Hi, I'm Prakash Baskar
On this site, I share all that I have learnt in the process of becoming a Datapreneur.
I will discuss successes, failures, missteps, and lessons learned from over 24 years of my business/technology career spanning several industry segments and working with employers/clients across global corporations including United Airlines, Ascena Retail Group, Santander, JP Morgan Chase, Claraview, GE Health Care, Eastern Michigan University and Ashok Leyland to name a few.
I had the unique experience of working through the entire range of technology roles, partnering with senior business leaders, then moving onto the business-side driving risk/finance/operational data and analytics initiatives with several million dollar budgets, globally distributed teams of hundreds of employees/consultants and finally as Chief-Data-Officer (CDO) before I founded Khyanafi in 2017.
What is the Datapreneur initiative?
Leading a data function can be one of the most thankless roles or fulfilling opportunity, depending on several factors. A large part of that is outside of your control and as a data leader you are an enabler of change within any company. This makes a data leadership role one of the difficult positions in the industry.
Successful data leaders, operate more like business owners. They have a keen sense of talent spotting, crisis management, negotiation, contracts/vendor management, marketing/communication and many other skills that are common among entrepreneurs leading successful companies.
Not everyone gets to have the experience of working across the spectrum of business and technology areas, and depending on our professional background, we have our strengths and blind-spots. However, as you may be experiencing, data leadership roles (CDO or otherwise) are getting complicated with increased expectations, coverage requirements and dwindling time-to-results window.
In short, you are expected to run your function as a business unit. Be resourceful and creative in your approach, be agile, cost-effective and operate with consistent focus on alignment with company strategy, goals and performance.
As a data leader, you are now required to operate as an Intrapreneur. That needs unconventional ideas and unconventional approaches.
Organizational design and talent grooming have always been an area of keen interest to me. I strongly believe, that as data leaders we can do more, if we have the right talent to support us. And we can also cover more challenges, if our expertise/experience is more well-rounded.
My main business is around the corpsulting work that we do through Khyanafi. In working through our projects, I frequently find myself as an "unofficial" coach for the data leaders that we work with. Through this Datapreneur site, I will discuss many of those situational discussions (without disclosing personal or company details) and my experience leading data functions for global corporations.
For those data leaders, aspiring data leaders and CDO's who want more deeper conversations with me, the Datapreneurship Mastery program provides an opportunity to work 1:1 with me. Many business leaders who want to grow their function through data/analytics are also included in this group.
I may not have all the answers, but I will certainly ask the difficult questions, brainstorm unconventional ideas with you and together we will accelerate your career and improve outstanding results in your role.
My Datapreneurship Journey
For many of us, our career path is a combination of planned and accidental steps we have taken over the years. Moving from role to role, job to job, and company to company. The only thing that remains constant is the learning we take along with us to the next step.
Early "accidental" entry into the world of data
Like many, I started my foray into data/analytics by chance. During my early-career period managing a production shop floor, we needed to plan better for equipment breakdowns, maintenance windows and address quality problems while keeping costs low. I took an initial attempt at increasing our ability to capture, integrate and analyze data. And immediately took a liking to leveraging data and analytics.
During the years working through my master's degree in Information Systems, out of sheer luck, I got a campus job creating reports and providing analytics for the University President's office around student retention/attrition/graduation performance and the work we did with undergraduate counselling and special support. Later my work extended to supported research on legal and ethical use of data and data protection practices.
Over the next few years, I was able to work on interesting projects involving data integration, analysis, data modeling and architecture.
When I was told to "Learn the system first, before trying to change it"
Over the next few years after graduation, I was confident of my data expertise. I could work across the entire set of data functions and due to my love for architecture, gravitated to that area quickly, which meant, I got into the gray area between Business and Technology and worked with SME's and leadership teams.
In one of the projects, out of curiosity to show progress early on, I got too ahead too fast. While I was trying to showcase my data expertise, by doing my analysis, pointing out flaws and suggesting alternate ways of doing things, I failed to understand the team dynamics, internal processes, constraints and leadership personalities across the teams involved.
The data leader advised me right after a critical meeting. "Prakash, I am not negating anything that you are saying. But, you need to learn the system first before trying to change it".
That comment, forever, changed the way I worked. I instantly realized that my data expertise has gotten me thus far. It's time to get some new learning, if I must make the transition to becoming a data leader.
The six-minute call that got me in an uncomfortable role
It was a lovely sunny morning one early August, when my manager had informed me that I will be getting a call from a technology leader who is looking to hire me for a consulting role that would last for 2 months. My phone promptly rang within the next 2 hours. The entire conversation lasted six minutes and I was asked to join the team the following Monday.
