Episode Twenty Two: Data is Everybody’s Business

Why Data Is the DNA of Decision Making

Data is in the core and in the essence of everything we do.

In this episode, David Gonzalez, CDO and Head of Big Data and Advanced Analytics and AI at Vodafone Business discusses the value of data in transforming business and connecting the world around us. He also shares his transition from start up to Vodafone Business, and the people who have inspired him.

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 22: Data is everybody’s business

Guest: David Gonzalez, CDO and Group Head of Big Data Analytics and AI, Vodafone Business
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet

Sam TN 00:00
Welcome to the Power of Data podcast. I'm Sam and I'm joined today by David Gonzalez. Welcome, David.

David Gonzalez 00:05
Thank you, Sam.

Sam TN 00:05
David is the CDO and Group Head of Big Data and AI for Vodafone business. It's a mouthful, but I'm sure it's long because it's important and I'm looking forward to finding out more. David, you head the strategy and implementation to drive big data analytics value for Vodafone's largest and most important clients around the world. Every company I've ever worked for has used Vodafone business, which I think is a good sign. And as well as transforming data management within Vodafone, you're doing a whole host of other things. You and I went and got a coffee earlier, and you said you had the best job here because you got to touch every part of the business and externally. Can you tell us a little bit about your role here?

David Gonzalez 00:43
I make a little joke that I think all our clients are important. Maybe multinationals are because we have to deliver them across many different countries but at the end, obviously, absolutely, every single customer we've got is a treasure and we look after them. So yeah, I feel that I have one of the best jobs if not the best of the entire Vodafone community, because it’s fantastic at the end data supports everything we do. Every decision we make, every new service that we can build uses data in one way or another. And that gives us the opportunity to learn about all of the work that all our teams do across the different countries at the group level, you have to learn about finance or marketing or legal or commercial operations in order to deliver the most out of data. So it's fantastic. It's a combination of data, technology, mathematics, business outcomes, that is honestly making our teams will be very happy and do a great job.

Sam TN 01:34
Awesome. And I'm sure a lot of this grounding you got in previous roles. You were at Accenture, right?

David Gonzalez 01:40

Sam TN 01:41
How's the other stuff you've done in your career led to this moment? Data is complex, changes every day, and its volume, its velocity and its value. The three V's I had to learn that when I joined D&B, yeah. How's it held you in good stead for the role that you have today?

David Gonzalez 01:55
Well, I think that I always wanted to work in something related to technology, data and mathematics. And my parents are both mathematicians, so I think I inherited that passion for numbers and mathematics. And when I finished university, I studied telecom engineering in Spain. I joined one of the first startups in, at least in Europe, working on data mining. It was those days what obviously, the top companies the big names you can think of, were not around, only data mining was applied at university and perhaps some kind of research. But within this company, we found an opportunity to use data in the real business and start applying mathematics and machine learning in order to help organizations be more effective and more intelligent. This company was quite successful and a few years later, we were acquired by Accenture. So obviously, that transition from a smaller startup with all that agility into joining one of the largest consulting firms in the world, was a big move, I could say. I moved into the US because they asked me to move with my team to the US and I had the opportunity to work for some of the various companies in financial services, in retail and other industries. So I think that that gave me good visibility about how organizations, big ones obviously, use, or at least they want to use data, what are the main challenges that they face on their daily operations, and how with skills that we've got that join together technology data and business value, we were able to help organizations thrive and transform and become data driven. So that experience working for very large companies like AT&T or Bank of America or Prudential or Vezby besides others in Spain gave me that that good knowledge. So basically, what we do now in Vodafone is apply all that experience all that knowledge, that combination of a startup, big consulting firm, multinational learnings, in basically helping our organization do things a bit better and help our teams have access to all this kind of information because information you know, it is very powerful, if you use it well and information has good quality. So that's what we do. That's why we like it so much.

