January 31, 2023

Data Literacy and the role of a CDO with Wendy Turner-Williams

On this episode of Navigating Forward, Lisa Thee speaks with Wendy Turner-Willams, former Chief Data Officer at Tableau. With over 20 years of experience in data, Wendy is an Advisory Board Member for several organizations, including the University of Washington Information School. She also recently joined Carnegie Mellon University as an Adjunct Professor in their Tepper School of Business Chief Data Officer program. Lisa and Wendy discuss the role of a Chief Data Officer and how the CDO focuses on not just data, but how it interacts with the unique people, processes, and technologies within a company. The conversation also touches on security, risk, and trust – and even the politics of data. In addition, they talk about data literacy and what it means and how its pursuit is perceived by both employees and executives, along with some advice for those looking to increase their own literacy. Finally, Wendy and Lisa chat about healthcare, invisible illness, and the ways in which data and automation intersect with medicine.


Narrator (00:02):

At a crossroads of uncertainty and opportunity, how do you navigate forward? This podcast focuses on making smart choices in a rapidly changing world. We investigate the challenges of being at a crossroads and finding the opportunities that arise out of disruption. Listen in on future forward conversations with the brightest luminaries, movers and shakers. Let's navigate forward together and create what's next.

Lisa Thee (00:25):

Hello everyone and welcome to the Navigating Forward Podcast. My name is Lisa Thee and I'm your host. We love to bring luminaries, movers, and shakers right into all the places that you like to listen and learn, and today is no exception. We have the honor of hosting Wendy Turner-Williams. Wendy has been a Chief Data Officer at both Tableau as well as Salesforce and is such an amazing leader in terms of bringing data literacy and technology innovation like AI into the hands of many and democratizing good data governance. So, thank you so much for joining us here today, Wendy, we're really excited to have you.

Wendy Turner-Williams (01:03):

Hi, Lisa. I'm so glad to be here. Thank you. It's an honor.

Lisa Thee (01:07):

So, Wendy, for somebody that maybe doesn't understand the role of a Chief Data Officer after doing it at such an impactful, large organization, can you share with us your thoughts on what the role of a Chief Data Officer entails?

Wendy Turner-Williams (01:20):

Yeah, that's actually a really good question because to be honest, Chief Data Officers are so new still in the C-suite that it's, it's a little bit ambiguous as far as what they are, and it really depends on almost company by company. But I would say that in my experience and what my particular role is, is really focused on three angles, which is unique somewhat to most Chief Data Officers. One, my job is to enable the company and other executives or anyone working at a company to have the information that they need to make high business value decisions, right? What data do I need to operationally improve to be more effective, to monetize, to engage our customers more, you know, effectively in a better way so that we have a, a good business that is successful, right? If I was to boil it down, the other two things that I've particularly focused on as a Chief Data Officer, because I work in software is a) I'm often customer zero, meaning working at companies like Microsoft for working at companies like Salesforce or Tableau, you know, the number one CRM company, the number one BI and analytics company.

Wendy Turner-Williams (02:36):

My job is the customer's job, meaning my job is to help our company be effective as a company and to use data to drive our business, which means that I'm working at the same scope that the customers are in regards to things like journey to a cloud from on-prem, or how do I integrate you know, M&A acquisitions into data. How do I, how do I actually do automation at scale? How do I actually, you know, monetize information? So, I am very much tied to the business strategy and I'm influencing the software when there are persona gaps, use case gaps, and often building those gaps for my own internal usage first, and then helping the software to roll that out to customers so that they get that experience. And then the third aspect of my role, which was also very, very unique, is again, as the CDO, as the Chief Data Officer of the number one BI and analytics company, I've worked at a lot of big tech, at a lot of big data, a lot of the best kind of data companies in the world, which means that I tend to sit down with peers, other CDOs or CIOs or CISCOs or CEOs and really talk about how do you up level and amplify data within your company?