What I did not know at that time was that it was no regular consulting engagement. A larger company had purchased a smaller firm, and they were in the process of working through post-M&A integration. There was no full-time presence from the acquiring firm, and I had no reporting manager onsite, no assigned projects, no definition of what I need to do.
In panic, I called my consulting manager after a week, and told him that I was lost and didn't know what I am supposed to do there. His response, "When people are not communicating to you what they want from you, it's either that they themselves do not know or they cannot tell you. Considering the current scenario, it's probably both. If you are running the show, what would you look for and how will you approach? Just do that".
Powerful words, that provided another important perspective. The transition from expert status to leader status happens when we start operating as a leader. Titles can wait. Operating at a level much ahead of our current state, gives an undue advantage, as it did for me in this case.
The job offer after a 4-hour white-boarding session
After a few weeks an interim leader came into the scene. A few months after that the acquiring firm appointed a permanent leader. Day 1 of his visit to the acquired company site, I had a 4-hour white-boarding session with the new manager. We covered platforms, technology, organization, talent, stakeholders, budget and everything that's relevant.
What started as a 2-month project had already extended into it's sixth month. I had everything prepared to hand-over and move out. The next day, after the long meeting, I walked into the office and the new manager offered me a job and wanted me to join them leading analysis and architecture. The best part of it, was there were no interviews, no negotiations. I was asked to come up with my package and it was done.
My transformation into a Datapreneur
While various circumstances may present themselves, after a point in our career, we are responsible for creating circumstances to move us ahead. More and more, posted jobs become meaningless for our growth and we need to enable the creation of roles that are a custom fit for us.
When you become a sponge for information, your potential value within the organization goes up. Information on how the business runs, who are the rising stars in the organization, where are the new opportunities coming up, how to mobilize a team of outstanding talent, how to reorganize for delivering outstanding results with fewer people, how to move faster than traditional teams that can do the same work etc..
At this point, while all the aspects of data expertise were still useful, I found that to be a Datapreneur, the effectiveness of the second line was of utmost importance. If you have a few people who can think and operate at your pace, the team output can be phenomenal.
Over the next several years, I followed a 3-year rule approach for career mobility that one of my mentors provided me. I also made sure to go after challenging, difficult, or chaotic situations. That's how you grow as a leader and not by playing it safe.
Just a 6-people team? Are you sure?
"We have estimated internally that a team of 6 people will suffice for this group", stated my future manager as I was interviewing with him. My first real all-day interview that I was doing for a Data Governance leader role. In fact, my first real interview in 14 years, as all the other job roles were offered to me either through people seeing the work first-hand, or through referral, in which case it was an easier discussion.
I explained that their assessment was incorrect, and there will be a a larger need and we will revisit when more information is available. The team grew from three people in the first month to about 48 including open headcounts by the end of one year and my role grew into CDO, with senior leaders from several global entities of the parent company reaching out to discuss strategy, approach, road map development, and planning.
Too often, we see what is and avoid seeing ahead into what it could become when evaluating opportunities. Also, extending your influence into other areas or entities of the company is an underutilized opportunity to lead with data on a larger scale across the company. Hierarchies exist for getting work done, but they need not prevent a leader's range of engagement and value creation.
Bringing it all together
Switching out of the corporate career to run my own firm focused on Corpsulting (no, it's not a typo), has provided me opportunities to work with more people working at the intersection of data and business. When they realize I am not a career-consultant and that I have been in their shoes facing some of the same challenges they have, having some of the same problems, issues and opportunities that they have, the conversation turns more open and fluid.
This website is where it all comes together. It is to help people like you in the data area, to grow in your careers, provide differentiated, unconventional insights about pressing data leadership challenges, and to provide varied approaches for succeeding in your roles as datapreneurs.
What's Next? The motive behind my work
I view work as the greatest expression of my creativity. Good work is a way to continuously challenge ourselves and grow. Great work requires that we become a better person. There is no shortcut. Unless transformation is happening overall, our ability to influence change and deliver results will be limited.
Intentions alone do not yield outcome. We need to increase the success rate of data initiatives. That does not happen just by technology or more processes or more data. The way data leadership happens must change. There is enough internal politics, ignorance of the power of data, and CYA activities within organizations. There is a need to groom and rightly empower leaders who can work through these challenges and deliver.
Through my work here, even if I am able to influence only a few data leaders and the way they work, and convert them into Datapreneurs, I would have achieved my goal.
Work is the reward.
Ready to start your journey as a Datapreneur? Become an insider.
It's time to step up and take your data leadership skills to a new level. Get notified of my blog posts and other content. Have unconventional insights delivered to you.