Getting to Big Data: 3 Lessons Learned

Jodi Morton, Ex VP - Single Family Data Governance & Management, Freddie Mac
Jodi Morton, Ex VP - Single Family Data Governance & Management, Freddie Mac

Jodi Morton, Ex VP - Single Family Data Governance & Management, Freddie Mac

Being able to gather relevant data, analyze it, and then act on it in meaningful ways, while protecting it from misuse, is critical to ongoing success and innovation. With 40+years of historical data on tens of millions of mortgage records, Freddie Mac’s Single-Family Business manages a vast amount and variety of data. By investing strategically in data, we have equipped the business to draw meaningful insights, to reimagine the mortgage experience, and generate value for our customers, their borrowers, and the housing industry. It’s been a journey to achieve this, and it’s one that continues.

  Networking and leveraging partnerships have led to positive outcomes, and we will continue to make the most of those opportunities where most advantageous 

When Freddie Mac Single-Family established a business-driven data organization in 2014, a key step was to craft our Data Strategy, which described the data and analytic capabilities needed to support Single-Family’s business strategy and objectives. Over the last three years, the Strategy has provided a framework for prioritizing work and measuring progress.

So much has changed since we developed the Strategy that we recently completed the process of refreshing it. It was time to take a step back and evaluate progress, evolving best practices for data governance and management, and emerging tools. Data governance, management, and analytics is a rapidly changing discipline, and, while you can’t chase every new development, a periodic reassessment is important.

So, what did we discover through the refresh process? Based on a scan of the industry, we validated that we have been moving in the right direction over the past three years and gathered new best practices, tools, and technologies that will help propel us forward. The exercise also underscored the need to focus on people and processes.

Three key take-aways stand out:

Don’t go it alone. Throughout our data journey, we leveraged the knowledge and expertise of those around us. We spent time with other large financial institutions to share best practices and tools, and to discuss challenges and possible solutions. We will continue to engage with these and other communities of data practitioners, as contributors and recipients. New communities are forming within industries and geographies all the time.

We also leveraged the expertise of deeply knowledgeable consultants to help accelerate projects and to transfer knowledge and experience in new data disciplines to our staff. We don’t have to figure it out on our own; strategically leveraging the knowledge and experience in the market often can be the best approach. Networking and leveraging partnerships have led to positive outcomes, and we will continue to make the most of those opportunities where most advantageous.

It’s a triathlon, not a sprint. We are delivering considerable business value based on the progress we have made so far, but implementing and fully realizing the benefits of a business-driven data strategy is certainly a multi-year journey. The path toward success requires the flexibility to adjust the ultimate data goal and the route when it makes sense and a diverse set of skills. As we’ve moved forward from our 2014 starting point, we’ve learned that our goal will evolve along the way—through a series of iterations to incorporate continuous learning, new perspectives, new best practices, and new technologies.

The experience and skill sets needed for the journey are varied and multidimensional. For example, our data governance team includes staff with risk and controls backgrounds as well as with technical and operational backgrounds. This combination of experience and perspectives provide us a 360 degree view of data and enables us to be more effective in delivering more valuable and meaningful data capabilities to our stakeholders.

Culture, communication, and change management are critical. When we launched our data organization, we had specific projects around culture, communication, and change management. The focus on “the three Cs” paid off for buy-in and adoption of our new data capabilities. The Strategy refresh reminded us of their importance, and sparked renewed efforts.

Often when data projects and capabilities are discussed, the conversation centers on the underlying technology. But the people and process of data and analytics also must be a focus. To promote acceptance and realize the benefits of the technology, communication and change management are essential—up and down the organization and across departments, throughout the system development and implementation. Business processes need to be realigned and people need to think about data horizontally across the business versus within their silos; people also need to be prepared. It requires communication of the changes, the business value, the connection to the business strategy, and the direct and indirect impacts to the specific teams. In some cases, it also requires developing new or different skill sets, either by training current team members or hiring additional staff. This is no small or easy task. It requires persistence, creativity, and collaboration.

So, Freddie Mac’s Single-Family Business starts 2018 with a refreshed Data Strategy that will guide us over the next three years. Pausing to assess the progress made in the last three years and to consider how best to continue to advance has been helpful to our team and many stakeholders. We have come a long way—but we also have a long way to go. Now we have the roadmap to take us there as well as the agility and capability to “recalculate the route” as needed along the way. When you’re in control of your data, you can influence your future success.

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