It’s often more coming from the Technology department. “Oh, we’re going to have to address security things.” 

 “Yes. We’re absolutely going to do privacy has the information. Completely agree that’s part of the process of, you know, the whole data governance data administration controls use and roles and access. It’s the integration pieces.” Well, everybody’s doing it to now integration pieces has probably been my number two challenge that I consistently find from business to business. 

Data Dave
Do you find a lack of flexibility in that because that’s what we see quite often is people are reluctant. And the systems that they’ve put in place, either they don’t understand them or they’re not flexible enough to adjust to the integration that’s necessary. 

Robert Wolf
Yes, it’s a considerable challenge when they’ve been working with a particular, I’ll just say, an ERP system for a number of years. And they’re like, “Well, we’ve been told it can’t do this or it’s, you know, we have a limited capacity integrations for this between our sales system and our ERP. And it’s homegrown. And we’ve looked at a way of moving away from it, but then it became too costly.” 

So I addressed these things one at a time, and sometimes they’re valid to within a specific bubble of perception. And I say that carefully because often it is either they’ve had a vendor or partner who said, “Hey, this is what we know about the product.” And aren’t willing to think outside the box or haven’t experienced it.  

Sometimes it’s just they haven’t experienced it, and I’ve worked with enough partner companies on all the major ERP systems in the last 20 years that I’m typically, pretty sad to say, “Well, let me go check another resource or say, have you tried this?” and sometimes they’re on legacy systems where we truly have to say you need to move, but there’s mitigating ways in the short term to actually fix the middleware, the pipes between the systems more cost-effectively and you don’t have to rip it out when you change your new systems.  

Yeah, so companies do like to hit it, so that’s often an approach I’ll bring in some of my technology partners, and we’ll look in fashion. We like to call ourselves technology agnostic in the sense that we will work with whatever the right partner is for that situation. And it always varies. And we always at least have, you know, multiple options to put before the client and try to work through a model to see what they think best both from a functional, from a security, from a cost. 

Data Dave
Yeah, we see the same thing. And we often find that companies have already bought two or three, maybe four of the same piece of kit that is actually going to solve the problem. It’s just a matter of teaching them how to put it together or working with them collaboratively to put it together.  

Just one question, we often see an issue, and I’m interested in how you handle it, where as we build in the data governance, the data flows, the streamlined data et cetera, the cost of doing it is in a different department to the benefit. So, the cost side of it, I’m going to clean up my data to cascade through my sales. So, my sales operations team have to bear the cost of adding this and the benefit is realized in the financial organization or whatever.  

How do you handle that kind of situation when there’s reluctance because, well, “I’m not going to see the benefit of this. It’s going to be a downstream department.” 

Robert Wolf
Usually, I mitigate that right at the outset of the project because I know just like you’ve talked about, you almost inevitably encounter that. So, what we try to do and why part of my implementation and engagement plans are to make sure that there’s an accountability from the client to include X business lines that could be impacted by this, that what I’m coming in to help them, you know transform. And in that respect, I say the goal is, if we find something that touches all these, then we don’t want one single line to bear the cost of that. It should be spread across the groups that use that data. 

No different than we’re talking about connecting those silos of that piece of information products. A good example, again, sales is going to benefit because we’re doing X, you know, it helps their marketing piece. Product management could even benefit from the fact that we’re, hey, we’re giving them updated weights or dimensions based on what we did from shipping. That will at least help them from a packaging standpoint and cut their supply costs or look at adjusting things like that for replacement.  

So, I have found, at least, often to get easy buy-in, especially when I present to the CFO from that perspective or to a controller, you know, how you accounting or paying for this. I really think this goes back to the business. It’s not an IT expense anymore. This is a business investment. And here’s the ROI. 

Data Dave
Right. 

Robert Wolf
From the sales perspective, and here’s the overall picture of our ROI that we can paint across the value chain. 

Data Dave
Yep, yeah. 

Alexis
Robert, I’m gonna do a quick dumb-down recap of what you just said. Correct me if I’m wrong. The two biggest ways that you fight that when you’re working with a client are transparency from the beginning and trying to show the benefit to every part of the organization as soon as possible. 

Robert Wolf
Yes, it’s part of the introductory phase, the transparency, and it’s then the accountability phase at the end. So, they tie together again. It’s an end-to-end life cycle just like the data itself. 

Data Dave
Excellent. Yeah. We find the same thing, which is try and peel the benefit out of the department and have it accounted for across the business and make it a corporate accountability as opposed to a line of business accountability. 

Robert Wolf
That’s great. 

Alexis
Well, thank you both so much for talking with us today. If you are not currently a listener of Talk Tech with Data Dave, I highly recommend you go check out Dave and I’s podcast called Talk Tech with Data Dave.  

Robert, thank you so much for joining us today on this episode of Dives Deeper. We’d love talking to other people who are excited about the things that we’re excited about.  It’s been great talking with you today. 

Data Dave
Yes, thank you very much. Very much. Appreciate it. 

Recent Case Studies

TALK TECH WITH DATA DAVE
PODCAST

RECENT BLOG POSTS

Schedule a free meeting with an Expert.

Ask Data Dave!

Listener questions are the best.
Ask Data Dave any question you have about all things data, all things cloud, or all things technology.
We'll be happy to answer your question on the podcast.

We will never sell, share or misuse your personal information.

Let's Talk.

An expert, not a sales person, will contact you quickly.
Usually in less than 20 minutes during business hours.

We will never sell, share or misuse your personal information.