Sam TN 04:01
It makes a lot of sense. A recent podcast we did with a chap called Paul Walker, who's the former Head of Tech at Goldman said it's not magic, it's math. And it makes a lot of sense. You’ve got a math degree in the background. I did sociology, which is probably why I'm in marketing. Before we go into a little bit about Vodafone business, you talked about the startup culture, right? Super important to have that entrepreneurial environment, fast-paced hustling environment. You were a co-founder and a CEO of a startup. Tell us a little bit about that journey?

David Gonzalez 04:33
Well, it was those days when obviously, our passion was to let's try to do something be create something that helps our society in something that there was no answer. There was no technology, there was no solution in place. So we wanted to build something like CSM, but for movies and TV series. Not just telling you what movie you are watching, but tell us specifically everything that you're seeing on the screen while you're watching the movie. So imagine that you are watching Big Bang Theory or any other movie, and you want to know who those actors are? What are they wearing, where you can buy those clothes? Where is that scene being filmed? The music that is playing? Curiosities about that scene? We built that technology and we thought it was it was going to be massive, big, something incredible. I think that all founders face the same reality when obviously you think you have the best idea in the world and they know your idea could be good. But then obviously rolling it out on and having it at the hands of everyone is a bit more complicated. So I think that that experience from an idea into building a company raising money, implementing and building the technology. I think that experience is fantastic is like creating a baby or something similar. So that experience was really, really good. I move also to the back to the US to New York, met a lot of investors, companies, partners, and obviously the big ones like that could be Google or Netflix. And we realize that idea was good, but then, for different reasons, we decided to pivot and focus on the European market, which I think was a smart move. Then for different reasons I decided to quit, and I wanted to do something else. And based on my old days at Accenture, I met the CDO of Prudential, the financial services company that was working here at Vodafone. So she told me we need to bring you to the Vodafone business. And she was like a mother, like a second mother and she convinced me to join and that's the reason why I ended up here and I think it was a fantastic move and I love this company; I'm very happy here.

Sam TN 06:27
I tell you, the power of an entrepreneurial culture is in exactly what you've just described. That passion is exactly why it's essential I think. And what was it called? Was it called Dive?

David Gonzalez 06:37
Yeah, Dive.TV.

Sam TN 06:38
Yeah, Dive.TV. I’ve got this vision of the original Terminator movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and he's looking around and all the text pops up and says this guy smoke 37 cigarettes today and that's kind of the vision I've got. You're watching TV and it tells you everything you need to know. Yeah, I wish I wish I wish I had it.

David Gonzalez 06:54
Many people say that.

Sam TN 06:57
Let's get back to the business, to Vodafone business. Tell me a little bit about the scale of Vodafone business, whose it serving? How large is it? What are the aspirations of the business?

David Gonzalez 07:08
Well, typically something that we've seen is that when you ask people about Vodafone, everyone immediately tends to think about mobile phones, it’s like the normal response. But reality is that Vodafone Businesses is our B2B arm. So it's how we're helping organizations both public and private, to survive in this really exciting data world. It is how we help organizations have all the connectivity and all the services that they need on a daily basis. So within Vodafone Business, we are providing services across the entire world entire. Even though we have operations in 25 markets, we are providing B2B services in every country in the world, through our partner networks as well. And Vodafone Businesses providing to every single company you can think of from really, really small organizations in in any local country, up to the largest companies we can all think of, our Vodafone clients. The typical question we get asked is that, do you sell something else besides mobile? And the reality is yes, we sell a lot more than, than just mobile phones. We sell all the fixed connectivity that our clients need, including how to connect securely, offices around the entire world. We provide also a services around cloud, which, obviously we have partnerships with all the big cloud players. But we also have our own joint venture with IBM for private cloud. We provide services as well on obviously, location intelligence and big data and advanced analytics, where we're helping lots of public administration and also private organizations to understand mobility patterns within cities, so they can understand and plan accordingly, which is quite important. These days are there is like a big movement into big cities, we provide services, which is really, really relevant around IOT. So now we are connecting 100 million devices to our networks. So really interesting, from all kinds you can think of; cars, elevators, sensors for all kind of companies. So we have 100 million devices. We are the most global IOT player in the world. So long story short, Vodafone as a company selling mobile devices, I think is part of the past. Now we are a tech communications organization, we are providing on helping organizations altering data transformation. And obviously, connectivity keeps playing a massive role, because is our main business at the end. But we're selling way more than just mobile as you can see.