Wendy Turner-Williams (04:00):

How do you create the culture that you need? You can't just say you're data driven, that's just words. It takes investment, it takes culture, it takes literacy. And the reality is, is that there's a lot of common data choke points that everyone experiences when it comes to actually getting the ROI out of the investment related to the technology that is soft in nature. Things like data politics, data's very, very political across business units and teams. You know, things like privacy versus actually monetization or, you know, operations versus new insights versus, there's lots of soft points that happen that I spend a lot of time almost as a technical advisor, chief data strategy advisor to a lot of customers to make sure that they're successful.

Lisa Thee (04:53):

Yeah, working in a consulting capacity, we see that a lot. That it really, you have to adjust the people, the process and the data governance if you do one or leave one off the table. More importantly, these projects tend to fail, not because they weren't the right projects to do, not because they weren't the things that client was pulling for in the market and helping them to innovate, but because they didn't start with alignment, they didn't start with having enough people in the room to see the blind spots and make sure that you're designing for what the market needs really are versus what you envision they are. Right?

Wendy Turner-Williams (05:32):

No, I love that. And actually, I would say there's almost four, right? There's people, process, technology, and then there's the data itself. And too often people forget about the actual data, which is what you're aligning the people and the processes and the technology around. So, I totally agree with you because in my experience, what tends to happen is, especially in a tech world, right, in a software world, people tend to jump to trying to technically solve the problem, but they don't understand the problem that they're trying to solve or, or what the business impact is of that problem. Or they tend to start at, here's this one, almost like a break fix, you know, circuit type of fix and they start there. But really that was a symptom of a much bigger problem from a data perspective that you've got to work yourself up and downstream. Being a CDO is, it's a mix of business expertise. It's a mix of technical expertise, but it's also a big change agent role in an influence role so that you can remove blinders and create the art of what could be in what should be if people understood how those things come together.

Lisa Thee (06:45):

It sounds to me like a lot of the transition that happened in the cyber security space for the last decade. It's like everybody knew that cybersecurity was important, but there was always money to fix a problem once it happened, but not to be proactive about it. And it feels like data's going through that same transition now where we're recognizing that companies that cannot demonstrate data literacy and be reactive to the market are not sustainable. And so, can you talk a little bit about how you're seeing that ecosystem change over the last decade in terms of people embracing data literacy, data science, and how it can be a tool to accelerate their business outcomes?

Wendy Turner-Williams (07:23):

Yeah, well, I want to hit on what you're saying about cybersecurity because you're spot on. And I would say that's still a problem. It's still even a problem with cybersecurity. I spent two years of my time at Salesforce reporting to the CISCO, which was kind of a weird place for the enterprise data lead to sit. We’re kind of opposites of a coin. But if you also think about it, security or compliance or privacy or anything of the trust vector, they need data to do their jobs. And the reality is that there is no one better in the company to actually understand what data you have, what's in that data, who's consuming it, what they're supposed to be consuming it for, and how you're supposed to be treating that data, whether it's contractual or compliance or a security or even a risk perspective, right? So, I mean, things like understanding your assets and your physical assets for things like patching or threat detection ties very heavily to understanding where your actual data catalogs are from a business value perspective, because that's your most valuable data and that's your highest risk data.

Lisa Thee (08:34):

Yeah. Nobody wants trade secrets leaked <laugh>.

Wendy Turner-Williams (08:38):

So, you should be prioritizing. So anyway, back to monetization. To me, I think that people tend to focus on fixing a technical problem, but the reality is if you don't focus on that underlying data, I'll give you an example, a real life example that we had at Salesforce during my time. We were doing the typical journey that a lot of people are doing, moving from an on-prem environment into a cloud environment. We were moving from a Hadoop instance into S3 in particular. And this particular instance was our biggest data lake in the store with Hadoop. It's where a lot of our product logs and things like that are used for usage and for debugging, et cetera. And no one had really focused on the data. So understanding who was creating what, doing things like change management, even processes like debugging or CSC cert team, right?

