Episode 19: Data Dave Dives Deeper with Shannon Kelly

Data Dave Dives Deeper with Shannon Kelly

In this episode of “Talk Tech with Data Dave,” Alexis and Data Dave dive deep into the world of data management with guest Shannon Kelly, a data strategy and operations leader in financial services. They explore Shannon’s journey into the data field, the importance of data governance and process management, and the challenges of aligning business and data strategies. Shannon shares valuable insights on resilience, staying curious, and building effective data programs. This episode is packed with practical advice for data professionals and anyone looking to enhance their organization’s data practices. Tune in for a thought-provoking discussion on data management, efficiency, and collaboration.

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Published:

March 19, 2024

Duration:

00:24:52

Transcript

Alexis
Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of Data Dave Dives Deeper. I’m Alexis, your host of I’m hoping your favorite podcast at this point, Talk Tech with Data Dave, and I’m here today with my friend Dave and a new data expert to talk about that data expert’s life. So, I am happy to be here with Dave and Shannon. Hey, Dave, how are you today? 

Data Dave
I’m very well. Alexis. How are you? Good to see you again. 

Alexis
I’m good. I’m pumped for a new week. I’m pumped for a new podcast. 

Data Dave
Yes, excellent. So am I. And I’m excited that we today have Shannon Kelly with us who is a data strategy and operations leader within financial services. We’re delighted to have Shannon with us, and we’re gonna in a moment ask Shannon to say a little bit about herself and introduce herself.  

We met at the DGIQ conference in December. We had a great conversation there.  

Hello, Shannon. Welcome to Dives Deeper and please say a little bit about yourself. How you got into this space because we find that a lot of people didn’t intend to get into the data space. So, we’d be delighted to hear your story and hear a little bit about how you got here. 

Shannon Kelly
Great. Thank you. I am equally excited to be here. And I know we had some scheduling challenges initially, so really happy to be able to talk with you all today. 

So, as far as how I got started, I think I opted into data, oddly enough. I know some people have been often appointed into the data space, but I came from a background of finance and business processing efficiencies.  

When I hit a certain point in my career path, I kind of found that data, oddly enough, drove everything. And so had lots of challenges wrangling the data. From a financial perspective, reporting is awfully important, and so we had sales reporting that was different than finance reporting that was different than operations reporting. So, I started kind of scratching at the surface of,  “How can we organize this better? How can we create some data standards? How could we better manage or govern our data in a more positive way to enable some consistency around our organization?” 

Data Dave
Excellent. Where did you start? Did you start from a financial viewpoint or did you reach outside of your box into some of the other organizations? 

Shannon Kelly
Maybe it was a little bit of both. Started within finance. Got a real good feel of what the organizations KPI’s were and then leaned into our technical area to kind of say, “Where is this data? What systems is it in? How does it traverse? How can we better define it?” 

Data Dave
You kind of followed the data out of finance to, “Who created it? Where did it come from? How was it stored? What are the rules around it?” 

Shannon Kelly
Exactly, exactly. And oddly enough, I found there weren’t a lot of rules. So, then I needed to start going further out, getting representation from our marketing, our operations groups to start collaboratively defining that and getting that alignment early on and how we’re defining these business metrics. 

Data Dave
I’m going to ask your leading question now which is: when you started following this data and realizing the rules were perhaps less than they might have been. How long was it before you realized this wasn’t necessarily a data problem? 

Shannon Kelly
Probably within the first couple of weeks. 

Data Dave
That’s what I suspected. We often assume that it’s data and then we sort of, “Well, actually, the data is bad because we have not defined what it should be.” And it becomes an operational question. 

Shannon Kelly
Yes. And that’s where that lean in from that business process perspective that I kind of hold as one of my core tenants, right, efficiency play was able to catapult me into more of that data profession area. 

Alexis
So, like holding both sides of the fence. Knowing kind of the business world, but also being able to focus on the importance of the data in it. 

Shannon Kelly
Exactly. 

Alexis
We hear that from so many people that we talk to. I just love it so much. I love it so much. I’m a non-technical person, our listeners know, but Shannon, I figure I’ll tell you. And so I love when people are like, “You know, it’s not really about the data, it’s about everything else around it.” You had mentioned governance a little bit. Is that kind of your area of expertise? 