Sam TN 09:31
That's awesome, I'm going to go into what you've just said a little bit. You talked about 100 million devices. When people talk to me about that kind of volume of devices, I get excited for you, because the Internet of Things is just coming online. And soon it's going to be your phone, talking to your fridge, talking to your car, talking to your bank. But what that requires from an infrastructure perspective is substantial. It's not just connectivity speed and 5G, it’s volume transaction processing, and I know you'll probably correct me because I'll get it wrong, but I'll give it a go anyway. I know the telco industry has been performing at a much higher transaction per second level than the banking industry has been using the ACA Acta model and Scala and a whole load of other technologies. How well prepared is Vodafone to capitalize on the IOT boom as it really hits the kind of right point and the hype cycle?

David Gonzalez 10:22
Well, I think that we've been really successful and ready for this for quite some time. The launch of 5G, the launch of narrowband IOT is a way to ensure that at the end, we are ready for any kind of connectivity, any kind of landscape where devices need to be continuously connected to our networks. Obviously, 5G's is a game changer. But even in the case of all the connectivity when devices are connected to our networks, the amount of information that can be transferred, the velocity of that information flowing into different platforms to take and make smart decisions. That is happening already. And I could give you a bunch of different examples. For instance, we're working with energy companies providing information real time about the censoring of, for instance, electric pipes. And we are predicting if devices and sensors within these networks have a probability or a risk of catching fire. If that happened, obviously, to a big part of our city to let's say, we kept without electricity. And obviously that cost is massive, not only with our sensors with a connectivity provider, also with the data and intelligence on top of this connectivity, but as hardware services, we are helping large organizations to better manage IoT sensors, IoT devices connected with our networks. So we can do things like real time preventive maintenance, detect devices that may have a malfunction or a failure. We can predict the usage by the end of the month, we help our customers understand things like billing forecast. So at the end, the combination of hardware connectivity, and obviously managed services is the space where we are, for instance one example is that we acquired a company Cobra, several years ago in Italy. It’s a very large manufacturer for a mainly working for car manufacturers. So obviously, with this organization, we are providing all the connectivity within vehicles, we're working with every single car manufacturer you can think of. And we're doing amazing things, understanding all the mobility of our vehicles, also providing all these kind of sensors as a service. So they get to know all the information about the vehicle. So they can also provide services to prevent vehicles to having any kind of failure. They're obviously affecting the customer experience. So at the end to summarise, is that I think it's fantastic the opportunity that the combination of hardware connectivity, managed services, data analytics, is bringing and how it is transforming the entire business around the world.

Sam TN 12:43
That is such a good analogy David. The mobility and connectivity comparison. If you think about Henry Ford, one of the most pivotal individuals probably of the last two hundred years, he created a car and if you ask the people they would have said build me a faster horse. That car was very noisy someone had to actually walk in front of it to prevent people from getting I mean, how counterintuitive is that? Today we're at a point where my son who's just being born isn't going to learn to drive. He's not even going to believe me that there are cars parked outside people's houses, right? He's just going to call a car, it'll turn up, it'll be automated, it'll be electric. They'll be no congestion in the roads and connectivity is exactly the same. We went from landlines to mobile phones the size of a PC, to tiny mobile phones to mobile phones, you're not even going to be able to see anymore to and it's just constantly evolving. We're becoming more and more connected more and more mobile. I get really excited about that. And I don't think any of our listeners would have known that Vodafone plays in so many of those spaces.

In the same way people don't know that D&B does a lot of stuff. People think D&B is a credit ratings agency or into trade credit and they're two slivers of what it does. One of the reasons I love my job is I get to tell people that that's not what we do. We do a whole load of stuff. We help people understand who could be a customer of theirs, understand more about their customers, understand how to add more value to their customers to make better decisions. We have a whole suite of data and analytics propositions that can help businesses grow faster, grow margins, remain compliant. It's awesome. It's fascinating. There's no better person to talk to me about data, you can now educate me on it. From your perspective, what role does data play at Vodafone specifically?