Wendy Turner-Williams (09:34):

Having to actually respond to a customer inquiry to give them their logs of their data was taking almost 45 days to run in this Hadoop instance, because the architecture around the instance was always focused on the technical aspect, not how the data was stored. So, they were storing data in big blogs with no, like timestamping, just, you know, monolithic types of things. And when we moved into S3, we not only made a successful move out of Hadoop into an S3 environment, but we actually reduced like query response for C cert to get back to customer queries from 45 days to like a day. We improved some of our performance on some of our key queries that actually do our search engines and a lot of other responses back by like hundreds and thousands of percents on some of these different things. So again, it was a focus on the data, which turns into a monetization opportunity because if you think about things like your product experience and your customers actually working with your product, expecting your product to know who they are, to have a customized experience based on their engagement and their work.

Wendy Turner-Williams (10:51):

Yeah, their work in the tool itself, that drives revenue. You also talk about things like trust as a brand. That drives revenue, okay. You also talk about things like the ability to monetize logs back to the customers so they can actually do their own analytics on their own experience across their pieces. Those aren't doable without the focus on the data aspect, along with the people process, technology, and governance.

Lisa Thee (11:20):

Well, Wendy, you are bringing me back to my Intel days of selling SSDs and optimizing data for trust and safety solutions. So first and foremost, I just want to use my favorite word with you with, which still makes me laugh every time, which is sharding. I still can't believe it's a real word.

Lisa Thee (11:38):

Fabulous word <laugh>. And then secondly, I can relate. When we got involved with looking at trust and safety solutions and how could we re-architect on-prem solutions and software stacks, one of the bigger challenges that we had was one of our customers was looking at categorizing new fingerprints for illegal content. So, they wanted to be able to hash that information, know that it's a problem, and get it back out to the people that are looking for that kind of felonious content on their servers. And because of the way the software was architected, it was taking 48 hours to batch. We were able to get them down to an hour with simple updates. And so I think being able to focus on that business velocity of what you're trying to accomplish versus looking at it just from the technical angle is where a lot of people fall short.

Wendy Turner-Williams (12:26):

It is. And, and to me that is like, that's the key role of a Chief Data Officer, right? Like you don't own any data. Your job is to enable everyone else with the information that they need. And again, it blitz technology. I mean, I'm just as much of a technologist as I am as a data person, but you also have to be a business person so that you understand how the data flows from one process to the next. So you can actually recognize where that automation or where that optimization or where that augmentation or amplification of data can be to actually do new insights and new innovation. It's just, it's such a key, a key thing. And I think that as we're moving more and more in this next era of the data world and more and more towards AI and robotics, it's going to be so much more important.

Lisa Thee (13:20):

Yeah. And for our listeners that are maybe working at places that don't have a designated Chief Data Officer, we are offering a free workshop to help get a sense of where your data is and where you'd like it to be. So if anybody wants to reach out, please go to the launchconsulting.com website and we would be happy to engage with you on a exploratory discussion in that space, uh, to help you get grounded on what your data could look like if you were able to focus on getting that where it needs to be. One of the things that you talked about, I think is, that is an interesting trend, is data literacy. And I know from leading work in the AI space that AI is not going to come in and take everybody's job. I'm not super worried about that. It's a great enhancement, but you're still going to need people, but the people are going to have to have different skillsets. It kind of takes me back to when computers came into the workplace and everybody had to learn how to be literate in terms of typing, right? Can you talk a little bit about data literacy and the importance of it for upskilling for folks that are entering the job market as well as where you can go for self-education?

