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Who’s buying Data Catalogs and Why? with Neil Burge

Clock Icon 60 minutes

About this episode

Neil Burge has been researching who’s been buying data catalogs and why. His LinkedIn posts are a gold mine for data practitioners, leaders and vendors. In this episode, Tim and Juan chat with Neil to go over his research, learnings and recommendations for the data industry.

Tim Gasper [00:00:07] Hello, everyone. It's time once again for Catalog and Cocktails. It's your honest no- bs, non- salesy conversation about enterprise data management. With tasty beverages in hand, I'm Tim Gasper, longtime data nerd, product guy, customer guy at Data. world, joined by Juan Sequeda.

Juan Sequeda [00:00:21] Hey Tim. I'm Juan Sequeda, the principal scientist here at, and as always, it is a pleasure to take a break and have our conversation about data. This is a very special episode because I've been wanting to talk to our guest for a long time because if you're working in data catalogs and you're on LinkedIn, and if you have not heard about Neil Burge, you're probably living underneath a rock. And if you have been living underneath that rock, right now, you're going to find out all this stuff that he's been doing. Neil, it is a pleasure to have you here because you've been doing all this research about data catalogs and today is truly an episode of Catalog and Cocktails. I'm talking about the catalog and a little bit of, not so much cocktails today, but we'll see. But Neil, how are you doing?

Neil Burge [00:01:12] Yeah, I'm great. Thanks a lot for having me on guys.

Juan Sequeda [00:01:14] Yeah, it's great. So let's kick it off first. What are we drinking and what are we toasting for today?

Neil Burge [00:01:19] You've caught me out on the morning of Good Friday, so I'm on tap water here unfortunately, could have been primed better and had a cocktail already.

Juan Sequeda [00:01:29] Yeah, well I think this is one of the things here is that we're on different parts of the world, you're joining us from Singapore, right?

Neil Burge [00:01:35] Yeah, that's right, yeah. So I'll have to go and get on the cocktails once we finish, right?

Tim Gasper [00:01:39] That's perfect.

Juan Sequeda [00:01:41] How about you, Tim?

Tim Gasper [00:01:42] I'm doing things a little lighter tonight, so it's late our time, I'm doing a LightSky from Blue Moon, so getting a little bit of citrus. It's good, it's tasty and I'm going to toast to, I've been meeting a lot of really cool data people lately. Neil, you're one of them, it's great to connect with the data community, so cheers to the people of data.

Juan Sequeda [00:02:05] Cheers to that. And actually first time I'm doing this, I'm having wine actually, and especially wine here, this will be very surprising, I enjoy wine a lot and there's wine here in Texas where we're from, this is Becker's and actually if people could see us on the camera, it has the little owl, so these are the special bottles that were made for Data. world, so inaudible, this is very nice. Anyways, cheers to the data peoples in the community, so cheers.

Neil Burge [00:02:30] Cheers.

Juan Sequeda [00:02:32] All right, let's kick this off, Neil, honest, no- bs, what's the deal with data catalogs? You've been doing a lot of research around this, so just spill the beans. Tell us.

Neil Burge [00:02:42] Well, so I guess to set the scene, what I set out to understand, or the question I asked in the research is what is it that causes someone to say, today's the day I'm going to buy a data catalog? And the reason for this is we've got a back story and a history of acting as a reseller and helping people select data catalogs in the past. And I just kind of scratch my head, I don't know about you guys, but when I read LinkedIn posts, it's like data catalogs are dead or the market's gone, this isn't working. And I'm like, is it really? Because I see a lot of demand for it. And so then I just wanted to scratch my head and think, well, okay, what is it that causes somebody to do this? And in my mind what I'm looking for is a context, and I guess well, maybe we'll use drinks as a particular example of this. The context that you are in if you're a data professional in your organization, and the context of your organization is what creates the value for you to finally go off and select the data catalog. So unless the context is in a certain way, you are not going to have the energy, the motivation, the money, the brain space, the time, whatever to go and do this. And you can think about it the same as a beer. It's late in the evening for you guys, you're hosting Catalog and Cocktails, so you're going to grab a beer or a glass of wine or something like this and it's just turned 10: 00 AM my time, I'm going to do something later on in the day. So whilst I would love to be joining you, the context means that I'm going to go and choose a beverage like water or a cup of tea or whatever it might be, whereas you guys are going to change and select something else. So it's really trying to unpack how somebody got to the point of selecting, and what had to be true in their organization before that would happen. So I don't know if that makes any sense because whenever I think of this, I've gone way deep down a narrow rabbit hole to learn how to do this, and I've built a little application that helps me pull people into clusters and see the context that they're in. But I'm well aware that that doesn't necessarily mean anything to anybody who's not at the bottom of the rabbit hole with me.

Tim Gasper [00:04:56] So talk about this rabbit hole then that you went into, so it sounds like you did some quantitative research around this. You actually talked to different organizations and did some analysis here or how did you approach this exactly?

Neil Burge [00:05:10] Yeah, so it's qualitative research mainly, and the focus is really, so the rules are I have to talk to somebody that has purchased a data catalog. And I've had lots of people reach out wanting to join the research, I'm like, well, what have you selected? Oh, well, we are still going through the selection process... Now that's nice and hopefully we can help them. But unless you've actually selected it, you don't know what has to be true before you can buy it, right? Because you haven't yet got all of the dominoes tipped over that you've got the money, you've paid it and you've plugged the thing in.

Tim Gasper [00:05:46] So you could try to buy one and then for whatever reason you couldn't get the budget or you couldn't get whatever it is.