David Gonzalez 14:28
To be honest, I think data is in the core and in the essence of everything we do. By the way, we use D&Bs data. So we are a client as well and a partner.

Sam TN 14:38
There we go. I promise I didn't ask for that.

David Gonzalez 14:41
Well, I tell you, it's on me. I think data is the DNA of how we make decisions. So basically, I'll tell you about two different examples. So our customers access their ‘My Vodafone’ app, and they have all the data they need to understand basically, how much are they spending how much data they have consumed. They are able to have that transparency and that trust relationship with Vodafone because they can see everything that they are using, that is one example. But at the same time when we meet some of our clients to maybe renew our contract or explain why we think they should have this tariff instead of this other, we show them that with data. So we tell them this is your consumption. This has been your consumption over the last few months. This is the forecast, the mathematical forecast we are doing about your consumption. And these are the potential tariffs we can assign you. We think that this is the best. And this will imply as well, this level of investment from our side. So I think data justifies as well our relationship of trust with our customers. These are two examples, but I'll tell you more at the end, the way we operate is that we have now a community of about 300 data scientists, hackers group and the countries where we operate. Data scientists are responsible for doing all the analysis in order to understand what our customers need, all the opportunities and all the threats that we have with all our customers and with this data, with this predictive intelligence, our marketing teams and our commercial operations teams can basically define different marketing activities, different communication actions, to better reach out to our customers and always offer why they need, what they need best. So I think that data is on the DNA and is on the on the basis of everything we do. Because I'm I think that this is something we all try to apply. But if it's about making decisions, because you have more experience than someone else, then it's always going to be a battle. But if you have data backing up any decision you want to, you want to make, it is very complicated to justify another way around.

Sam TN 16:34
I love that and doing a little bit of research before coming and catching up with you today. You mentioned in a recent blog that data is everyone's job. I couldn't agree with you more. The problem is data is very complicated. One of the things since joining D&B I’ve spent a bit of time on is trying to work out a way to help educate the C suite in a way that allows them to have meaningful conversations about their data strategy at board level. We produce a complimentary, in fact, for anyone listening newsletter every Saturday called Data Matters just a roundup of the week. It's got a stat in there that you can wheel out at dinner parties and a whole load of news. How are you making it culturally a shift in your organization? And how are you making sure that everyone feels that data is their job?

David Gonzalez 17:23
The good thing is that everyone in our organization knows data is very important. So obviously, if that wasn't the case, that would be a challenge. Because if you have to convince and educate people that data is important to do their job and to make decisions then, then that's a really big pitfall that is quite complicated to overcome. But in our case, the challenge was not that people that they didn't understand the value of data. In our case, it was the other way around, it was that everyone wants data so much that they are keen to have access to really good quality data, really good insights, in a way that everything is centralized in our way that they can do really advanced applications that they can really transform the way that we operate. So that has been fantastic because I think communication has been the most important focus that I've had since I joined. I think that coming up with a strategy that everyone supports and what everyone has contributed is fundamental, because the moment that people look at the strategy, they all feel represented, they all feel that okay, this is true, this is what we need. So I think communication and getting everyone involved since day one in that thinking and that strategy definition was something very important that that I did. Second now, it's about implementation and the execution. And I think that the fundamental thing is manage expectations, in every large organization, everything we do takes time. Because obviously we are a bunch of different teams involved, is always technologies, always security, legal teams, many, many teams have to be involved if you want to do things right. So managing those expectations about the timelines are you thinking when you will have things done, is very important, because it’s not something you will get done in three weeks. So managing that well, is crucial. And the last comment is that we are not one of those teams that take 12 months to do something. So we don't say we're going to do this, we sit in an office, we shut down everything. We keep ourselves locked down. And then 12 months later, we show up with the results. You need to have a continuous delivery, you need to be showing progress continuously and communicating it, that’s the way people understand your pain points, understand that you're really making progress and understand when are you going to have the solutions that they that they need. And you have promised and you have committed that you will get them done. So to recap, I think it's getting everyone involved since day one, it’s about communication is about managing expectations. And obviously something obvious that everyone will know it’s about talent, it’s very important to bring the best talent to your teams. Because obviously talent makes a massive difference. Instead of doing something in 12 months, you could do it in 24. So bringing that talent is something very, very important. And I'm lucky because I was able to bring my team to Vodafone and lead a team that I've known for many, many years. And, and I know that we work really, really well as a team and now since joining this fantastic company and there’s great talent inside and obviously we have extended the family. And now we keep working actively with many different people.

