Executive Leadership Coaching

5 minute read

The Spinnaker Sit-Down: Q&A with Data and Analytics Expert Micah Dalton

Jun 12, 2019

Written by: Shawn Sweeney

With our Spinnaker Sit-Down interview, we give you VIP access to industry influencers, thought leaders, and movers-and-shakers who share their unique insights and perspectives on industry issues, trends, and questions. This month we sat down with data and analytics expert Micah Dalton, Principal of DLG Strategic who is also a valued member of our Spinnaker team. A seasoned business leader and data and analytics professional, he’ll reveal how data fuels an effective analytical organization, why utilizing data and analytics is not a cookie-cutter experience, and what changes he projects could be on the horizon.

Micah has more than two decades of management experience building and leading teams to deliver significant results, both in the public sector and financial services industries. He excels at business analysis, change management, strategy development, and implementation of customized solutions and relationship management. In his career, Micah has successfully delivered a variety of data strategy and infrastructure projects to help integrate data into the people, process, and technology of multi-billion-dollar research organizations and national non-profits positioning data as a key asset to support growth.

SPINNAKER: What’s one thing people should know about data and analytics?

DALTON: When I think about data and analytics, I think about data, and I think about analytics. Too often we muddle the two. I believe to be an effective analytics organization you must first be an efficient data organization. Like so many things, we want to skip ahead—to the “fun stuff.” There’s massive amounts of value to be gained by being an organization that values data, and in building a culture that treats data as the renewable resource it is for planning and decision-making. Once we accomplish that, we can drive on more complex analytics, and get even more value from analytics.

SPINNAKER: Tell us more about the importance of being an efficient data organization.

DALTON: Strong data organizations recognize data is an asset—an asset with a long life in the organization that must be intentionally cared for. It’s also accretive, and current data makes new data. It’s critical to get it right.

Data management is a body of work, just like project management. There are key data components you must do well before you can be an effective analytical organization. Data quality is critical. Is your data fit for purpose? Are you using it the way it’s meant to be used? Incomplete data and dirty data like duplications will lead to bad conclusions, much like dirty surgical instruments will infect the surgical process and lead to a negative outcome.

Being an efficient data organization is about cultural adoption and being ready to make a shift, to accept that there’s a process. That requires a different level of cultural maturity. Tools aren’t a shortcut to answers. Tools do allow advancement to bigger and better things, but you’ll just get worse answers faster if your raw material, your data, isn’t right. Organizations have to be willing to do the hard work required to get to the shiny sexy thing, they have to be willing to get the data right before expecting results with analytics.

It’s important to remember people are also a key part of success. Analytics is not a silver bullet. In the real world, data and analytics don't solve everything. You need people to manage and prepare the data, who can find good use cases to prove answers—and drive results.

SPINNAKER: Are there differences in how organizations should approach data management and utilization?

DALTON: Yes! Keep in mind, every organization is different. Utilizing data and analytics is not a cookie-cutter experience. It’s never one-size-fits-all. Many organizations are doing phenomenal things with data and analytics. At the same time, many organizations just aren’t designed to be analytical, and they may not need to be. And that’s OK. “Fit for purpose” means data is as good as it needs to be, and making it better sometimes isn’t necessary and can actually waste time and resources.

If you need help, Spinnaker is experienced in doing comprehensive data assessments, looking at your organization’s level of maturity, and developing a data strategy that fits your unique people, processes, and technology, so data can be used in the most effective way. Once we do that, then we can implement ways to utilize that data and produce results—better, faster, and smarter.

SPINNAKER: What’s the “hot topic” in data and analytics, and what do you think about it?

DALTON: Everyone’s talking about artificial intelligence and machine learning. There are great technologies that make AI and ML possible, and these tools can deliver boundless results for organizations that can make the most of them. I believe pilot projects to leverage AI and ML, and the development of minimum viable products, help prove the value of where and how AI and ML can drive value, so we can direct those resources at the highest-value opportunities.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of buzz around data right now. But the truth is data has always been there. What’s exciting is that today we can take advantage of data in different ways, because now we have the tools. Data is everywhere, and now we have the computing power to apply in the right way to get the answers we want. Answers—and results—are more achievable than ever!

SPINNAKER: What’s the biggest challenge in data and analytics right now?

DALTON: Patience is critical. Most organizations can benefit from a “data first” strategy. Yet most organizations haven’t prioritized data as a key part of their strategy. For those organizations, I say: Allow yourself to be a learner and build the foundation to be a strong data company.

It takes changing people, processes, and technology to become a data company—it’s not a switch to be flipped. Most people are familiar with the “Golden Triangle,” the three key elements of business intelligence: people, process, and technology. I believe there should be a fourth element, and that’s data. It’s not appropriate to lump data under technology. Technology is the tools. Data is another component altogether. How it fits with technology, how it’s used, will drive results. To me, it’s a critical layer to add to the equation.

SPINNAKER: What changes are on the horizon for data and analytics in the next year, and how will you adapt?

DALTON: Over the next year, I hope we’re expanding the tent, and more people find ways to use data and apply analytical insights.

SPINNAKER: How different will data and analytics be 10 years from now? What will change and why?

DALTON: I have no idea! With capacity available from cloud computing, and other new technologies, the ability for analytics to change the trajectory of performance has grown so much in just the last year or two. Thinking about what might be possible in the next 10 years, anything is possible!

I hope what’s different is that more organizations are valuing data and using good judgment in making informed decisions based on analysis. I truly believe we get the best outcomes when we bring together what feels like opposing forces. Maybe what happens is that data fit for use is commonplace, and we’re now talking about judgment and analytics as the next step.

More About Micah Dalton:

Idea hot spot: wherever there are no distractions and I can clear my head: in the shower, cutting my grass, riding my bike, or going for a long walk
Childhood career dream: astronaut or chef
Recommended reading: Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion
Secret to success: be empathetic, I believe the times when I’ve been the most empathetic in my career I’ve found the most joy
My superpower is:
if I knew, I’d already have joined the Avengers!
Must-use app: Starbucks
If I had an extra hour each day, I’d: spend it with my daughter—she’s 15 and I want to do everything possible to spend as much time with her as I can before she leaves home
I’m “Most Likely To”: drive my family crazy for always wanting to stay close to our neighborhood and walk to something
First job ever: I cut grass in the neighborhood in middle school, had a neighborhood paper route, then I worked at Taco Bell at the Cloverleaf Mall food court until I got a job bagging groceries at Ukrop’s. Funny, the afternoon paper doesn’t exist anymore, Cloverleaf Mall has been leveled, Ukrop’s no longer exists, and the store I used to work in is now a Bed Bath & Beyond—Richmond has changed a lot in 30 years!
Must-listen podcast: Seincast, it’s a guilty pleasure