Neil Burge [00:05:53] You guys will know better than I do, but sales processes for anything, doesn't have to be a catalog, it could be any technology, probably 70% of them end up in no decision and the competition is status quo. And so if people have defaulted back to the status quo and couldn't get the energy to get across the line, then I don't want to hear from them because they haven't changed. The guy who taught me this, a guy called Bob Moesta, he says, " Bitching ain't switching." So you're about your current situation, but if you're not switching to a new vendor or provider, you haven't made any progress. So I can't understand anything from that, so that was kind of the first rule. And really the way that this works is I get people on, I'm kind of thinking about recording one and posting it just so people can actually hear a whole interview or something. But so far the people I've interviewed, I haven't asked them their permission, so clearly I'm not going to do that. But really what we do is it's like, help me understand who are you, what's your context, yada, yada, yada. So I've got an understanding of what their role is in the organization, and then I want them to take me back to the first thought. When did they or somebody in their organization suddenly start thinking, Hey, maybe we need something new. And I'm looking at the language, sometimes it's not a data catalog. Sometimes they're talking about things like data inconsistencies, sometimes it's metadata management, whatever it is in their language. And then more importantly, what was happening to them or their business at that point in time that made them suddenly able to see a need for a new way of working. And from there we go and get the kind of story of how they got to now, and I'm kind of listening out for key pieces and information, like what is it that they think is the problem and then what draws them towards various different potential solutions. So you do this, and I guess one of the things, one of the big learnings I had, I did lots of this with data management professionals and then I put it into this little application that I built to try and cluster them up and the clusters didn't make any sense. So the idea is that I'm trying to look and say, like if I talk to you guys, it's like there's something that's changed that's pushing me to even start looking at a new problem and there's something that's pulling me towards solution A versus solution B, whatever it happens to be. And I can kind of group people by common themes and it just didn't work with the data management professionals. And I realized this because actually they weren't the ones that struggled, they just wanted a catalog. The demand is there, which is why I don't think the catalog market's dying. And I had to go and find the people who actually had the problem that was trying to get solved that then triggered the budget to be given to the data management team to select. So, probably going back down my rabbit hole, did any of that make sense?

Juan Sequeda [00:08:54] I've got many follow- ups here. Okay, so let's dive in... The two main things I want to go into. Okay, so what are the roles of those buyers? So when you go down that rabbit hole, you realize, okay, all these data management professionals, they all want it, but then who is the person actually making the decision and signing the check? What are those roles? That's number one. And then you asked what was happening to the business at that moment to realize we need to go invest in a data catalog.

Neil Burge [00:09:22] Yeah, correct.

Juan Sequeda [00:09:23] So what were the things that were happening? So what did you learn? What did you learn and what was happening to the business?

Neil Burge [00:09:29] So in terms of the people who are funding it, it depends on the size of the organization obviously, but down at the lower end of a thousand- odd sized enterprises, you will end up talking to sometimes the CEO, COO, people like that who are motivating money to solve a problem that they've got. Now those people typically have no idea what a data catalog is or that this is the solution to the problem. So they go to their data team and they're like, look, you've got to help me solve this. And it's at that point where the data people who've struggled with this sometimes for 10 years, literally some of the conversations I've had, the story goes way back in time because they've been struggling with an inability for change management or inefficiencies in the way that they're working for decades, but all of a sudden they have that opportunity. So the people buying can be in the C- suite, but it's certainly senior management who have a business problem to solve and then they'll give money, and one of the big opportunities I think for any vendor of this is to talk to those people. Because if I go onto any website now of data catalogs, it does a great job stirring the pot for data management people talking about catalogs, talking about lineage, talking about we're going to help you govern, AI governance. And that's just not the language that people are using when I talk to them and interview them because they have to learn that language as they go through a selection process. So it's kind of trying to unpack this and say, who's the real buyer? And it's somebody with a business problem. And then they'll give the money over and the data team will often run the selection process, come back with the different options, yada, yada, yada. And the flavor of the selection process is actually driven by the context the business is in based on the research I've got.

Tim Gasper [00:11:26] Those data management people, they could be, so let's say the CEO, the COO, the CFO, whoever it is, who's kind of motivating the higher level problem, we'll come back to what that higher level problem is in a second. Then they go to the data management team, that data management team could be the analytics team, it could be the governance team, so whatever team makes sense, kind of underneath?

Neil Burge [00:11:47] Inside their organization sometimes they've got a chief data officer, a head of data, whatever. Sometimes it is an analytics team, so it doesn't matter. One of the big things, hardly it's ever about governance, literally virtually none of the people I interview are talking about it to support governance. And so they get the money and then they get to go off and shop for their toys. Now sometimes people are literally, they're talking to vendors and some people have got a whole Rolodex of the vendors and what they think about each of them, waiting for the money to land so that they can go and buy whichever one's at the top of the list. Others don't. They go off to Gartner or they go off to review sites or posts on LinkedIn, whatever it might be. But when I interviewed those people, they could tell me what they didn't like about their situation, but not many of them could tell me why now, because when you get to it, it's like, okay, now we selected this. It's like, well, hang on, wait, I'm confused, why now? Again, today's the day we're going to buy a data catalog. Why not tomorrow? Why not next year? What is it that had to happen that made it imperative.

Tim Gasper [00:12:54] And they may have been dealing with those problems for many, many years, but somehow they're making a decision now to take action.

Juan Sequeda [00:13:03] So let's jump into this one, rabbit holes going on in different places right now. No, but this is good. Why now? What were the answers that you got for why now?

