Truist’s Data Manager on Data Management Challenges

The CDO role is important within companies as a leadership position responsible for the use, governance, and optimization of data.

Data management is important for every type of business, and especially in financial services, where customer information and money combine to underpin transactions. At Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank holding company Truist Financial Corp., Tracy Daniels serves as CDO. Truist, one of the largest American banks, was created in December 2019 after the merger of BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks, where Daniels was the CTO.

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

What are your data responsibilities at Truist as Chief Data Officer?

Tracy Daniels: At SunTrust, I was CTO of Shared Services, which is just another name for a divisional CIO. As we merged with BB&T to create Truist, we decided to create a very data-centric discipline.

I think of my role as CDO in really three installments. One of them is governance, where I own the data management policy for the company. As part of that, there’s an architecture function where we make sure we’re managing our data as efficiently as possible.

Tracy Daniels

I also have a delivery role with responsibility for the platforms we operate for data. Whether it’s a big data or BI platform [business intelligence]the technical delivery of these platforms and applications falls under my team.

Then the third role is the role of culture, and it’s really about creating a culture of data within Truist. The way we are organized is that we have data professionals, including data scientists and data analysts, who sit on application teams as well as line-of-business teams.

My team’s role is to create cohesion and understanding within the company on data topics and projects that we help manage through communities of practice and data forums.

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

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

The conversation around the business use of data is really essential to having the right engineering discussion so that we can orchestrate data and share data between different instances and users in the business. I always look at what are the things that help us accelerate in a controlled way.

The conversation around the business use of data is really essential to having the right engineering discussion so that we can orchestrate data and share data between different instances and users in the business.

Tracy DanielsChief Data Officer, Truist

For data sharing, we actually use the term market. The idea is that there is a catalog and an inventory of things that are available on the market. There is information on its use and suitability for use. There is also market-integrated accessibility. So we think about the market, not just in terms of the data catalog, but holistically about how it supports the data pipeline in the enterprise.

What do you see as the main challenges in data management?

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

There is also a skills challenge. Since the demand for data is so high, it is difficult to keep people informed about data skills and the overall availability of skills. Every company under the sun recruits an enormous amount of data talent, so that’s another thing that keeps me a little awake at night.

Then, of course, ensuring that we protect and govern the data. We have a fiduciary responsibility to manage large datasets, to do it well, and to do it proactively.

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

Daniels: It’s the one where everyone thinks about data all the time. This is where everyone understands the importance of data. It’s about creating not just technical processes, but also business processes that are genuinely driven to create good data and use 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 CDO role is as much a technical role as a business role. I think over time you will continue to see the evolution of the CDO’s role as part of the business conversation.

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

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