Wendy Turner-Williams (14:31):

Yeah, so a) I think that data literacy is probably going to become one of the hottest topics, you know, over the next couple of years, both when it comes to trust or pure data or whatever it would be. Because again, I think that as we're moving towards this world where we're augmenting the human experience through more and more and more machines, it requires information in order for those machines to, to make decisions right, at a scale. And like you said, it's going to require people to either feed those machines or help to create from a physical perspective, those machines, you know, et cetera as well. And data literacy is something that, it's almost like a philosophy. You can't have a culture without feeding your culture and informing your, your culture and making sure that your culture is always ready and trained appropriately. Because data's not something that's one and done.

Wendy Turner-Williams (15:27):

Technology's not one and done. Technology changes all the time. Constantly. There's technology changes. So if you think about literacy, it's really about how do you actually invest in making sure that you have the workforce that is armed with the ability to see, speak, use data, and collaborate effectively to actually successfully manage and run a business, or an experience or whatever that would be. So, to me, is it a culture investment? So many people talk about they want to have data culture. I mean, how many times have we've heard about data culture in the last, you know, 10, 15 years, everyone says it, I'm data driven, I've got this great data culture. How do you measure that? Do your employees feel that way? We did a survey when I was at Tableau, this last year. We did a survey with Forrester around data literacy, and there were some significant findings, and I may get the, the exact numbers wrong, so don't quote me, but I'll get close.

Wendy Turner-Williams (16:27):

But the gist was that between employers, so think CEOs, executives and employees, almost like 70, 75% of people all felt that data was key to their jobs and was going to only grow as far as the impact in the value in the years to come. But at the same time, there was a real kind of shift in that when it came to actually who was responsible for providing literacy skills, I think it was like close to 69% of employees felt that their employers should be investing in their skill sets, but only like 30, 33% of actual CEOs or executives were doing the investment. The other thing that was really, really interesting out of it was there was almost a retention aspect that came out of this. People who felt that they were actually being invested in, in skills that were relevant in a new and upcoming market, which everyone sees the data train coming in, the AI train coming, are that much more likely to stay at a company by a massive percent.

Wendy Turner-Williams (17:36):

It was like 75% were more likely to stay at that company. Cause it's an investment, right? That you're investing in your employees and you're investing in their future career and their ability to stay relevant in a world that is shifting into a new technology set. And literacy is the key to that. Whether you're cybersecurity or whether you are a finance person or a marketing person or whoever. You have to make day-to-day decisions and using information, which is data that's been augmented, right, to actually align with the business process is how you are going to be successful and set yourself apart in a role as well. So, it is just, it's just so important.

Lisa Thee (18:21):

Yeah, we have an example of working with a large shipping organization that had made a commitment to going to more automation, but the unique thing that they did that was really inspiring to me was they also made a commitment to their workforce that they will not let anyone go and they will upskill everyone and bring them along with the change. And we were able to design and implement that alongside them. And it was just so inspiring to see what can happen when you bring your best assets, which are usually your talent, along with the change versus going to sort for them later. Because half the time, the decisions that have to be made are a combination of data, but also understanding the culture, understanding what the impact will be to the end users. There's just a lot that happens in time and seat of being part of a system. And when you bring both of those assets along together, it really enables you to make those bold decisions that will keep you ahead of the competition out in the market.

Wendy Turner-Williams (19:23):

I know there's like a saying for this, but one of your best customers or your biggest advocates is always your employee, right? And they're talking to their friends, they're talking to their family, they're talking to their neighbors, they're sharing their experiences when it comes to their workplace, their jobs, your investments, you know what, what it is you're building. And so, I think, I mean, you hit it on the nose because people need to invest, in my opinion, I don't want to go too sci-fi on this and no, I don't think robots are taking over everything, but I do think we're in this major shift. We're in a new technical evolution, right? And I think that those who have the skills in this area will be successful and those, who don't, won't. We as humans, period, owe it to one another to actually, you know, give everyone a chance, right?