Neil Burge [00:13:15] Okay, so what we ended up with was four different clusters, and cluster, I will use interchangeably with context, so a business context that exists, a situation that you find yourself in, at which point today is the day that we're going to purchase something. Now I'll go up in terms of what I think are the kind of value of these different solutions, but bear in mind, this is my opinion. So one is help me comply. Now everybody in every context will use their data catalog to meet a compliance need. That's a fact. So just because someone's using it for compliance doesn't mean this is the reason that they bought it. But normally what happens is a regulation is enacted, let's say a HIPAA for you guys over in the states, but this thing is not enough on its own to trigger people to actually buy. So the data team will go off maybe up to the board level and say, Hey look, we've got this regulation, and the board's like, yeah, yeah, that's important, but it's not urgent. Then what normally happens, it's one of two things often both that then a company in their industry or geography that looks similar to them has a public problem with that particular regulation. So the news flashes up and this is a problem for competitor X, and the board members or whoever is like, shit, I don't want that to happen to us, that's going to kill our business. And actually a lot of the for this isn't the functional, let's fix the problem, it's social, I don't want to be seen in the news as running a company that's badly managed. But often that doesn't always do it. The one thing that always kicks it in the back of the net is in some industries where people are putting out RFPs and trying to win new business, when their customers start demanding that they are compliant with the regulation, otherwise they won't make a deal with them, that is almost always the final domino that tips people over and then we've got to be compliant. So that's one situation. Now what you see in this though is it gets palmed off on the data team or sometimes into the IT team, it is literally the lowest energy one. There is no energy in this whatsoever, it's like we must fix this thing. We will do it as cheaply as quickly and as sticky tape and plaster as possible. So they'll often go and buy something just to prove to a regulator that they can get a tick box and a check mark and they're not using the catalog for anything else after that. It's not to drive any business outcome or whatever it might be-

Tim Gasper [00:16:02] So that's different than ongoing compliance, this is like I got a specific nail and I need to hit it with a hammer.

Neil Burge [00:16:09] Yeah, exactly. Maybe I want to go and get ISO something certified or whatever it might be because it's important for us, whatever it is, but literally that's all I'm solving with this. Money's been made available to solve that and nothing else. And so those ones there, the processes typically takes three to six months, but it's on price, that people are buying the cheapest thing that ticks the boxes. There is a bit about vendor trust in there, they want someone who can kind of make sure that they're going to get compliance, but it's a pretty low energy one. Now you can kind of contrast that to, maybe I'll go to the higher energy ones because I find them more interesting. You've got some organizations where the data team has done a reasonably good job of providing insights to the business, and they're still low maturity typically, but they're providing insights, they're providing information that allows the business to grow. And what you see is there's a sudden spurt of growth in the organization as a result of having better access to data. And sometimes it's like... Can I say Power BI? I know we said we weren't going to talk about vendors, but it comes up a ton that people have made these reports available and then suddenly there's this demand for data from business end users. So it's kind of taking them away from doing it themselves and providing more insights. The business grows and then everybody, humans always see things and we see momentum where maybe there's none, and so the chief marketing officer comes in and says, Hey, we're going to grow up 50% next year, and the chief data officer's like no chance, we can't support that, everything's maxed out. And at that point in time, that's when you see the CEO will get involved, especially sort of mid- sized companies because they're going to come in and say, oh, we are going to carry on growing at that rate, what is it we need to be able to do that? The interesting thing there is the language people use, the data team has to use stuff like we are stuck, it's a spider's web, we've got 40% more customer data out there and we just can't handle it because actually the people in management, all these folks, they've got no idea what a data catalog is. One of the guys I talked to, he's sort of imagining the catalog you find in a store or something like that, that you're reading through, and he's like, I want one of them. What's that going to do for us? But those ones there, one, they will make budget. So this is never about having money to spend and putting it into a budget cycle, they'll pull budget out of nowhere because they want that growth to continue. They'll often go for what they perceive to be the best in class solution. So whoever's done a best job showing a nice flashy feature, business user- friendliness, they want collaboration between departments and they'll use language like data's our eyes. They feel like they've had their eyes poked out if they can't get this fixed. And so therefore it's an urgent problem to solve and they spend a load of money on it. So they're kind of two polar opposites. I don't know if you wanted to stop and ask about that or if you want me to go and gas on about what else I've found.

Juan Sequeda [00:19:30] No, we're taking notes here, we will follow up. Two down, two more to go.

Neil Burge [00:19:35] Yeah, all right. So the other one where you see the C- suite get involved is really what I call" Help me follow the plan." And in this case, it's quite often that you've had a change in senior leadership, probably the CEO. There's been a big brand consultancy come in to provide guidance to that CEO, they've run a data maturity assessment and said, you are behind your peers and there's this opportunity to make half a billion dollars in untapped revenue sources from data, if only you could do these use cases. And the management there swallow that hook line and sinker. What you'll see in those contexts is they'll have appointed a CDO for the first time. Usually they promote somebody from within the organization, for some reason they haven't worked that bit out. So this person takes on the role of CDO, they suddenly stuff the thing full of data scientists, data engineers, data governance, often the data governance team appear. And the data governance team are then told to select a catalog because they're flipping through the plan and it's like, okay, yep, we've appointed you guys. Okay, day one on the job off you go, buy something. And those ones there are really hard because when you talk to the data teams in them, they themselves are sat there going, what the hell are we going to do with this thing? So a few of them I've talked to, first day on the job, they're in a selection process or a POC trying to work out what the use cases are for the thing that they're supposed to be buying. And I always used to think, you'd look at this and go, it's crazy, why is anybody buying that? Why don't they just say no? But actually the irrational becomes rational when you can see the context people are in, and you've got somebody who has just been hired, they've always wanted to buy a catalog, they've finally got budget, they've got sponsorship and support. And more importantly, when they go up to their management and say, look, I don't think we should do this now. They're like, would you like to tell that to the CEO? You are going to pull the plans back and you are going to do something different? It's like, no, no, no, I'll go and buy. Which is what we'd all do, right? So it looks irrational that somebody would select and spend this money with limited requirements. But actually if you understand how they got to where they've got to, it's kind of inevitable almost. Now those guys, they need trust. They really need trust and they typically select organizations that will do a lot of the implementation handholding. They'll use stuff like Teach me how to fish or whatever it is with this platform, whatever it is to help have the confidence, they've had a consulting partner that's given them a plan, they want to latch on and follow a plan rather than we've got this problem that I'm trying to solve and down that rabbit hole I go. Those ones there, you're on a shop clock. So if you are selling this stuff, do not hold these people up. And one of the things that I think is quite interesting is you talk to lots of the vendors, the sales people, they're like, well, I drill in and make sure I get the requirements because if we haven't got the requirements they can't buy. I'm like, you don't want to do that here because you are only pointing out what they already know, which is like, I shouldn't be selecting this right now, but I've still got to, so you're going to help me achieve this and make a good fist of it, or are you going to slow me down? In which case I'm just going to cast you guys aside and move on. So that's the third context. And then the fourth one is really an efficiency place, often they'll use, they want a single pane of glass across their enterprise estate, these organizations have grown possibly organically, possibly by acquisition and through time it gets to a point where the data team is inefficient. They'll often see inconsistencies in the data, it'll be triggered by board presentations where two people in the boardroom are presenting about customers and somebody smart enough with a data brain is like, hold up, these two things can't possibly be true, how many customers do we have? And it cascades down. And often it's about efficiency. So in this case, you're competing with hiring more data engineers or hiring another data analyst or something like that, rather than the other data catalogs. These processes are planned, they often take many years, they will have detailed RFPs, probably POCs or pilots with a couple of the different vendors. The budget is made available in a known future state and you're walking through a standardized selection process there to do this. And often it is about solving some of the stuff you get like lineage issues, like if I change this, what the hell falls over over there, and am I going to break something? Like, let's try and get control over the data estate. So they're the four contexts that I found in the research. And when I went back and then reanalyzed the data teams, it was interesting, you could kind of place people into the context, but only after I'd seen what they were, and sometimes people appeared in the wrong one. So you're like, what are you doing over there? Why are you selecting under that thing? Because obviously there's some sort of miscommunication between the people who are paying and the people who are spending.