Shannon Kelly
I think so. It’s kind of more of the governance and process management of the data. So, the inputs, the controls by which data should be entered, where should it be entered, how it should be appropriately governed. I hate using that word over and over again. You know, people get very sensitive. I’m still myself as a data professional working on my own verbiage to connect with the business folks more appropriately. We hear governance and govern the data and own the data. It sounds very restrictive that can be off putting. 

Data Dave
I actually 100% agree with that and find the word governance way too strong in a lot of this. I lean towards data management rather than data governance, and I lean more towards almost business management or process management than data management. So I’d like to hear your perspective on that as well.  

The reason I lean there is because governance always comes with this connotation of regulations and enforcement and you’re gonna put people in jail if they don’t comply with your governance model and whatever else. And really, when it comes to regulations, what we always say is that governance and regulations is actually just the tip of the iceberg. Because well, managed data will lead to a lot of business efficiencies that are way higher than the very low bar of what is the governance regulation? 

Shannon Kelly
Yes, I try to use those similar words, data management, process management over governance because of that same reason, Dave. Like I said, it’s off putting to the business. They often also don’t know at the end of the day how they’re accountable and responsible for it. And so when you come in from a, “We’re gonna govern, and we’re gonna create these rules!” They’re often like, “Okay, here you go and do it then,” right? They don’t realize the handshake between their business and their responsibility to how that data starts taking shape organizationally. 

Data Dave
I totally agree. The other way that we look at it or I try and look at it is when you use governance, the connotation with the business is always stressful and contentious because they assume that you’re telling them they’ve been doing it wrong to this point. And yet here you are. You’re running a successful long-running business. And you’re telling me I’ve been doing it wrong forever. “Hang on. I’m making money hand over fist and being successful, how can you tell me I’m doing it wrong?” and that’s the wrong message. 

Shannon Kelly
Exactly, yes. 

Data Dave
I believe it’s kind of, “Let’s talk about how we can facilitate you being more efficient. How we can facilitate new empowering or making more efficient the organizations that are downstream of you by making your production of data better or requiring the data that you receive to be better.” 

Shannon Kelly
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.  

It’s kind of that overall understanding of the different hands offs between the business process. So maybe your sales organization doesn’t realize how your finance organization is trying to leverage your use that. So, transparency into the actual, we can say, data flow, business process flow, becomes I think incredibly important as you try to set off on actually governing and or managing your data. And that in and of itself can be off putting because it can be some pitfalls of boiling the ocean and, “We’re getting too big in order to manage.” Trying to highlight some of those key processes or drivers of either business insights or business decision making tools that you’re leveraging the data I think becomes important and critical when you’re starting off. 

Data Dave
Yes, exactly. One of the things that we try and look at is, you mentioned it so I’m going to go there, process efficiency and process management, And Alexis is probably going to trip us up on this one and tell us to stop. 

Alexis
I’m waiting. 

Data Dave
I come from a Six Sigma background quite significantly, so one of the things I always look at is – I look at the data as a proxy for measuring the business efficiency. It’s kind of, “Okay, if you take the theory that says data is a byproduct of people taking action. Therefore, I can measure the quality of the data and measure the data that describes the action and that gives me a good proxy to that business.”  

And then we look at how do we change that business to drive that efficiency, to drive that area. Which then narrows us down to a very specific project. I would just like to get your feelings on that sort of view and that sort of approach. 

Shannon Kelly
I think it makes sense. I think when we think about trying to drive in a specific direct. It’s often the touch points how many touch points has the business needed to do in order to get the information to then do something about it. Often, it’s multiple downloads, Excel Sheets, V lookups, right? All of those types of components that go on and that not only become very time consuming. But also often result into maybe some single points of failure and dependency on this specific individual who only knows this component to be able to deliver the outputs that the organization is looking for. 

Alexis 

Shannon, I like what you just said, but I need you to explain it to me. Single points of failure: that sounds like an awesome phrase, but I don’t. Know what that means? 

Shannon Kelly
Yeah. So single point of failure: ultimate dependency in a single person, or I’ll even say like methodology of organizing and putting information together for specific purpose. So, too reliant on an individual. 

