a compass held in hands pointing north

Data Talks, Episode 16: Finding Your Organization’s Data Truth

Third-party data helps, but it isn’t a magic wand.

Host: George L'Heureux, Principal Consultant, Data Strategy
Guest: Scott Garner, Data Strategy Consultant

As a customer, Scott Garner learned first-hand how partnering with Dun & Bradstreet for third-party data could improve his organizations’ view of the truth. And he gained an important insight: the truth for his organization could be different from someone else’s, and acquiring third-party data is an important step – but just a step – in getting to that truth.

Now, as a Dun & Bradstreet Data Strategy Consultant, Scott is sharing his experience and insight. In this Data Talks conversation, Scott explores how the combination of first-party data, third-party data, and clear governance and rules shape an organization’s “data truth”. 

 

 

Read full transcript

George L’Heureux:
Hello, everyone. This is Data Talks presented by Dun & Bradstreet, and I'm your host, George L'Heureux. I'm a Principal Consultant for Data Strategy in the Advisory Services team here at Dun & Bradstreet, and in Advisory Services, our team is dedicated to helping our clients to maximize the value of their Dun & Bradstreet relationship through expert advice and consultation. On Data Talks I chat every episode with one of the expert advisors at Dun & Bradstreet about a topic that can help the consumers of our data to get more value. Today's guest expert is Scott Garner, a Data Strategy Consultant at Dun & Bradstreet. Scott, how long have you been with the company?

Scott Garner:
Thanks for having me, George. I've been with D&B six months now.

George L’Heureux:
Can you tell me a little bit about your career before you joined D&B?

Scott Garner:
Sure, absolutely. So right after college, I joined Dell, and spent 18 years at Dell Technologies. I spent the first five years as a sales rep, supporting state and local government accounts for the State of Texas. When I moved out of sales, I moved into several different operational roles, all still very much supporting sales and marketing as well. Over the next 10 years, I had the opportunity to serve in a couple of different leadership roles for business intelligence, and it was during that time that, of course, I already had a passion for business, but I also developed a new passion for all things data.

Scott Garner:
In 2014, I decided to spread my wings a little bit, left Dell, and joined another high tech company here in Austin, a much, much smaller company, but still in the high tech industry. I served that company in a slightly different role, in that I was still doing data, and still very much informing the business, but since it was such a smaller company, I got visibility to the full data supply chain. So instead of just doing reporting and providing it to stakeholders, I got to see a little bit of behind the curtain, a lot more behind the curtain, to be honest, a little bit about how the sausage is made, and all the complexities that go into that.

George L’Heureux:
And all of us who've been in data for a long time, myself included, and I call myself a data geek proudly, we all have areas of the industry that we find really very interesting and very close to ourselves. And before we got on today, you were telling me that what we're going to discuss today is actually one of the reasons that you decided to join Dun & Bradstreet. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Scott Garner:
The implications of not having clear ownership of data and managing data can be very, very large. There's certainly areas of the business where directionally correct information is fine, but when you find yourself at a crossroads where the company, the whole company, is going to measure themselves based on a specific data attribute, it's going to be really important that you have a clearly defined version of truth. For my journey, D&B was a critical part of that, but one of the big lessons that I learned, the mistake that I personally made, was I went into that process thinking D&B is going to solve this problem. They have the truth that I'm looking for, and I can't wait for them to solve this problem.

George L’Heureux:
So let's dig into that. You talk about the truth that you're looking for, and at least in my experience, that's always somewhere in between what I have, and what somebody else can give me. Is that what you mean when you talk about the truth that you're looking for?

Scott Garner:
You nailed it. That's absolutely it. I think probably the best way to explain it might be with a fictitious example, and I'll just throw one out there. Hopefully it resonates with you. So there's a ABC corporation. They've decided that they'll run the business based on maybe industry segmentation. Right? Let's put all of our customers into specific industries. For this example, we'll just say half the company is going to be assigned to mining. Right? A mining industry, and then the other half construction. You can see where this is going. It won't take more than 30 seconds for the company to realize some of our customers, in fact, some of our big ones, they actually fall into both. Right?

George L’Heureux:
Sure.