Tim Gasper [00:25:01] Interesting, interesting. So I really like the way that you're framing this because it's not just about the use case per se, right? It's actually about, I think the word that you said is context, right? It's the broader context that you're within, within the organization, the dynamics that are playing out in this larger system. A lot of questions form in my mind. So one, just on this last one here, right? Help me be more efficient. Something I see quite a bit is around there's one archetype of people that are in the middle of a digital transformation or a cloud migration or something like that. I know that could probably play out in a few of these scenarios here, but do you think that kind of falls more into efficiency? I'm trying to make sure that that happens in an efficient way or do you think it actually falls into a different category?

Neil Burge [00:25:54] Efficiency is really efficiency of the data team. So are they able to provide the insights that we're expecting at the quality that we want in an efficient manner or are they all working over- time? Is it taking too long for us to make a change because we've got this sprawling unmanaged data estate that's in there? So yes, they could be putting in a platform to solve this. And that's another thing from the follow the plan, often that comes with a platform play and the catalog is just whatever works with that platform or comes with it. So it's not about the technology, and I think we started looking at this, I forget the product, and it's really hard if you're a vendor of a product, it's really hard to ask you to forget the thing that you are working all day every day to advance in the organization. But what's the situation someone's in? And again, I go back to this guy Bob, who taught me how to do this. What do you prefer? Pizza or steak? You guys got a preference?

Juan Sequeda [00:27:04] Actually I had dinner last night and there was pizza and steak.

Neil Burge [00:27:08] Well look at that. Lucky you. But something like that, a steak is probably more appropriate if I'm going out for a romantic dinner with my wife and I'm trying to butter her up because I'm off on a business trip or something like that, and I'm likely to have a nice bottle of wine with it or whatever it is and spend a bit of money, whereas am I going to go and do that same date for a pizza? Yeah, maybe, but probably not. It's more likely, I don't know, you're trying to feed the kids or you're out with your buddies having a load of beers after a big game and there's some pizzas there. And it is the same thing for the product, that the value comes from the context that you're in, not the product. You then go and try and work out as you are going through this little journey, what is most appropriate to sit here between where I am today and where I want to be tomorrow? And again, when we dig in, you start to see the trade- offs people are willing to make. So if it's compliance, it's cheap, I want it cheap, I will swap functionality, I will swap pretty much everything for price. Whereas on the other side of it, if the CEO's doing it for growth, we will spend more if we think we're getting a better tool. We will do things faster rather than being held back. And the trade- offs that you make is in the selection, are driven by the context that you happen to be in in the business, not by the product itself or whatever happens to be there.

Juan Sequeda [00:28:45] So before we went into the clusters, these business contexts, we were talking about the personas, the funders, and you started saying the CEO, the COO. So let's go back to that, and my question is what's the relationship between the buyer personas and these four different business contexts that you've had that you've discussed?

Neil Burge [00:29:12] I'm not sure I'm following the question there. So in the way I've looked at this-

Juan Sequeda [00:29:17] Let's go back to this. So we said comply, grow fast enough, help me follow the plan, help me be more efficient. So in those four different contexts that you discussed, who are the buyers in each one of them?

Neil Burge [00:29:32] So you've got the selection team, which will be the same data leadership or data management team, they'll often assemble a team, again, you get different shapes of the team depending on which context they're in. But the person that is pushing for the change is often the senior person who's spending the money and taking the political risk of funding a project to improve something.

Juan Sequeda [00:29:57] And who is that that?