Wendy Turner-Williams (20:20):

To disenfranchised people, people in other communities, different education systems, et cetera. The more they know around data and technology, the better. Companies owe it to responsibly invest, not just in their employees, but in the community at large. So, there's a lot of great resources out there. I know Tableau in particular has launched a campaign around data trailblazing and skilling up, I think it's 10 million people by 2025. A lot of it's free online education with even institutes. There's a lot of colleges that have a lot of free information. There's not a single, like, hub. Maybe this is something me and Lisa, you and I need to go like fix this problem because there's not like a single place to get literacy from all the different various tech companies across the world, but, but they exist in pockets.

Lisa Thee (21:11):

Actually, I have a resource I would love to share with our audience. If you are interested in onboarding into a data career and looking to skill up the place I like to send people to and it's gender neutral, it's welcoming to everyone, is womenindata.org because they not only provide the teaching and the education, but the cohorts to help you be successful and learn and have the support you need in developing new skills. So, I would just like to plug womenindata.org. It is an international organization, and it is really open to all different levels of people that are interested in data careers and helping them go from where they are today to where they need to be. I think that's a really awesome resource. I've contributed entrepreneurship courses to them. I really believe in backing them and as an NGO I think they can meet some of this demand in the market that maybe is falling through the cracks for everyday normal people that aren't at Stanford. Um, <laugh> getting into an AI program, right?

Wendy Turner-Williams (22:10):

I love that. There's also, I mean, back to being bold. If, if you don't see the investments that you know that should be happening, say something, raise it to the board. You can't have something like security as a risk for a company and not have something like data and data literacy as a risk for the company as well. Okay? You cannot, it's an impossibility. Stand up. It takes the investment, but it also takes the people who are willing to actually speak out and lead. And this is just not something to wait, right? It's something to be proactive about, et cetera. I am more than happy to help, you know, if anyone needs any help around a literacy program or how do you position, how do you actually get the sponsorship, how do you tie it to risk or monetization. I'm also willing to help spend some time there.

Lisa Thee (22:54):

Thank you Wendy. And for people that want to take you up on that, what are some of the best ways to connect with you?

Wendy Turner-Williams (23:00):

The best way to connect with me right now is, um, through LinkedIn. I mean, I'm going through my own journey. I know Lisa, you know, um, you know, I've recently left Tableau. I'm looking for my next opportunity, really kind of want to focus more on the AI kind of this trust data kind of, you know, trifecta.

Lisa Thee (23:18):

Oh, welcome to my world, Wendy. Trust and Safety in AI.

Wendy Turner-Williams (23:23):


Lisa Thee (23:24):

Spoiler alert, you get to see some of the worst things in the world. Unfortunately.

Wendy Turner-Williams (23:29):

There's so much opportunity around, you know, if we look at the last two, three years around Covid and the experience that we've had at scale across the world, there's so much need around automation and more kind of real time, holistic data-driven decisioning in the healthcare industry. I'm just, I'm super passionate in that space and, and, and really looking. But, um, I think that the best way to contact me is through LinkedIn. I answer messages from everybody and anybody, so if you got a question, just ping me. I'm a pretty open person and I'm happy to chat.

Lisa Thee (24:06):

We're so thrilled to have you here today. Wendy, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your wisdom, and we look forward to keeping tabs on where you go next. I know it's going to be an amazing adventure.

Wendy Turner-Williams (24:16):

Yeah, I can't wait. I will definitely share with the team, and I do want to do a quick plug, Lisa, if you don't mind, around just one of the other things I've been very, very public about is around invisible illness. And I, I just wanted to talk a moment about that because I think that's another area where we can do more to support one another, be more understanding of one another, et cetera. But for me in particular, you know, the last several years have been very challenging being diagnosed with a, a chronic illness, uh, something called CVID, which stands for Common Variable Immune Deficiency, which means I'm one of 1 to 3% of the world population where part of my immune system, in fact, for me, multiple parts of my immune system does not work. Like the old boy in the bubble movie, um, years ago.