Scott Garner:
At any given time they could be a mining industry or a construction, and so that dilemma is very real, and that's when companies realize, "I need a source of truth," and you're exactly right. They're faced with, well, I can look at my internal systems, and that tells me a story. I'm so anxious to go get a third party, because they'll tell me what I think is truth, but that's not the reality, right? Companies, they find that what they have isn't what they're after, and then sometimes they find what we found, which is a third party provider has goodness, but it's not necessarily the truth that we're after.

George L’Heureux:
So what's happening in these cases, right? I mean, at Dun & Bradstreet we're very proud of the data that we've collected, and that we have in the data cloud. We believe it's the best that's out there. Is that data really wrong, or is there something else at work when you start looking at that and saying, "That's not what we're looking for as a consumer of the data"?

Scott Garner:
Well, the word “wrong” there is the key word, and that's really the thing about what we're talking about. It's human nature to want to define “right”. It's just in our human nature, and every one of us can likely articulate what we mean when we say, "That is right," or, "That is correct. That is accurate." But the truth of the matter is what you see when you look at your internal data, it may be right. It may be wrong. What you're really saying is, "It's not what I need." And then when you go get data from a third party provider, if it's not what you need, the reaction is most often, "Well, the data is wrong." And the reality is it's not wrong. It's not wrong at all, and in fact, the experience we had with D&B is rarely did we find data that was wrong. What we found was in some of our most important use cases, the data we have, and the data D&B brought to the table, isn't always exactly what we have in mind for our truth.

George L’Heureux:
So when you get to that point, when you realize that you're still a few steps away from what you're calling your truth, what you feel like you need, how did you as a practitioner, how do our clients, how are they supposed to resolve that type of apparent disconnect?

Scott Garner:
Yeah, and that's really where the meat of this multi-year journey is, the journey that I've been telling you about is if the truth that we're after isn't in our internal systems, and if we don't see it specifically in the third party data provider, then what's necessary? And what we learned is we have to create and maintain a third data source. Right? That doesn't mean you get rid of either the left or the right, but you pursue something that's in the middle, and that thing in the middle, it doesn't exist at the beginning of the journey. It's something that has to be created, cultivated, groomed, and nurtured over time to become your source of truth.

Scott Garner:
That third entity, that thing in the middle, is a combination of what is the goodness that we have in our internal systems, what is the goodness we can get from our third party data partner, and then ultimately, what do we as a company want our truth to look like? In some cases, it may come directly from the third party. In other cases, you may say, "I need to adjust this specifically for my specific use case."

George L’Heureux:
And so that's where a lot of the ideas around data governance, data stewardship start to take over. You have a group of people who are dedicated to kind of defining that end goal, and figuring out how to take a little bit from A, a little bit from B, and consolidate then to get as close to that idea of truth that you're looking for as you can.

Scott Garner:
That's right. That's truly what ownership means. You nailed it, George. It's like I've got data elements, and I've got data elements, but the truth, the ownership that is needed, is investment in people and resources.

George L’Heureux:
So what would be some examples, lets kind of speak specifically here, where you could start to build up that truth, that version of truth that you're looking for? If you're a company, if you're that ABC company, and you've got mining, and you've got construction, like you were talking about before, and neither what's internal, neither what you've gotten from an external third party source is exactly what you're looking for. Do you start setting up rules, heuristics? How are you determining what to take from A, and what to take from B, and who does that?

Scott Garner:
Yeah. Well, one of the things we applied, which is fairly common, is kind of the 80/20 rule. And if resources are scarce, and you don't have a lot of investment in this area, you can still make tremendous progress specifically on the 80% with some very basic rules. And an example would be we're not going to apply any human effort on any company, or any order for that matter, that's below a certain threshold. Right? And you set a threshold, and you may need to tweak it over time, but you set a threshold, and anything below that, it just goes in based on whatever the data system tells you, but anything above that threshold, then you start to apply resources. Right? You apply internal governance, oversight, whatever it may take to get it "correct."

George L’Heureux:
And so these rules might be based on revenue. They might be based on industry classification. They might be based on the number of employees or the size of the prospect, the prospective account, right? Do you... Or I suppose the better question is, how do you build up that rule set over time, and make sure that they evolve to keep up with what you're doing?