Neil Burge [00:29:59] inaudible... Its more often somebody like a COO, EVP, a CEO, it depends on the size of the organization of course. But you think about the person who's struggling, our business was growing, we've suddenly exploded, now this chief marketing officer is telling me that we can carry on that growth, chief data officer is saying, hold up, no chance. Who's that person? It's probably the CEO. And they're going to turn around and they will bulldoze... So you've got one person who says yes in the organization and everybody else's job is to say no to the change, which is why so many get stuck in status quo and go back. And so you need the person who's banging through the walls and making this happen. And it is that person who's got the problem and they're the ones who are making sure the budget's available. And when you get to the end of this, you've got a CFO who's like the final boss who is sat there to try and defeat you. And they're like, why are we spending money on this now? And why are we buying that more expensive product rather than the other one? Because by the way, I'm too busy to know what a data catalog is and this one looks just as good as that one to me because I'm not sitting through these demos and working it out. So why are you spending more of my money on this right now? So it's the person who's smashing that down and getting the yes that I want because they're the person who's struggled. So again, if we go back to the context, it's the struggle that they're in, what's the pressure that's built up on them, like I need to go and do something different, I want to get over there. They're the one who've got the energy to actually make it happen. Whereas everybody else, some of them have got some of the energy, one of the ladies I spoke to, she's spent 10 years struggling with change requests. It was the worst thing for her, every now and again something would break in production like once a quarter, and she was there doing all- nighters trying to fix it. Somebody had attempted to build data lineage manually in- house and given up because it was impossible. But this has been the bane of her existence for 10 years and she doesn't do anything, doesn't get the budget to spend it. She doesn't have the clout, the power or the ability to influence. Then all of a sudden a consultant comes in, a CDO is appointed, here's a budget, off you go. And then she can make the progress and go and run a selection process. But the person that's struggling is somewhere else in the organization. Does that make sense? I don't know-

Tim Gasper [00:32:29] Yeah, no, that does make sense. And I mean it's clear that across the board, regardless of context, there's a political will and a political motion that has to happen for somebody to be willing to put their reputation on the line or to make a call, they're trying to make a bet, right? About the future of how things are going to work. That person has to be pretty high up. Maybe grow fast enough and follow the plan. Maybe that leans a little higher up in the organization? Maybe efficiency-

Neil Burge [00:33:02] And compliance.

Tim Gasper [00:33:03] And compliance, it could be maybe a little less senior, but still there's a political motion.

Neil Burge [00:33:13] Compliance comes down from the board. The weird thing is on the compliance one is that the data team, whoever goes up and represents in any board meeting is always raising; this is a risk, this is a risk, this is a risk. And then they're getting ignored until they see that some peer company is being fined and publicly exposed, and a customer's telling you, "We are not doing business unless you're compliant." At which point their ears light up. It's like, why didn't you tell me that sooner? Let's go fix it! And you're like, I've been telling you for 10 years!

Juan Sequeda [00:33:44] These four buckets, it's very clear that this is something that the C- suite and the board will care about and they will have that discussion, we are like, yeah we're too slow, why are we too slow? Why are competitors getting things out? And people are like, yeah, we have all these inefficiencies. Okay, we need to solve this, our focus for this year should be about improving efficiency, right? I'm like, hey, another reason things aren't going well, we bring in external consultancies. And they're like, wow, you guys are not doing anything at all, you're poor compared to your competitors, you need to button things up and like, okay, the C- suite gets that, right? We don't want to be in the news, that's compliance, we're growing and you're telling us we can't keep up, but we need to fricking grow, so we need to do that. So these are all conversations that the C-suite and the board is going to be having. And as you said, they don't care, they don't even know what a data catalog is, they just know they need this problem solved.

Neil Burge [00:34:41] They don't care, It's just go solve the problem, like, why do I care about that? You go back to, what's his name, the marketing professor, people don't want a quarter- inch drill, they want a quarter- inch hole, and they probably don't want that, they want a painting hung up on a wall or whatever, so that they don't get it in the ear from whoever they're sharing an apartment with. So what is it that the data catalog is doing for the business? And the reason I think it's important is because in the first interviews I was doing, and I struggled with this, so I've done it before for B2C type purchases like data management training. And if you are buying your own training, you are the person with the struggle. So it's pretty easy to find you. When I was going into B2B, it was much harder because there's the customer who's the C- suite person with the problem and the consumer who's the data team or whoever that get to use the catalog. And if you end up talking to the wrong person, you don't get the same energy, you don't unpack what's going on. And what I'm seeing is the data team, in some cases, it's like the boy who cried wolf, they're always banging the drum for change, they're always asking for this. And actually, if you can understand the context that your organization is in, you can kind of think of these clusters or contexts as a hand of cards. So I look down, I'm like, okay, are we under GDP compliance? Yep, we are, I've got that one, okay. Has somebody in our industry recently been publicly exposed for this? Or can I go and find something that looks similar enough that I can make people aware of this problem, and/ or are our customers asking for this? And then once I've got this and the board wants to be able to tick a box for a particular compliance, I've got a full house. So now I can go and select under the context of help me comply, if that makes sense. By looking at these things, I can ask a question now of somebody who's about to go through the process, the people who are bitching not switching, and I'm like, well, what's going on in your organization? What cards have you got in your hand? Okay, chuck those two away, let's go and look for a couple of aces or whatever it is so that you are able to follow others that have been able to make the progress in the past. But unless you've got the hand, you're not doing anything, you're still sat there bitching and trying to make progress, and unfortunately most of the time not making it.

Tim Gasper [00:37:12] Right. So for people who are maybe starting to do a little bit of bitching and they're thinking they might need a catalog, but they're not sure, they're starting to go through the motions there. What are your recommendations for companies or individuals who are on a task force that's looking for catalogs or thinking about starting one because they've got some dynamic that has said, Hey, let's go start this search here. What are your thoughts? Your dos and don'ts, right?

Neil Burge [00:37:43] Yeah, there's a couple of them. If you are going to be in help me follow the plan, I apologize for the bad news, but you're going to be following the plan, and this is going to be out of your control. By the way, all of the recommendations the consultant made are all of the ones that you've been making for many, many years. But for some reason if I pay McKinsey millions of dollars, they sound better, maybe it's the PowerPoint deck or whatever. But if you're in that context, try to do as little damage as possible. It really is-

Tim Gasper [00:38:23] To yourself and to the company or...

