What Connects James Cameron, Data Catalogs and Data Science 101? CTO Insights with Alex Brown

CTO Insights 2023

Matt Flenley recently took some time with Alex Brown, CTO at Datactics, to find out what he’s looking forward to in the year ahead. 

You mentioned the other day in our team meeting the market trends towards Master Data Management. Is there anything that you had noted here that you wanted to expand on when it comes to the market’s direction, what our competitors are up to, and the implications for a firm like Datactics? 

I think the key things I’ve gleaned are that when it comes to Master Data Management and the big data management tools, like cataloguing and governance, it is really going cloud first. I think that’s why the likes of Microsoft see their Azure Purview as being an absolute essential. Even though people are critiquing its shortcomings, and saying it’s not too functional, there is still faith in Microsoft to pull it off. A lot of early adopters are working with them to improve scope and functionality.

Despite the doubts that are out there, a lot of people seem to be backing it, and that’s really quite interesting. I’ve been mulling over and exploring why this might be, and I think it has to be that if anyone’s going to do it, a cloud provider probably has the best opportunity ahead of them. They can get into all of those data sources and provide the comprehensive coverage that could take a third party a lot longer (with more hurdles to overcome).

In this case, they’re starting with infrastructure and then doing something with it, rather than being solution first and trying to optimise it for an infrastructure type?

Exactly. On the commercial side, everyone knows it shouldn’t be a massively expensive addition for them if they’re already Microsoft houses, as many businesses are. So, when it does come to maturity, it’s going to be an extremely competitive product commercially. If you’re an Azure house, it’s going to be especially persuasive.

I guess a bit like PowerBI on the data visualisation side to a certain extent? I suppose a lot of people are backing it like they would a film by James Cameron. They’re commercial successes, they’ll be worth seeing, it’ll be an epic regardless of whether you like it.  

Yeah, they’ll love it or hate it!

Yes-you’ll love it or it won’t be your cup of tea, but it’ll make a big splash! Solution providers are going to have to leverage Azure and infrastructure like it, but when firms can access Purview, there’s a chance that they’ll think they won’t necessarily need to extend their vendor licences for data governance. It makes for an interesting tech landscape. 

That’s true. On the licence thing, it’s worth saying that best-of-breed firms in governance and cataloguing have many years of development behind them and they are the domain specialists. There’s a lot of catching up to do when you think of firms in that space, like Collibra, Alation or Talend. A space to watch, for sure.

On Microsoft, it’s worth noting how they’re currently working. I think the former view about Microsoft being a very closed book, like back in the early 2000s when people saw them as a ‘root of all evil’ closed shop, that isn’t the case anymore. For example, I learned recently that for SQL Server for on-prem and cloud, in terms of what kind of storage they support, they now work with S3 storage and provide really good support. I would have anticipated them prioritising Azure storage, but this shows a lot of openness to accepting the best tech, even if it’s from an infrastructure competitor like Amazon. 

That’s really interesting. The idea of best of breed is something I picked up on as a trend over the last year, that interoperability across multiple tools. We’ve partnered with other firms in data management too. It’s fascinating to see Microsoft working with what’s best, rather than just building it themselves. In our tech teams, we use our own platform but then leverage Python for machine learning, for exmaple. An interesting dynamic of leveraging do-it-yourself and off-the-shelf. 

That’s a brilliant phrase! I like that. You’re right, the partnership angle is a big one for best-of-breed tooling, whether data quality, lineage, governance or cataloguing.

Another thing I’d like your view on is the declining focus on regulation as a driver for innovation. RegTech was seen as the standard bearer to plug a lot of holes, but in the last few years it’s shifted to getting more out of data – outflank, outrank the competition. Are you seeing the same thing on the tech side? Is it more regulation or business outcome driven? 

I’d agree with you. It’s less around compliance. One of the big things is about doing more with less; not having the tech operational staff, but using fewer human resources and more automation. Whether this is to satisfy a regulatory requirement or a key business proposition is sort of moot, I think people having to cope with having fewer staff to do things is key. 

I still see that the real advanced analytics thing doesn’t really seem to have got any easier in the last few years! And in a way its kind of surprising; it’s still the domain of specialist data scientists, which I think is quite interesting. All the same problems are there: sourcing the data, data quality, and I don’t think they’re going away – especially if there are fewer bodies around to wrangle it all. 

If they’re trying to get the most bang for their buck, they face a lot of challenges. They might be tempted to cut corners on data quality, and extract what they can from what they can manage. 

I agree. You’re not going to be able to compete with one hand tied behind your back, and even worse if you don’t realise you’ve one hand tied behind your back! 

This will sound salesy, but this is where the interplay of data cataloguing and data quality and governance come into play. If you can get the grassroots data quality published into your catalogue and governance, it means you can answer those questions about doing this kind of analysis, is the quality good enough? E.g. I can make an informed decision, but it’s not regulatory reporting ready. But in order to be able to make those decisions, you need the tools, the rules, the weights, the DQ fundamentals. 

Thanks for your time and your insights Alex!

CTO Insights 2023

Alex Brown is the Chief Technology Officer at Datactics. For more insights from Datactics, find us on LinkedinTwitter or Facebook.

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