Wendy Turner-Williams (25:10):

So, I am very dependent and very much of an advocate around things like whole blood donations or plasma donations because there is no pill, there is no, there is no drug, there's no diet, there's no workout regimen that fixes a problem that I have, which is I just don't produce certain antibodies and I don't retain B-cell memory even with vaccines for certain types of components. So people who donate plasma or whole blood, they don't even often know who they're donating to, but it's someone like me who's sitting behind the pump at the hospital or at home, you know, getting some type of infusion of antibodies or hemoglobins or, you know, whatever those things would be that is helping them to maintain a healthy life and helping their family or their coworkers or their community and all those ripples of impacts that, that has.

Lisa Thee (26:11):

Yeah, Wendy, as a mom of four and you know, as chief executive, uh, you're exactly the type of person that I'm collaborating with on my upcoming book from Fast Company called Go. And the reason I wanted to do that was I think it's really important for women to step into leadership on their own terms, uh, that we have been playing someone else's game for a very long time, and it doesn't necessarily serve the masses in the best way. And so, really getting clear on knowing who you are, what it is, the mission that you want to devote your career to, and being able to create the right conditions to thrive and survive in that environment are critical to seeing this transformation we're seeing with new technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain and all the fun things that are out there that are going to change how we do things that we design them for a society we all want to actually live in once this is over with.

Wendy Turner-Williams (27:09):

Well, and then we recognize that, that society is made up of individuals, right? Like I, I think that, you know, as we're finding more and more medically when we're looking at things like cancer treatments or gene therapy, like everybody's different and our legacy and historic processes or practices when it comes to medicine don't necessarily fit all, or fit for that problem. And that's going to require that technology. It also is going to require that understanding that we're each individuals and that we all have boundaries and that we are dependent and require each other, you know what I mean? To a degree, to actually help solve some of those problems.

Lisa Thee (27:49):

Yeah. We've seen some really interesting innovation coming out of UCSF hospital and being part of their journey in terms of being able to apply AI for more personalized treatments of broader diseases and making sure that we can help bring enough data, diversity, and quality data to get these models trained for clinical settings on a more diverse population. Because when you just rely on people's experiences, you're going to inherently have blind spots to be human is to be biased. And so when we can bring in augmentation from a broader dataset, it can allow us to maybe not miss some of the important moments that matter in care. I couldn't agree more.

Wendy Turner-Williams (28:29):

I love that. What I also love is the fact that some diseases, you know, there's a saying around medical care, if you hear hooves, it's a horse, right? Treated like horse, right? Well, for immune deficiency, we're actually called zebras because we sound like a horse, but we're not a horse. And our systems don't work the same way at all, at all the same way. And so, you know, a lot of times this whole augmentation as well is about feeding it more information around things that are more rare in nature, right? Not everyone is the same. It's not a one trick pony, it's not a one size fits all. And, you know, there's so many people that bring so much value in the world, or just the impacts. It's just, it's something that we just need to really, really focus on more.

Lisa Thee (29:11):

And yeah, I mean, as HR leaders, how do you make accommodations under ADA for this new disabled population with Long Covid Yeah. For legal organizations, how do you make sure that you have the right structures in place to allow people to have the flexibility they need to still be part of the solution? How do we think about giving better tools to the front lines that maybe are doing more with less every day and need some guardrails installed? So I'm really inspired by you bringing that up as well. And I think we can all, um, recognize the need for whole blood and plasma donation and contribute in our local communities. So, thank you for giving us an actionable takeaway out of that.

Wendy Turner-Williams (29:52):

By the way, you often get paid to donate plasma, so it's a nice way to not just impact someone's night, uh, life, but actually get a supplemental income as well. But otherwise, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Lisa Thee (30:07):

Same to you, Wendy. It was a pleasure to talk. Thank you so much.

Wendy Turner-Williams (30:10):

Of course. Thank you.

Narrator (30:13):

Hey everyone, thanks for listening to the Navigating Forward podcast. We'd love to hear from you. At a crossroads of uncertainty and opportunity, how do you navigate forward? We'll see you next time.

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