Chief Content Officer,
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In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights interview, Mike Vizard speaks with Chris Struttman, founder and CTO of ALTR, about data governance.



Mike Vizard: Hello, and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insight series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Chris Struttman, who is CTO for ALTR. And we’re talking about data governance and open source and Snowflake environments. And of course, we all know that we’re pouring tons of data into the cloud these days. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Struttman: Welcome. Thank you.

Mike Vizard: What exactly is the problem you guys are hoping to solve with this project? And what gap are you filling today because I feel like we’ve been talking about data management revenue day, but we’re not all that good at it.

Chris Struttman: Ya know, so it’s a great question. The hero statement that we would put out there would be to accelerate the ability for customers to get value out of the data that they have in their cloud data warehouse. As you mentioned, kind of at the top there, there is a ton of data being just forklifted by the pallet into the cloud every single day. Because it’s so functional, right? It’s so easy to use, you know, the barriers, the technology barriers have all been lowered. It’s just really easy to use these cloud data platforms now. And we want our customers to be able to shift workloads, which previously were considered too high risk for cloud data warehouses, or too complex from a governance and regulatory perspective to put in cloud data warehouses. We want to give them the ability to move those workloads into the cloud and still, you know, feel really good and basically sleep good at night.

Mike Vizard: So exactly, how are you going about doing that? Because a lot of people seem to think that these data lakes, data warehouses or whatever they are on the cloud have some core capabilities, and then maybe they don’t, and we just don’t have a good framework for governing.

Chris Struttman: Right? So what we have is we have a native cloud integration with Snowflake, which allows any Snowflake customer to become an alter user. And right there, they can start creating policy around who can access what data and how much of it instantaneously. And that’s the beginning; we tie into kind of a larger, broader ecosystem. You know, nobody has just a cloud data warehouse sitting on an island, or a data lake sitting on an island, which I guess that metaphor breaks down real quick. But there’s, we’re part of an ecosystem, right? So there’s ETL tools and other catalogs, and they all play a role in data governance. And so it’s incumbent upon us to work with those tools.

Mike Vizard: And I don’t often see an open source project playing in this kind of space. So why did you bring an open source method to this project? And what are you guys trying to achieve? Are you trying to build a community? And what might that look like?

Chris Struttman: Right, great question. So the alter product is distributed completely as SaaS. There’s no customer infrastructure that has to be provisioned or anything, either on our side or on the customer side, it is a multi-tenant SaaS offering that’s extremely easy to use. And you can push a button and start getting value out of it very quickly. As I said, in the previous response, we’re part of an ecosystem. So there’s a great example is your data catalog. Oftentimes, data stewards, governance users, business users, they need to set policy around data. And they want to do that in their data catalog, because it has that business level visibility. But it’s tough to translate that policy that sets in that tool into the database, the cloud data warehouse, where the data lives. So the policy is also enforced, right? Just because you can just put a speed limit sign up doesn’t mean you don’t also need police officers to enforce the speed limit. So what we do with our open source integrations is we bridge that gap so that these ecosystem tools like the data catalog, like, for example, the ____ users can define the policy and the policy can automatically be enforced by ALTR.

Mike Vizard: We have not been very good at setting up these policies in the past. And I think part of the problem is the way most organizations are structured. The business unit kind of decides who get access to what data and the IT team and the security people just kind of nod and wink at it because they don’t really know who should be looking at what data, but then over time we never revisit those permissions. And then we get people who have more permissions to access things than they need in their jobs. And the next thing you know, they’re hacked and suddenly, you know all kinds of things happen.

Chris Struttman: They end up on The Wall Street Journal. Right?

Mike Vizard: Exactly. So why do you think we got to this state of affairs? And what do we gotta do to kind of walk ourselves back out from this kind of chaotic strategy most of us are using to manage data?

Chris Struttman: Yep. The tragedy of the scenario that you just described is that is completely preventable. And I am of the firm belief, and you know, alters kind of industry opinion that a lot of, you know, the solutions to these problems starts with knowledge. Right? So part of our product is exposing up. And both in an analytics capacity and also, again, working with other ecosystem tools – who is accessing the data, how much of the data is being accessed? When is it being accessed? Is that level of data access commensurate with that roll’s business requirements? Does a call center manager need to be accessing hundreds of thousands of rows per day, when really they’re only, you know, need to access – they can only physically handle doing 100 calls an hour or something like that. Being able to identify those trends along with where the data is, the type of the data, the classification of the data, all in one spot, and either being able to look at it and make decisions right there, or bring that data into another ecosystem tool. That’s the first step in solving these problems. In our opinion.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that we hear this mantra all the time? And I think you mentioned it, that data is kind of the new oil? Do you think this whole notion of digital transformation and being data driven is going to force a lot of these management and governance issues that we kind of ignored for the last three or four decades?

Chris Struttman: Yep, I absolutely do think that data is the new oil. Obviously it’s kind of like you said, it’s a mantra in our space. What it’s really forced is companies, ___ companies, for example, are a great example. They make paper products, okay? They wouldn’t have to think about data security. But in order for them to be competitive in their marketplace, they have to do certain marketing activities to reach customers at the right time; customers in the right place where they are on the buying cycles and coupon emails, you know, all sorts of marketing activities. And the only way that they’re able to do that is with data. And the only way that they’re able to do that effectively is by having the right access to data at the right time.

Mike Vizard: We’ve seen the rise of chief data officers. Is that the way to go? Or do we need something that’s a little more distributed, shall we say, because it seems like we’re putting all our eggs in one basket to have the chief data officer magically manage everything on our behalf?

Chris Struttman: Yeah, I believe that, you know, there’s a little bit about this. But you know, security and governance is something that everybody is kind of subject to, and therefore, it’s something that everybody has to take an active role in. And so kind of, to your point, I think it’s why we’ve seen the rise of the data steward to make sure that data is available in the right format to the people who ultimately need to consume the data – they usually report up to the chief data officer like you. Like you mentioned, that data is central to a company’s data strategy.

Mike Vizard: What’s that one thing you see organizations doing over and over again, that kind of makes you shake your head? And you just wish everybody would realize that we should be smarter?

Chris Struttman: Yeah, it’s under scoping the issue. For sure. The problem of data security and data governance – there’s tools that are built into the data platforms that help with these issues. But the biggest challenge is understanding the scope of the problem. And how that applies to enterprises. And so what I mean by that is scale, right? So it’s very easy for you to write one data policy for one specific data as it lives in one specific place. But you know, even medium size, and certainly even smaller organizations, now, they have data, absolutely everywhere. And so when you’re wanting to – when you decide that you need to start approaching this problem and running towards this problem, you have to think about it at scale, not just how does my business operates today? Where’s my data today? Who’s using my data today? What’s it going to be in a year, three years, five years; how is it going to grow? How’s the organization going to look? Can my policies with the tooling that I have, can my policies match that vision? It’s all too often we will talk to people who think that they can take it on themselves manually, and more often than not, we find ourselves talking to those customers, or those prospects, again within six months.

Mike Vizard: Alright folks, you heard it here. With data, there’s more power than ever. But with power comes great responsibility, and you need to figure out how you’re going to manage all this stuff. Chris, thanks for being on the show.

Chris Struttman: Thank you, Michael.

Mike Vizard: All right, and thank you for all watching the latest episode of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. You can find it on the website. And thanks again for watching.