Sam TN 20:13
I love that, I actually drew out on a whiteboard, a Venn diagram and one circle represented data and the other circle represented talent. And the intersect is ultimately the alchemy of successful business, I think, yeah, really good one. So my background was in financial services and financial technology. In that industry, there was a huge inflection point in 2008. And what it created was actually hugely beneficial despite the downturn, which was an environment that forced partnerships and collaboration as the industry intersected with technology, customer behaviors changed, regulation changed, new business models, new technologies, partnerships popped up out of nowhere. The business intelligence and data space is much the same. And every industry I think, is realizing that data’s complicated. Partnerships are essential. How does Vodafone approach the partnership model?

David Gonzalez 21:05
Well, for us, obviously, partners are essential and fundamental to thrive as a company, we see partners to be honest everywhere because I mean, we have partners that help us on very specific tasks more than on the operation side, we have partners that are quite unique in their skills and their ability to deliver that also help us in really complicated initiatives and complicated projects, we see partners that help us think beyond our Vodafone box. And we also see partners that help us sell through or sell with, and then obviously a space for partners that are a bit smaller, startups or, or players that are very, let's say niche, also helps us move faster. So obviously then, having a strong and healthy partner system is fundamental for us and for, to be honest, I think every large organization in the world. I could give you multiple examples because my there are many that are public. But yes, we also work with a lot of partners. The truth is that the only thing that our new globalist strategy is trying to shift a bit is that Vodafone has had a lot of partners and big investments with those partners. And sometimes we've outsourced maybe capabilities or solutions that perhaps, now we see better in our organization, because obviously, the IP, the knowledge, the ability or the capability to evolve those assets or those solutions. Now, we want to start in sourcing that that's a big change from being from being a telco to become a technology communications company. That's the way we want to do it. We want to start in sourcing new talent, new type of skills, new type of profiles that we need in the organization to, to start doing ourselves some of the core of what this organization is going to be in the future. And obviously rely on partners when needed, but we want to do we want to start doing more things on our own. Obviously, we will continue to have many different partners, but I think that this change in that DNA of, of we building stuff that we think is important in our future DNA, as a check, communications company, I think something really, really interesting and is going to help us bring different type of skills and talents, that I think it's going to make us enjoy even more the journey.

Sam TN 23:10
So that's the internal view, we're going to look externally, we often ask our guests, particularly leaders in this space, what advice would you give anyone else in the data analytic space, who may be looking to increase the value of data and to leverage analytics to improve their business? If you went and joined a new business, what would you do?

David Gonzalez 23:29
I will do many similar steps that I've taken here. And perhaps after all these learnings in these almost three years I've been there, I would apply some of these learnings to any organization I think that the lessons learned are very similar to what I was referring about before is that a when you want to extract value from data, you need to split your strategy if you want to extract value for internal use, or if you want to come up with new products and services that you can sell in the market and at the end will help organizations in their own in their own journeys. Once you have a clear view and a clear strategy on what are you going to be focused on, I think that then the most important aspect is to define a strategy. That obviously is meant for success and management for success means that you need to involve and bring into the loop everyone in the organization that you're going to need in order to basically not only deliver but obviously get your strategy to become successful. So in the case of my learnings being a global organization is that everything we build that is B2B, we get the blessing, and we get the support and the advice from the from the countries. So obviously, they're going to be the ones selling it, they need to want it if they don't want it then doesn't matter is like when we're talking before about the startup. That's a matter of how you build the most amazing product, complicated that anyone is going to sell it therefore, that product is dead before building it. And then you need to be very realistic and understand the resources you've got. So it's best to focus on a few things then try to split your energy and your capacity across multiple initiatives because then it’s going to be impossible to make progress. So clear strategy, clear focus. And then communication and manage expectations is, is very important. I think those are some of the lessons learned. Obviously, there is a fifth one that is more technical that is make sure that the data you're going to use has good quality, because maybe not all organizations have the data in the best shape. So if you want to either monetize that, or if you want to create value for internal use, you need to be sure that data has good shape, good quality, integrity, consistency, availability, because otherwise, we're going to spend more time asking all the teams and technology to fix data. And then obviously, you will have more difficulties to build new products or to create value for internal use from data.