Alexis
So, the “If I Get Hit by a Bus” theory. 

Shannon Kelly
Yes, if something catastrophic happens, there is major concern about, “What are we going to do now?” 

Alexis
Okay.  

Data Dave
For example, Alexis, we would consider you within D3Clarity as a single point of failure, because if you did get hit by a bus, God forbid, none of us would fill out our timesheets because you’re the single point of failure of making us all doing that. That would be a catastrophic failure for the business. 

Alexis
Okay, that makes sense. I like that. I mean, I also like that I’m so important, but that’s a whole different conversation. 

Shannon Kelly
And kind of along those lines, what ends up happening is you’re working with those people because they’ve become those subject matter experts in the area of what they’re doing. And so sometimes there’s a little bit of fear or animosity of, “I’m going to be replaced because you’re going to make this more streamlined, make it more accessible. Create less touch points for me to create the outputs that I’m generating,” whether they’re reports or dashboards. 

Alexis
Okay, okay. 

Data Dave
When we look at data flow, and we look at this space. We often see that the people that are going to receive the benefit are often not the people who are paying the price. In other words, if you take your example of sales to finance: the benefit is perceived as being received by finance, even though sales are putting in the process to improve the data. We all know that overall the business becomes more efficient and things generally improve. How do you overcome that kind of resistance from different departments? 

Shannon Kelly
I think it’s finding the right connection point with that, whether it’s closely partnering with someone who’s generating the reports, understanding their pain points, and maybe helping them navigate what’s in it for them. I think articulating, though, what’s in it for them message along all of those avenues is incredibly important. And to me, the most successful you can be is having your repertoire of analogies and those strong connections in order to navigate what could be a very resistant campaign to better data management in an organization. 

Data Dave
Yes, it’s interesting you said repertoire of analogies. I’m accused of using too many analogies fairly frequently. I certainly use quite a few. 

Alexis
I definitely stopped him at one of our last presentations that we had and I was like, “Dave, you used that story every time. I need you to come up with a different one.” 

Shannon Kelly
When you have them, you gotta hold on to them because from my perspective, I still am working on my repertoire of analogies. Because it’s different for different people.  

Sometimes you need to use a sports analogy because your audience is more geared towards sports. Well, I’m not the biggest football fan, so that can become quite challenging. I’m a runner, so I try to use maybe a little bit running analogies, “Marathon versus sprint”. Those common ones that are helpful. And then I have others that use cooking and setting up a restaurant. “What do you want to be a 5-minute cook or start setting up your sous chef?” 

Data Dave
Exactly. “Do you want to be a short-order cook or a gourmet chef? Where are you going?” I used a lot of those as well. I’m also a big scuba diver, as you can see from my background. So, I use a lot of diving analogies and swimming and water sports and that kind of thing. 

Alexis
It’s one of my favorites. When we came up with the name Dives Deeper, our marketing person was like, “Ohh, I’ve got a picture of Dave diving. That’s going to be the perfect picture.”  

I hear what you’re saying about making sure that we’re connecting with people where they’re at. I think that’s super important in all things, not just in the world of data. 

Data Dave
Right. And it is about that connection with people. Of being able to relate to the different people that are doing different jobs and have different backgrounds. And they’ve got a different view. You don’t necessarily want to talk engineering to a sales guy cause it won’t resonate. In fact, it will alienate him. You’ve gotta make it relevant and gotta make it relevant to the person. It goes back to what you’re saying, which is, “What’s in it for me? How do I see my benefit and how am I participating in the good of the whole.” 

Talk to us briefly about specific challenges that you face. We’ve talked a lot about the people aspect. I think that’s incredibly important. We focus a lot on the change management and that side of it, but I’d love to hear some of the particular sort of challenges, war stories if you like, that you have love war stories. 

Shannon Kelly
So, two that really come to mind.  

One, we touched on a little bit connecting to the business value, “Why do we need to do this or what will we get from it?” I often find some of these data exercises are two steps behind. Whether they’re two steps behind revenue generating opportunities or operational efficiencies. Trying to highlight those and connect to,  “We got here because of the way we’ve changed our data management processes and business processes.” That one still seems to be tremendously hard. And I do find that I think I’m on both sides like I find it confounding. And then at the same time, I’m like, “Well, I’m not surprised.” Because what do people know and what do people care about really starts to impact their understanding of “Why do we need to tackle data in a different way or manage it in a different way organizationally?” So that’s my first one.  

