icrunchdata News speaks with business leaders about the progression of their careers in analytics, what they are focusing on in their current roles and what their interests are outside of data. They recently interviewed Southard Jones, Vice President of Product Strategy at Birst, about the last two years at Birst, what’s next for his team and what every company should look for when hiring a Chief Data Officer. Below is a transcript of the interview, originally published in icrunchdata on January 15, 2016:
You started with Birst in February 2013. What are the biggest changes in the organization since you started?
Since I started in 2013, Birst has seen exponential growth. Bringing on a new CEO has been paramount to our success, freeing up our Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer Brad Peters to continue to be hands-on with the product and allowing our CEO Jay Larson to strategically grow the business. With this powerful duo, Birst has and will continue to scale successfully.
What are you most proud of that your team accomplished in the last two years?
Certainly, we’ve made a lot of exciting announcements in the past two years, including landmark partnerships with companies like SAP, Tableau and NetSuite, raising a significant venture capital round of funding, as well as lots of groundbreaking product updates. But I’d say we are most proud of how well these announcements have been received and validated the seismic shifts that are taking place in the business intelligence industry. Legacy BI vendors are a dying breed whose software can’t keep up with the demands of today’s business environment and we are excited to be at the forefront of this industry as it is remade.
Diving into 2016, what should expect to see from Birst?
We will continue to emphasize the importance of BI balancing the needs of IT (governance) and business users (data discovery). Gartner has taken note of this shift occurring in the BI market and the need for “governed data discovery” which threatens the dominance of legacy BI solutions from HP, SAP, Oracle and others.
In one of your blog posts titled, ‘How Entrepreneurs Can Build a Data-Driven Culture in a Fast-Paced World,’ you said one way for a company to ensure a seamless and successful transition to a data-driven culture is to hire a Chief Data Officer. What are the top characteristics that you think every CDO should have?
The role of the CDO is to create a new system under which data can be leveraged across an entire organization, from sales and marketing, to product development and finance and everywhere in between. Given that the role of the CDO is to utilize data to propel the organization to success, a CDO needs to empower all users, to get access to a trusted fabric of data across the enterprise. Gone are the days when data scientists and data analyst in ivory towers make data decisions; CDOs will excel by enabling every user with right data for their role. A mix of data skills and entrepreneurial or business acumen is essential.
You write a lot of content on business intelligence for the Birst blog, Wired and other online news channels. Describe your perfect environment where you like to write and what motivates you the most to create solid content?
My job is all about interpreting technical jargon and making it accessible to others. Writing is a great way to demystify the world of BI and the important developments we are working on at Birst. Writing itself happens at my desk at Birst HQ. My hope is that the writing helps inspire businesses to think differently about how BI and analytics fit in with their organization.
What are your thoughts around you personally using Twitter, Facebook and other social channels?
Social channels are a choice for every individual on a personal level, but as a representative of Birst, I see social as part of the company – not the individual. Birst delivers successful customers and market leading products because we have a great team of folks, not because of any one individual.
You are based out of San Francisco and have lived in the Bay area for a number of years. What do you like most about living in that part of California?
The diversity of the people leads to the openness for new ideas and desire to always find a faster, more efficient, more user friendly way to do anything makes it a great location for my career and companies like Birst. The other fact is that I can get in the car with my family and be in some of the most amazing natural places on earth (from the Sierras, to the central coast, to the Redwoods) in less than a few hours, making northern California an incredible place to raise a family. The real estate prices, on the other hand, are enough to make everyone scratch their heads!
What do you wish you had more time to do outside of the office?
The obvious and clear choice is to spend more time with my beautiful wife and two wonderful kids exploring northern California outdoors, skiing, hiking, camping and meeting new people in small towns.
You graduated from Kellogg Graduate School of Management with an MBA in Marketing in June 2001. If you could go back and have a conversation with yourself on the day that you graduated, what advice would you give yourself?
I’ve been fortunate in my career and have worked with amazing people, like the people at Birst, and that has made all the difference, so I would likely stress that relationships are as important as any measure of success in career.