Sam TN 25:43
Yeah, and you need a really good data partner, right?

David Gonzalez 25:46
You always need good data partners. We have a few including D&B and obviously, with our partners in the data space as well. It will be very, very complicated to make progress.

Sam TN 25:54
Thank you and to end, I always like asking a few questions on how people live their lives. It's a bit of a weird one, but the rate of pace and change today is phenomenal. It's largely spurned on by data, it’s largely spurned on by connectivity. Vodafone is to blame for the fact that I get no sleep. And you commute from Madrid to London each week. How do you fit the right things into your life? How do you know, think about it from a wellness perspective and create efficiency?

David Gonzalez 26:22
Well, I remember because I don't know if I told you this. When I told you my parents were mathematicians but when I was a little kid, my mom had to move to the US to New Haven and work for a couple of years at Yale University, which obviously was an amazing opportunity for her. And I was a very little kid. I was nine years old, 10 years old. And suddenly I went from my school in Spain into a public school in New Haven in the in the East coast let’s say in the 1990 so long, old days, and at the beginning, I struggled so much personally, I woke up every day. I didn't want to go to school. My mom always put on me like a lot of energy taking me to school, walking me. And let's see, after two years at New Haven, I got the chance to learn English, I got the chance to live an amazing experience that not many kids have. Also my dad made the effort to remain alone in in Spain because I'm only child. While my mom was doing what was best for her career. So one of the lessons that I learned from that is that if you love your job, then traveling and distance shouldn't be a problem. And when I think that may I have to spend just two nights in London, I take it like an amazing opportunity. Because when I'm in London, I get to meet a lot of my colleagues, I get to go out with them have a more personal relationship and get to know them better, which is fantastic. And it's only two nights a week, which is something that is quite, let's say easy and reasonable to manage. And I take it like an amazing opportunity. And I love coming to London. I love living in Madrid. So I think I'm a very lucky guy and because of this opportunity that I have in Vodafone

Sam TN 27:57
Yeah, it's a really nice balance as well. A couple of nights in London. The rest of the week in Spain, I could do that. And a final one you mentioned earlier, the CDO at Prudential brought you into Vodafone, a mentor and mother. Talk me through some of your mentors through your career. I mean, sounds like your parents have been enormous role models

David Gonzalez 28:16
True, I think that obviously my parents because they were the first mentors I ever had have been amazing. They always taught me about, about effort about loving what they do. My parents work from Monday to Sunday, they go to university every day, they love what they do. They couldn't be any happier. And I think that a healthy mind is a healthy body. He's a healthy person. So I always wanted to have the same passion and the same love for my job, and I'm able to do it now. So I think that that's something which is an amazing opportunity, to be honest. Besides my parents, I've met through my career different mentors. So people that have taught me that have helped me grow, helped me learn so from people that are I was working for when I was in consulting, to when I when I built my own startup my co-founders, also helped me and, and taught me a lot of lessons. Investors, by the way, investors are always amazing because they have a different opinion and a different view. So they also help you learn and expand your view. So I think that I've met different mentors by you know, the to keep two names. I would say my mom or my dad have been the most influential ones and still are. I’m very lucky.

Sam TN 29:26
That's awesome. Thank you. I'm feeling energized. And I'm hoping this is part one of many more conversations. I could definitely learn a lot from you on this topic.

David Gonzalez 29:35
I hope too, it's been fantastic.

Sam TN 29:36
Thank you, David. Really appreciate it.

David Gonzalez 29:38
Thank you, Sam.