Scott Garner:
Well, the whole topic we're talking about is your defining your truth, and the "your" part of it is exactly what you're defining. Each company is going to have a different answer for any specific customer attribute. That doesn't mean one company is right, and one company is wrong, it's just different based on the use case. So the beauty of the governance and the stewardship we're talking about is it's living. Right?

Scott Garner:
And you can start with an existing set of two or three rules, and you can watch how those rules impact your information, and I mentioned that this was a journey for my experience. The journey was that evolution, right? Let's start with these three rules, and let's see what that would look like. And after a month or two months, we tweaked the rules and adjusted it, and a multi-year journey is you're tweaking those rules to really hone in on and get closer to what you define as your truth.

George L’Heureux:
So what sparks tweaking those rules? Is it encountering an exception? Is it encountering a case where it doesn't work out right?

Scott Garner:
That's absolutely correct. Whenever the rules that you set in place didn't work for a specific situation, you adjust it, and you change the dial slightly to see if it captures a majority of what you were trying to capture.

George L’Heureux:
Do you have suggestions on who inside the company should be involved in making these sorts of decisions around the rules and when to adjust them? Is it just a data team? Is it IT? Is it broader than that?

Scott Garner:
It gets back to the whole ‘your’ part of the equation. If you think about the meme, "Who here is responsible for clean data," if all the hands go down, then you're back to square one. So there's not a one size fits all answer to your question. It will absolutely involve IT and a stewardship team, whether it be in operations or otherwise, because that's where reality is happening, but you also have to have investment from other key areas in the company, whether it be finance, sales, marketing, whatever. Whatever the attribute is that matters to those organizations, they must play a role in helping make some key decisions.

George L’Heureux:
So I kind of want to circle our conversation back to much earlier in it, and where you said that this is one of the reasons that made you really excited to join Dun & Bradstreet. Obviously, you joined Dun & Bradstreet because you feel like as part of the organization, you can help people solve these problems that you had encountered. So let's ask the question, how can you help? How can Dun & Bradstreet help?

Scott Garner:
Well, one of the things that was most exciting for me when I got this opportunity to join D&B is when I look back at my journey, the ingredients, the data that we had, and the data we got from D&B, the ingredients were critical. We could not have gotten to where we got to without D&B's data. Having that third party perspective was crucial, but the other thing I learned is there's more to it than just ingredients. Right? There's the ingredients that we have, ingredients that we purchase, but then in the middle there's this blender, so to speak, and that blender is human insight, and human governance, and human stewardship all again geared towards what the company is trying to achieve.

Scott Garner:
And one of the reasons I was so excited to join D&B is D&B recognizes that this journey is bigger than data. Right? It's bigger than data ingredients. Yes, we're the industry leader, and the best possible option you have when it comes time to partner with a third party vendor, but we also have multiple resources that are here with experience and expertise, that can help guide and consult companies as they begin or proceed through their own journey. And so for me being a business guy and a data guy, this is a dream come true, helping other companies through this journey.

George L’Heureux:
So as we wrap up, Scott, if people are watching or listening to this, is there one takeaway that you hope people will walk away from our conversation having had as an insight?

Scott Garner:
Yeah, it may not be one, but I'll wrap it up very quickly. So I'll tell you, guys, if you're listening to this, the struggle that you're facing is real. Right? The need and desire for truth is absolutely real, and it can be achieved. Third party providers are an incredible part of the process. D&B happens to be the best, so that would be a good thing, but ultimately, your version of truth is in your control. You own it.

George L’Heureux:
Well, hey, Scott, I appreciate you joining me today and talking through a lot of this. We're glad to have you here at Dun & Bradstreet consulting with us, and helping our clients to achieve success on their data management journeys, like you've talked about.

Scott Garner:
Thanks, George. I appreciate it very much.

George L’Heureux:
Our guest expert today has been Scott Garner, a Data Strategy Consultant at Dun & Bradstreet, and this has been Data Talks. We hope you've enjoyed today's discussion, and if you have, please let a friend or a colleague know about it, and for more information about what we discussed on today's episode, visit www.dnb.com or talk to your company's Dun & Bradstreet specialist today. I'm George L'Heureux. Thanks for joining us, until next time.