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Morgan Stanley’s Russell Barker on Securing Enterprise-Wide Data Strategy Buy-In

Russell Barker, Global Head of Macro Data Strategies at Morgan Stanley, outlines how he partnered with colleagues at all levels of the business to identify and refine the four strands of the firm’s data strategy

Executive sponsorship may be a vital ingredient for data strategy success. But in an enterprise as large as Morgan Stanley, developing that strategy through a purely ‘top down’ approach is a recipe for trouble.

In this episode of the Business of Data podcast, Morgan Stanley Global Head of Macro Data Strategies Russell Barker reveals how he consulted extensively with business stakeholders to develop the financial services giant’s approach to data.

He says this process was essential for aligning the firm’s strategy with the needs of different departments and business units, as well as identifying the common threads that tied everything together.

“[Business] users really understand what they want to do,” he says. “The bit they may not get is how they can do it with data and new techniques.”

“The very first thing we did was talk to a lot of people,” he continues. “I probably talked to more than 100 people, asking what their current data usage was, what they currently liked, what their current pain points were and what they thought could be the ‘big wins’ if we did some new stuff.”

In this way, Russell learned that data discovery, data accessibility, data quality and data governance concerns were the four threads that tied the pain points of stakeholders across the business together.

He adds: “Then, we cherrypicked very specific business [use] cases that allowed us to deliver something directly to their desks, but also allowed us to start building the infrastructure around it.”

For Russell, this consultative approach is the best way to align a company’s data team with the wider business. He views communicating the needs of the wider business to his executive sponsors as an integral part of his role.

“One of the things I’ve found [to be] great in my role at Morgan Stanley is that my bosses trust me,” he says. “They have faith in me and the [people] I work with know that I understand their businesses and that I will listen.”

“It’s all about letting the business needs drive the strategy,” he concludes. “Unless you have buy-in from the people on the trading floor, [a] top-down approach isn’t going to help.”

Key Takeaways

  • Executive sponsorship alone is not enough. Enterprises must gather input from across the organization to ensure their data strategies meet the needs of their staff
  • Consult extensively with company stakeholders. Data leaders must develop a deep understanding of the company pain points that data can address and use this as the basis for their strategies
  • Build a data roadmap around the common threads. Start with specific use cases that can deliver ‘quick wins’, but ensure they feed into an overarching framework that will benefit everyone