Speaker Spotlight Column: Cindy Walker on Data Best Practices

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edw2013-speaker-spotlightby Charles Roe

DATAVERSITY™ recently interviewed Cindy Walker, the Director of Data Analytics Center of Excellence at Salient Federal Solutions. Cindy will be giving a session at the Enterprise Data World 2014 Conference in Austin, Texas from April 27 – May 1, 2014. Her session is titled “Combining Traditional Enterprise Data Management Best Practices with Semantic Approaches and Technologies for Business Agility.”

The Speaker Spotlight Column (and its parallel venture the Sponsor Spotlight Column) is an ongoing project that focuses on highlighting several of the central issues represented at the many Data Management conferences produced by DATAVERSITY.

The primary emphasis of the interview was to question Cindy Walker on her work and history within the industry, with particular importance on her presentation at the upcoming conference:

DATAVERSITY (DV):  What are you going to discuss during your session at EDW14, and what will the audience gain from attending your talk?  (Please be specific about one or two issues you’ll be addressing and the benefits the audience will obtain).

Cindy Walker (CW):  During my EDW14 session on Wednesday morning, I’ll discuss exciting developments in the emerging field of semantics and the tremendous potential semantics offer to enhance business agility. Traditional Data Management approaches have proven useful, but they are not sufficient or flexible enough to enable organizations to sense, analyze, adapt and change quickly.   The audience will obtain significant benefits from attending this session.  For example, they will be able to accelerate the integration and use of new data into their organizations to fuel more informed analyses by learning about practical semantic approaches they can adopt immediately.  They will also be able to recharge their enterprise data strategy and rapidly improve business agility by following the easy-to-use roadmap that I’ll describe in this presentation for integrating semantics with their traditional Data Management approaches.

DV:  What is really important about such a topic in terms of the current state of Data Management and/or how the industry is going to transform moving into the future?

CW:  This topic is vital because organizations cannot survive if they are not agile, and the current state of Data Management (without semantic approaches) limits the level of agility that organizations can achieve.  Combining semantic approaches and technology with mature Data Management approaches is essential to enable rapid ingestion of new data to gain valuable insights that fuel sound, decisive actions and improved business outcomes.

DV:  Please tell us a little about yourself and your history in the industry, past work experience, and how you got started in the data profession?

CW:  I got started in the data profession exactly thirty years ago when I joined a consulting firm that was assisting the Naval Military Personnel Command launch its first data administration organization to lead the integration of Navy pay and personnel data (back in 1984!)  I quickly gained a deep appreciation for the value of enterprise data as a valuable corporate asset and have spent the past thirty years as a consultant helping my clients use and manage data assets for better outcomes.   I have focused on affecting the organizational change necessary to truly embrace the value of data assets, with a heavy emphasis on Data Governance and innovative ways of empowering users with the data they need to drive informed decisions and effective outcomes.

I am currently serving as the Director of Salient Federal Solution’s Data Analytics Center of Excellence. In this position I’m responsible for developing Salient’s Data Analytics strategy and expanding market distinctions and innovations to include predictive analytics, agile business intelligence, and Big Data solutions for Salient’s clients.  The center itself provides a focal point for knowledge exchange about our clients’ current and future data and information needs and for development of effective solution strategies to meet those needs.  The center provides data analytics guidance, mentoring, and training services to our clients and our operational teams.   It includes an environment for developing and evaluating technologies, prototyping innovative solutions, and developing proofs of concept to help our clients experience the possibilities and the potential of data analytics to enable them to be more forward looking in providing services to citizens.

I love this role because it allows me to bring together all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained throughout my career in the data profession to offer services that really make a difference for our clients.  I am most excited about the real mission impact that tapping into our clients’ existing data assets can have – and almost immediately and about the potential for data analytics to significantly reduce costs and improve our clients’ agility and responsiveness in their service to citizens.  We know that data are renewable assets – that is, we can continue to gain new insights from the same data assets, especially when we combine and share data among agencies.

I joined Salient after serving as a Director at Pragmatics, Inc. where I helped financial regulatory agency clients mitigate risks more effectively and fulfill statutory obligations of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.  From 1999 through 2011, I worked for KGS, Inc. and its predecessor, Pinkerton Computer Consultants Incorporated, to deliver innovative data solutions for homeland security, intelligence, civilian agency, and national defense clients. In the years prior, I spent 15 years with Acton Burnell, where I served as Vice President, managing the delivery of enterprise data management consulting solutions for federal agencies and private sector corporations.

DV: What is the biggest challenge happening in your particular area of Data Management at this time?

CW:  The biggest challenge happening in the Data Analytics area of Data Management is achieving agile information architecture to facilitate an agile business – to keep ahead of the curve and serve up data quickly and reliably for useful analysis.

DV: How is such a change influencing your job?

CW:  This challenge, coupled with the huge interest in Big Data, has had a significant and positive influence on my job.  It has opened so many doors directly to the business users of data.  And that’s fantastic.  For many years Data Management practitioners faced challenges such as demonstrating the business value of Data Management practices.  Today’s business leaders and most users understand the importance of data to business agility and results.

DV: How have your job and/or the work you are doing at your organization altered in the past 12 months?   How do you expect it will change in the next 1-2 years?

CW:  In the past 12 months I moved into my new role as Director of Salient’s Data Analytics Center of Excellence.  But overall in the field of Data Management in the past 12 months, the level of user/business user involvement has increased significantly.  Users are demanding faster access to raw data to perform their own assessment of the data’s value in a sandbox environment.  They are reaching outside of their organizations for data to fuel their analyses.   I’ve observed much more emphasis on ingesting and preparing data for analysis than on traditional report development and dashboard development.  I expect this trend will continue and become more pronounced in the next 1-2 years.

DV: Are there any other emerging technologies you predict will affect your job function in the future?

CW:  Yes.  That’s really the focus of my EDW14 presentation – the maturing of semantic technologies and the broader use of those technologies in mainstream data management strategies.

DV: What’s your favorite “Data” or “Data Management” quote?

CW:  “Data’s true value is like an iceberg floating in the ocean.  Only a tiny part of it is visible at first sight, which much of it is hidden beneath the surface.  Innovative companies that understand this can extract that hidden value and reap potentially huge benefits.  In short, data’s value needs to be considered in terms of all the possible ways it can be employed in the future, not simply how it is used in the present.”   (From Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier in their book,  Big Data:  A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live Work, and Think, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, New York, 2013.)

DV:  How do you explain what you do for work, at a cocktail party, or to your grandparents?

CW:  When asked at a cocktail party, I explain that I’m a consultant clients engage to recommend strategies for using data and information to improve performance, save money, or solve a problem.  I usually follow that explanation with a couple of real life examples.  Talking about data is really fun cocktail party conversation nowadays because most people are genuinely interested and can relate to the real life examples like the importance of data to homeland security and to the recent financial crisis.  And Big Data is certainly a hot topic everywhere right now!


If you are interested in attending Cindy’s session at EDW2014, please see the conference schedule at:

Her session is on Wednesday, April 30th at 8.30am.

About Enterprise Data World:

Enterprise Data World is the business world’s most comprehensive educational event about data and information management. Over five days, EDW presents a diverse schedule of programming that addresses every level of proficiency, including keynotes, workshops, tutorials, case studies, and discussions.

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