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April 16, 2019

The Rise of the Data Team

Patrick Stokes

Leaks of confidential customer data, whether the result of malicious hacks or corporate missteps, are a growing threat across industries. In the first half of 2018, there were 945 major data breaches globally that exposed more than 4.5 billion records, a 133% increase from the previous year. At the same time, governments around the world are tightening rules around data management. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect last year, has required companies to become more transparent and responsible with consumer data and has given individuals greater control over their information. It is likely that similar regulations will emerge in the United States and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the amount of data companies collect and store continues to grow, along with consumer expectations for data-driven personalized service. Nearly half of consumers today say they can’t tolerate disconnected experiences from brands. To meet surging consumer demand for both privacy and personalization, and prepare for the rising tide of regulation, companies need to rethink their data strategy and empower a specialized data team that can set priorities and follow through.

How Companies Can Build Powerful Data Teams

(Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Ensuring an effective data strategy means providing more authority to data professionals in the organization, making smart hires, and investing in technology that supports unified and secure sharing of customer data. Most importantly, it means protecting data and using it for consumers’ benefit above all — even at the expense of the bottom line.

Increase the Influence of Data Professionals

When individual managers and teams decide how they store and use customer data, their choices lack consistency and don’t necessarily reflect the needs of the business as a whole. Companies that are serious about protecting customer data need a centralized team of people with power to set policies and enforce them. They should be able to ensure that those guidelines apply to every vendor technology purchase and every product. One way to achieve this is to name a Chief Data Officer who can see the big picture and set a mandate for data management at the executive level.

Hire the Right People

Expanding data teams isn’t just a matter of numbers; data leaders need to recruit people with the right skills to fulfill their vision.


One often-overlooked component is regional expertise. The way data appears physically, the local culture, and laws about its use and management all differ across geographies. Hires with cross-functional expertise—such as technologists who also understand data management or law — can be another asset.

Gain Visibility Into Current Data Practices

Even the strongest data teams are powerless if they don’t know where data is located or lack access to quality data. Companies should complete an exhaustive audit of how they collect, store, and use customer data, including every vendor and region.

Some businesses only learn about flaws in their process when they are paying a fine for a GDPR violation. Instead, every business that wants to put the consumer first should undertake this step proactively. And any new vendors that are licensed or new products that come out should comply with the mandates set by data leaders.

Make Trust a Corporate Value

The companies that will succeed in today’s business environment are not those who do the minimum to comply with GDPR and similar laws. Rather, it will be those businesses that lean into changing regulations and realize that going above and beyond to protect customer data will pay off.

A recent study found that 95% of consumers were more likely to remain loyal to a company they trusted, and 92% were more likely to keep buying goods and services from those businesses. Until now, many companies have looked at customer data solely as a way to turn insights into dollars. But those who realize their job is to be responsible stewards of data and use it with the consumer’s interests in mind will have more to gain in the long term.

Challenges to Responsible Data Management

Companies struggle with protecting customer data for two main reasons.

(Photon photo/Shutterstock)

First, data is often messy because it’s entered by humans. A combination of people and technology are needed to clean it up, and this can be a time-consuming process. Secondly, data is often spread across a variety of different systems with no consistency or single point of entry. There’s no perfect technology on the market today for unifying that data and making sense of it, but it’s around the corner.

The more that companies empower data leaders and make trust a top-level priority, the faster new technology will emerge to make responsible data management possible.

The Growing Importance of Data Teams

Transforming organizational cultures and finding sustainable technological solutions will take time, but investing in data teams makes sense now. The volume of data companies are dealing with is expected to grow exponentially, and privacy regulations and concerns are likely to increase along with it. Companies that put the consumer first when it comes to data management will pave the way to strengthening trust and improving customer experience, as well as avoiding regulatory and reputational mishaps.

About the author: Patrick Stokes is the SVP of Product Management for Salesforce Customer 360, where he brings over 15 years experience in product management. Throughout his career, he has worked in product leadership roles in both start-ups and industry incumbents. Patrick studied Computer Science and Information Technology at Marist College. Patrick was the Chief Product Officer at Buddy Media, which was acquired bySalesforce in 2012. He is based in New York.

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