My second one is the chasing of shiny objects, whether it be tools, whether it be AI, whether it be machine learning, all of those things often come into play. And some of them are rather simple. It could even just be like, “I need a dashboard.” We end up chasing this shiny, new play toy instead of maybe doing a little bit of hard work that unlocks those capabilities across an organization. 

Data Dave
Yes, a tendency to put the cart before the horse, and say, “We’re going to jump into machine learning.” Well, machine learning can actually be very, very simple if you ask it the right question and if you have the right data within there to actually answer the right question. 

Shannon Kelly
Exactly, and I may regret saying this, but I often find that those types of capabilities can learn dumb. We’ve seen more recent highlights about how leveraging your organization’s data without the appropriate management and flows and understanding of how it’s transformed can lead to some maybe not some catastrophic, but also some catastrophic challenges. 

Data Dave
One of the ways that we look at it -and Alexis has said this before- is we look at data as evidence of history. You’ve collected it; it is history. But often what we’re trying to do is predict the future. But you can only extrapolate from the history that you have. “Does your data actually describe the business that you want to propagate?” If you don’t know that, then any extrapolation is going to be flawed. 

Shannon Kelly
That’s a very, very valid point, and even, “Does your historical data represent the actual history of what has happened?” 

Alexis
Right, right. 

Shannon Kelly
When you have so many manual touch points to it, manipulation, to tell us specific story in that specific moment, that does not allow itself naturally to predict the future appropriately. 

Data Dave
We found so many organizations and situations where the data describes exactly what happened. Unfortunately, it doesn’t describe what people think might have happened or what people think should have happened. It can be misleading and uncovering that can be challenging for people, shall we say. But again, it all comes back down to those people.  

So, as we alluded to in the beginning of this. I’m going to change directions on you a little bit, Shannon.  As we alluded to in the beginning, we often see that people get appointed to data or certainly come to data through a round about root. If you were talking to a young lady or gentleman who had just been appointed and that this wasn’t their first love, they’d come in from the accounting route or sales or something. But they’d had success doing something on the process structure and on the data structure, and they suddenly got appointed with, “You’re gonna now be the management of our data team.” What would you say to them? Other than, “Run away.” 

Shannon Kelly
Run away. Yeah, it could be a little bit of “run away”.  

I think a couple of things come to mind. One: Be Resilient. You are going to be repeating yourself a lot. You are going to kind of be pushed around, “No! My data quality is the best in the organization. I don’t have any data problems.” You have to be resilient. You have to think about those connections that we talked about earlier, connecting with them on where they’re at, right? Maybe they don’t care about data quality. Maybe they’re looking at something else. Maybe reducing the entry, finding the what’s in it for them, and continuously building upon that. Meeting them where they’re at and walking with the walkers and running with the runners. You have to kind of pace yourself accordingly.  

Building your analogies: So one, I kind of view data programs and data teams as, “You’re driving a bus. You can be on the bus. You can be at the next stop. Sometimes, you might be under the bus. But the bus comes back the route circles, and you can get on and get off accordingly.” I think is really important to remember that. 

Data Dave
That’s a good analogy. I like that one. 

Shannon Kelly
Thank you. Thank you. It’s one of my favorites. 

And then I would say: Stay Curious. Too often we listen to speak instead of listening to observe, and I think to get in deeply and build those connections, you need to observe more and be more reflective of the reading the room and understanding truly, what might be at the heart of some of the pain points and challenge a department or person or organization might have when it comes to improving their data and their data management processes. 

Data Dave
Oh, excellent. That’s really sound advice. I would echo that. That’s very good advice.  

One of the things we always suggest to people is to think of it as a movement. “You’re the leader of a movement. You don’t necessarily have authority. They might say you’ve got authority, but you don’t really have authority. You’ve got to recruit people, recruit your connections into your movement and make it a movement within the organization versus a edict.” 

Shannon Kelly
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s where resiliency comes in, because that can be so challenging and exhausting. You attempt the grassroots, which can sometimes work or get you so far, but at times you do need to conscript from those senior C-Suite leaders and connect with them so that they can help you also with that move. 