Neil Burge [00:38:25] Yeah, everybody looks at how long is the tenure of a CDO or whatever, it's about as long as it takes for the plan to not deliver, at which point let's all pack up and go somewhere else. So that one's kind of screwy. And the compliance one is dis- interesting because the people who get that budget, like I said, they're going to buy the cheapest thing, they're going to tick the box basically. Whereas the two interesting ones are really: Is my business inefficient? But more importantly, who does that impact in the organization? Who in the senior level of the organization with the power and the budget is going to notice this and how are they going to see it? And they might see it because the board meetings or the executive level presentations have poor data in it, and I think I saw somebody else's post on LinkedIn, kind of half tongue in cheek, they were saying, how do you get somebody interested? I'm like, deliberately send two board reports with different sets of customer data on, and wear your brown trousers to work tomorrow. But at least you'll have the attention because all of a sudden it's like, hey, this can't be true. What's going on? Well, I've been telling you this for ages. We need to solve this and inaudible.

Juan Sequeda [00:39:44] That's actually a great recommendation. Please, if somebody does that.

Neil Burge [00:39:49] Yeah, I'll send you a case of wine or beer or whatever your favorite thing is because it's just high risk, but you will get a meeting with the C- suite the next day. It won't be the most comfortable meeting of your life, but you'll get it, right? And they'll know what the problem is. But you're looking for an efficiency and you're looking for how is this holding the business back? So sometimes we are taking too long to deliver product or to deliver something to our customers because we can't analyze the data quick enough or the change is too inefficient, but that is a long sales cycle. You are going to be doing this planning for the next 18 months to two years because it needs to fit into the budget cycles. Lots of them talk about the Eisenhower matrix actually, I don't know if you guys are familiar with that. It's like time management. So you've got in one point it's on fire, right? It's important and it's urgent, and this is kind of what most data teams spend all their time doing, stamping out the fires, the fact that we've got all this data debt, unfortunately. And the other ones are, it's important but it's not urgent, and that's really where data catalogs fit a lot of the time. Everyone's like, yeah, we could do with something that did that, but it needs a nudge into the urgent, again, going back, why is today the day you are buying that data catalog? Why can't we wait until tomorrow? And so those ones there, how do you nudge it to be more urgent? Sending reports with obvious errors in to show the problem that you've got can raise it up the flag pole. In the other one, the growth, obviously the focus there is how do we deliver data to the people that matter so that they can use it to grow the business? And at some point we will run out of road being able to do this manually and through the processes that we've got, at which point we'll be in a conversation and say, I'm sorry, I can't support that unless you give me more resources. So that one there is how do you help people do their job? But you've got to have a view, what is it that this person wants? And it isn't a data catalog, it's probably not clean data, I look at all the other stuff out there now of AI governance seems to be everybody's favorite thing. And it's like nobody buying AI now wants governance, they're in go mode. Who the hell wants... Yeah, governance, yeah, go back in the cupboard, come out in three months when we've screwed it up, then we'll be ready to listen about governance. But right now we've got to go and make our mistakes. So again, I don't know if these are useful things, but that's how I would approach it, how do we understand what the business needs and the context of our business in order that we can say with confidence this is the right time to push for change so we're not the person who's the boy who cries wolf, oh no, here comes Neil again. He's going to ask for another data catalog.

Tim Gasper [00:43:02] Just before we go to our lightning round, you mentioned AI here, does the motivation around AI fall into any of these four contexts?

Neil Burge [00:43:09] Not that I'm aware of yet, but bear in mind that when I'm talking to people, you think about the growth one, perhaps if we've come up with some AI model that allows us to grow as a business and then we start to... Like we can't support that growth any further or the new set of customer data is slowing us down, yes, that might be a case for help me keep growing in the future. But right now the executives aren't sat there thinking we need to govern our data better so that the AI delivers, They're looking at it going, wow, I can do this, I can fire half my staff and put up a chatbot rather than having customer service, or whatever the hell people are thinking about when they're investing in this stuff. So they're all charging off at that. And I think if you're trying to slow somebody down, then you're going to make an enemy. And that's the problem. Again, you're in that context that they are in go mode, and you've got to find a way of supporting that and planning to get ahead of the curve to say, well, actually, by the way, this is what will happen if we keep doing this. So then in the future, maybe not I told you so, but at least you've got a plan that can help them get out of the hole they're going to dig for themselves.

Juan Sequeda [00:44:30] Well, AI, you need to figure out how to put AI into the bucket of either it's going to help me grow fast or be more efficient, I think that's kind of-

Neil Burge [00:44:43] Yeah, for sure you can look at the plan-

Juan Sequeda [00:44:46] It will always be the one with the plan, but there's more things you need to do with that plan before you get into the AI stuff.

Neil Burge [00:44:52] Yeah, but that's the thing, it's the flavor of the month so everybody latches onto it. And again, I don't know if I go have look on somebody's website, it'll probably be like we are the AI such and such catalog or whatever, and it might appeal to the person in the data management team who wants to buy it, but when a CEO or somebody, literally, this is the other thing, you think, oh, these guys are too senior, they're never going to join any of our sales presentations, and they don't. But when the head of data comes in and says, we need a data catalog, obviously that person has to scratch their head and go, well do we? Let me go off and have a look. And then they go on a website, they're like, what the hell is this? They've got no idea. And so if it speaks to them in those contexts, it's ah, okay, yeah, I can understand that. Make it easier for us to communicate with the person who wants to solve the problem where our solution is part of the solution to their problem.

Juan Sequeda [00:45:48] Well, this has been a fascinating discussion because you have a very clear framework, and I really, really appreciate that. And we have tons of notes we're excited to go through. But before we go to our takeaways, let's go quickly through our lightning round questions. So we got four questions. I'll kick off the first one. So maybe catalogs aren't dead, but did you come away feeling like the catalog space was fading or is it transitioning to something different?

