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Truist chief data officer on data management challenges

The CDO of bank holding company Truist outlines what she sees as an optimal data management culture as the demand for data skills continues to grow.

The role of chief data officer is an important one within enterprises as an executive position with responsibility for data use, governance and optimization.

Data management is important for every type of business -- and especially so in financial services, where customer information and money combine to undergird transactions. At bank holding firm Truist Financial Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., Tracy Daniels holds the post of CDO. Truist, one of the biggest U.S. banks, was formed in December 2019 after the merger of BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks, where Daniels had been the CTO.

In this Q&A, Daniels details what the role of CDO is at Truist and what she sees as the goals and challenges of data management.

What are your responsibilities for data within Truist as chief data officer?

Tracy Daniels: At SunTrust, I was a shared services CTO, which is just another name for a divisional CIO. As we went through the merger with BB&T to create Truist, we decided to create a very focused discipline on data itself.

I think about my role as CDO in really three tranches. One of them is governance, where I own the policy for data management for the company. As part of that, there is an architecture function where we make sure we're managing our data as effectively as we can.

Tracy Daniels, chief data officer, TruistTracy Daniels

I also have a delivery role with responsibility for the platforms that we leverage for data. So whether it's a big data platform or BI [business intelligence], the technical delivery of those platforms and applications comes out of my team.

Then, the third role is the culture role, and it's really building a data culture within Truist. The way that we're organized is we have data professionals, including data scientists and data analysts, that sit in the application teams as well as with the line-of-business teams.

My team's role is about creating cohesion and understanding across the company on data topics and projects that we help to manage through communities of practices and data forums.

As chief data officer, how do you manage data use and access within the organization?

Daniels: We think about data domains, and those domains are managed by the lines of business. We look for reusability opportunities, so wherever we can build a data service once and reuse it many times is ideal.

The conversation around the business use of data is really critical to drive the right engineering discussion so we can orchestrate the data and share the data across different instances and users across the company. I'm always looking at what are the things that help speed us up in a controlled manner.

The conversation around the business use of data is really critical to drive the right engineering discussion so we can orchestrate the data and share the data across different instances and users across the company.
Tracy DanielsChief data officer, Truist

For data sharing, we actually have been using the term marketplace. The idea is that there is a catalog and inventory of the things that are available in the marketplace. There's information about its use and its fit for purpose. There's also accessibility that's integrated as part of the marketplace. So we're thinking about the marketplace, not just in terms of a data catalog, but holistically about how it supports the data pipeline in the company.

What do you see as the primary challenges of data management?

Daniels: The volume and ubiquity of data is a challenge. Then, being able to use the data as effectively and efficiently as possible is another challenge.

There is also a skills challenge. Since there is such a high demand for data, keeping people updated with data skills and the overall availability of skills is an issue. Every company under the sun is recruiting for a tremendous amount of data talent, so that's another thing that keeps me up at night a little bit.

Then, of course, just making sure that we are protecting and governing the data. We have a fiduciary responsibility for managing large sets of data, and doing that well and doing that in a proactive manner.

What would you define as an optimal data culture within an environment?

Daniels: It's one where everybody thinks about data all the time. It's where everyone has an understanding of the importance of the data. It's about creating not just technical processes, but business processes that are truly driven to create good data and make use of good data.

It's a place where data is as much a business conversation as it is a technical conversation.

The way I try to manage the role of chief data officer is as much a technical function as it is a business function. I do think that over time, you will continue to see the evolution of the CDO role as a part of the business conversation.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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