Data Dave
Right. Yes.  

Alexis
I just like the phrase “Stay Curious”. I feel like that is not just the good advice for people in the data world, but that’s like good life advice. Ask a question, ask for help. Learn something new. That’s wonderful advice for podcasting even. 

Shannon Kelly
Yeah. Yeah. In two ways, not just in the “Stay curious about what you’re doing”, but also how you’re doing it. And I find for me, I’m a very passionate learner, continuous learner. And so I find that data is one of those lucky spaces where there are constant advancements. You have the AI, you have a whole bunch of different components that are still evolving kind of in this space about how you do it, what you do with it, how to use it ethically. All of those kind of components that kind of help for me fill me back up after being exhausted from a, “Hey that meeting didn’t go too well. They’re not signing up for or joining us in this movement we’re intending to do.” 

Alexis
Back to the resiliency. I hear that. That’s wonderful advice. 

Data Dave
Yes, I love the repeat. Be prepared to repeat yourself as well. Be prepared to keep telling people. Keep working with people. Go round the loop. I love the bus analogy because it implies that the bus route is going to repeat. “You’re driving the bus, we’re going to come round again. If you’re not ready now, then get on next time, right?” 

Shannon Kelly
And the message changing. You have the ad on the bus that has to grow with the times in what you may be tackled with or trying to accomplish. 

Data Dave
One of the other things that another guest said was around the ensuring you celebrate your successes. Because you got to invite people on the bus. You gotta entice people onto the bus. What are your thoughts on that? 

Shannon Kelly
Being a leader of a data team, I don’t think my team has often celebrated their successes. I am constantly having them take that moment and reflect, “What you just did was magic, right. Whether you believe it or not.” Trying to inspire them. It’s not just a data movement. It’s not just an ETL process with better quality and better assurance. It is this whether it’s, “You’ve enabled reduction and efficiencies in this way you’ve enabled more generation or lead generation.” Helping them connect to what they can be passionate about or proud about, I think is incredibly important. 

Data Dave
Making sure the business people in the area that you’re affected are equally celebrating that success. “The data team didn’t improve leads, the business team, the sales team improved leads or the marketing improved leads.” And it’s a collaborative effort to shine a light on that business success. 

Shannon Kelly
Yes, I agree and I have to say as a data leader, I’m still learning in that aspect of helping others celebrate and draw those connections. So, they tend to be a little introverted. So, I’m always self-reflecting and making sure my team is reflecting in that manner too. I do still often struggle with, “Okay, how do I wrap my arms around helping those outside of our team who we’ve collaborated with celebrate their successes as well?” Because it is an overall team effort. It’s not just one person, right? And I think that’s one of the other tokens. It’s not one person’s responsibility for data, data quality, or data management, or data governance. Everyone has a hand in its successes. 

Alexis
Well, that is just wonderful. I love hearing that bigger idea and I think that that is a pretty great space for us to stop this podcast, a pretty good place for us to end. Just knowing that we have good advice. We have a good plan, and we have a place to go next.  I love that. 

Thank you both so much for talking today. For answering my questions and getting to know you a little bit better, Shannon, and we really appreciate you being on the podcast. Before we go, is there anything else that you’d like to add or anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Shannon Kelly
I think just: BE RESILIENT. That’s all we can do. 

Data Dave
Excellent. I want to echo what Alexa says. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was a great conversation. You brought some fabulous insight from somebody who’s deep in the trenches and working through it. So, I think that was a great conversation. And if you would like to come back, we’d be glad to have you back at some point in the future. 

Shannon Kelly
Thank you so much, and I certainly would welcome that. It’s always good conversing with fellow datists. 

Data Dave
Excellent. Thank you very much. 

Alexis
Thanks everyone for listening. I highly recommend you listen to Dave and I’s actual podcast, Talk Tech with Data Dave. If you’d be interested in joining us for Data Dave Dives Deeper, please feel free to e-mail us at talktech@d3clarity.com. We’d love to have you on the show. 

Shannon, Data Dave. It’s been wonderful. Thank you so much. 

Shannon Kelly
Thank you.  

Data Dave
And thank you, Alexis. 

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