Neil Burge [00:46:17] I don't think it's dead. If you look at the people in the data management teams or the data teams, they all want them. I talked to one lady who had selected and seen four different catalogs fail, and she still believes in and wants to buy the fifth. So I don't see there being a lack of demand for this capability, where I see the problem is it's a crowded market and everybody's copying all the functions and features, and it's becoming harder and harder to explain to those people that this is going to help you keep growing or it's going to help you be more efficient or whatever. So that's where I see the big growth coming from is helping the people who want it, articulated to the people with the money so that we can get on with it. And obviously working out within the context, what is it that they need? What is progress? And that's a whole other question about the implementation and getting business user adoption or whatever it is downstream of that, but align it with the context so that people actually get what they're paying for.

Tim Gasper [00:47:22] Yeah, you can actually use those contexts to your benefit to create that alignment. All right, second lightning round question. After your research, were you surprised that governance wasn't a major factor or cluster?

Neil Burge [00:47:35] Yeah, I probably was. And it comes up in some of them, often in the follow the plan one, where people have just appointed a governance team and they're going to go off and get the data stewards to use something, and it's like, well, I need a tool so that they can do their job. And one of the things for me is in the research, I have to forget what I know because you want to screen out something like how's a tool going to help somebody do a job they don't do? They don't want to do that job. Why do I want to do more? I don't care if you give me a fancy tool to do it. But no, Neil, shut up, because what's the context that causes them to believe that that will help them? So governance is used there, and some of the workflow pieces and the collaboration, but yeah, it did surprise me a bit. I would've thought that there would've been something there. But part of the research, the hardest part for me is trying to forget what I know and turn up at every interview like a blank slate, just curious about your story and how you got to now, and it's impossible to predict-

Tim Gasper [00:48:45] Yeah, no imposing of any frameworks or anything, right? Come at it just from a curiosity and first principles.

Neil Burge [00:48:51] Yeah, exactly. It's actually much easier to do. I've done this for a different thing entirely where I knew nothing about the product in question, or the category, and I found it so much easier because I'm asking genuinely, like this is going to be a stupid question but... When you know something about the middle bit, it's really hard to forget what you know.

Juan Sequeda [00:49:11] All right. Next question. Multiple choice in this case, who are the primary beneficiaries of the catalog? Is it the consumers or the data management team, the data engineers, the producers, the C- suite, the board?

Neil Burge [00:49:24] Well, so it depends again on the context, so if you are in the efficiency piece, it's typically more about the data management team or the organization having more control over the data that they've got and being able to do more with less. So for them, they're the main beneficiaries of this because it's going to help them upscale, do more work, deliver more high quality data to the right people at the right time. Whereas the beneficiary in the help me grow piece is often the go-to- market organization who need, again, they go back, it's like the data's our eyes, suddenly they've plucked my eyes out, I can't see where I'm going, so help me see this. And so the use case for those guys is much more about making sure we've got good reports coming out that people can use to collaborate and win more business or keep the organization going strong. The help me follow the plan piece... Nobody, unfortunately. Nobody's doing the job already, so all of a sudden it's like hey, here's a catalog, by the way, you're also going to have to give us some of your day job to come and be a data steward. Oh, great, I was hoping for a bit more overtime... So I don't think you've got a lot of end users there that are going to thank you for it. And the compliance one, it's usually somebody in IT and risk or whatever who are ticking a box. And yes, it's the board eventually so that they can sleep well at night. You look at the motivations, you've got functional motivations that are like help me do something I can't do. But actually where I think a lot of people miss it is there's the emotional one of I am so scared that my company is going to be blown up on the news and business is over, and the social one of I don't want to be down the golf club explaining to all of my other golf buddies about how my organization was asleep at the wheel when this regulation's been around for five years or whatever it happens to be.

Tim Gasper [00:51:22] Yeah, no, that's very, very fair. All right. Last lightning round question here. Do only large companies need catalogs?

Neil Burge [00:51:33] No. Interestingly, some of the smaller organizations I was talking to, I think the cut- off was about 200 people, I believe. Obviously they're a small market, but there's probably an opportunity in there for if you ever look at some of the stuff Clay Christensen does on disruptive innovation, I think that's where if I was a small catalog provider, I would go after the smaller organizations that are too small for the big boys to target, give them the capability because they're still in the same place, they still grow, you look at the data in my organization, we're tiny, but it could do with being managed better like everybody's. So they'll still go through growth inflection points and things like that. So there is definitely an opportunity to get it into smaller companies, just not at the price point of the top of the market stuff that's out there today.

Juan Sequeda [00:52:23] Wow. All right. This is fascinating. I'm excited for this. Tim, take us away with takeaways. Let's do this.

Tim Gasper [00:52:28] All right, it's takeaway time. So Neil, this has been absolutely fascinating to hear, this journey that you've gone through. We started with this honest, no- bs, what's the deal with catalogs? You've been really doing a great qualitative deep dive research around really trying to answer this question of, okay, people say catalogs are dead, but I see all this demand for them. What is actually causing people to buy them? And we first started off by going a little bit down the rabbit hole of like, well, 70% of sales decisions resulted in no decision, and ultimately bitching ain't switching. But what is actually, for the people who are doing the switching, why are they doing it? Why are they doing it? And so you talked about...

Neil Burge [00:53:14] It's that, but it's also if somebody switched and you are still bitching, what can you learn from that person so that you can join them, if that's where you want to go inaudible.

Tim Gasper [00:53:25] Yeah, exactly. No, you're good. Yeah, no, exactly. Exactly. Well stated. You started to define these clusters and you were starting to see some patterns around, okay, depending on these clusters, who's funding it, right? Is it mostly the C- suite? They're the ones who have the political wherewithal to make the changes, they're the ones making the bet. So you kind of narrowed it into these four clusters. So I'll mention two of them here, and then I'll hand it off to Juan. So help me comply; the data catalog is being used to meet some kind of a compliance need, but ultimately this is about checking the box. It is a hey, let me find the cheapest thing that solves the problem. You called it a low energy use case. It's very reactive. Maybe the board saw some other company in the industry get really nailed with a PR fiasco or a big fine, and they were like, oh gosh, that can't be us, let's make sure we get the right solution in place, let's hit that now. And then you mentioned the second context was, so imagine you're a company that's growing. That company needs to hit some target of growth, a CMO says, Hey, we're going to hit 50% growth, the CDO says, hold on, we are not going to hit that. CEO gets involved and says, oh, well, what do we have to do? How do we make this happen? See, I want the CMO reality to happen, not the CDO reality to happen.

Neil Burge [00:54:45] Absolutely, yeah.

Tim Gasper [00:54:45] The CDO says, well, we have challenges around our data, and if I've got to provide all the reporting and things like that, the CMO needs to target the right markets and things like that, we've got a lot of work to do. You said that's a higher energy use case, that's actually maybe a more positive reason to pursue.

Neil Burge [00:55:02] Yeah, for sure. That's definitely the highest energy one, that's growth, and explaining growth... It's the main mandate of the CEO so they're going to care.

Juan Sequeda [00:55:13] Yeah, so then we continue on the other ones. So the other one is help me follow the plan, right? The C- suite is involved because something happened and consultants come in and they're doing some data maturity assessment. Then they realize they're behind their peers. So you probably promote your first CDO. It's usually internal. They're building a team, they're told per that assessment to go select the catalog. So these are really hard because they ask, what are we going to go do with this? Or they're trying to figure out what are the actual use cases? And they don't really know if they needed a data catalog and they actually probably realize that they don't need it right now. But hey, what are you going to go say if the C- suite is telling you that we have to go do that? So these folks don't have the requirement. They actually don't know why they need a data catalog, but they're doing it because they're kind of told to do it, so that's that help me follow the plan. And then the fourth one is, help me be efficient. So you want to really have that single pane of glass. So the efficiency of the data teams, can they provide quality insights fast enough? And a lot of this happens because companies have grown through acquisition, so that's why data teams are inefficient, there's so many inconsistencies, people presenting different numbers. So another issue here is that they're competing by hiring another data engineer, should I go spend on the tool? So they'll do detailed RFPs and POCs and stuff, so that is the one that's about helping me be more efficient. But we start kind of going down, the very specific thing is like, just go help me solve the problem, right? I like how you said people don't want a quarter- inch drill, they need a hole and they really don't need a hole they want to go put a painting on the wall. The other thing we said, there are data teams who are like the boy who cried wolf because unless they don't know what that context is, out of those four buckets that we talked. And I loved what you say about the recommendations for companies, if you're in that follow the plan. So I'm sorry I've you got bad news for, you've just got to follow that plan and just do as little damage as possible. Compliance, yeah, that's not interesting. Inefficiency, this is the interesting one, who does this impact in the organization? Who will really notice it? Want to have that crazy idea of give attention to the company, send two different board reports and see what's going to happen. And then on the growth side, how do we deliver data to people who can grow the business? How do we help them? What do they need? I love how you brought up the Eisenhower matrix about the urgent and important, and a lot of the data catalogs fit in important but not urgent, so you need to figure out how to make it urgent. And we wrapped up a little bit on no one buying AI now wants governance, they're in a go mode, so we need to go out and make some mistakes. And at the end of the day, if people are saying we need a data catalog, you really need to ask, do we really? And if so, why now? How did we do on the summaries?

Neil Burge [00:57:52] Yeah, I think you guys have nailed it pretty much. It's like you did the research yourself.

Juan Sequeda [00:57:57] We listened to you. All right, to wrap up here, three final questions. What's your advice about data, about life? Who should we invite next? And what resources do you follow?

Neil Burge [00:58:08] My advice, I've just spent half an hour or so trying to give some advice. My advice, if you're in a data role, is to go and buy a book about business and read it. It could be anything, maybe read the Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki because that's got something about entrepreneurs and people who want to be doing something with data. But understand what is it that your business wants to do because that's how you'll find the right context and hopefully how you'll get the support and the funding and the budget to blow up from there. Does that make sense?

Juan Sequeda [00:58:48] Yep. Who should we invite next?

Neil Burge [00:58:51] Oh, who should you invite next? That's a good question. Have you had Samir Sharma on the show?

Juan Sequeda [00:58:59] We haven't and actually I've been wanting to, yeah, Tim and I have hung out with Samir in London a couple of times. He's a fun guy.

Neil Burge [00:59:05] Yeah. Okay. No, I believe he may have given up his tequila drinking days, the last time I sat with him in a pub London and we chewed the fat. So I enjoyed having that conversation with him and hopefully you guys would have had much the same on another episode. And then the last one, sorry.

Juan Sequeda [00:59:26] And then finally, what resources do you follow?

Neil Burge [00:59:30] So obviously I'm on LinkedIn a hell of a lot, but one of the things I try and do is to get out of that because I'm part of the problem here, you're in a little echo chamber agreeing with one another. How do you go and find the people who disagree, because that's where you actually learn. But the resources that I mainly use, I go back to books, I read probably a book a week. It's something I try and do. Most of them are business books. Some of them are psychology books. Some of them are random things that appear as references, but it's probably the cheapest way to learn more that I know of. The only thing it costs is time and a couple of bucks on an Amazon Kindle or whatever.

Juan Sequeda [01:00:11] Well, Neil, thank you so much. This was a phenomenal conversation because we really were able to finally tap into everything you've been going through in your research. And I know that everybody who's listening here will truly, truly appreciate this.

Neil Burge [01:00:24] Yeah, hopefully I added some value.

Juan Sequeda [01:00:26] Cheers. You have a good one. Thanks.

Tim Gasper [01:00:29] Cheers.

Neil Burge [01:00:29] Now I've got to go and get a proper drink, cheers.

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