THE INDUSTRY EXPERT: Nancy Kopp-Hensley — Data is the place to be!

By Masha Tseveen.

Our latest addition to the Industry Expert interview series features Nancy Kopp-Hensley. If you missed our previous post, be sure to check out the interview with James Kobielus.          

NancyNancy Kopp-Hensley is a Director of Marketing in Information Management focusing on database and database systems. With over 20 years of experience in data warehousing, database and business intelligence, Nancy is in her 15th year at IBM. In her current capacity, Nancy works in product strategy, marketing and thought leadership for IBM database solutions. This includes both high powered transactions, and data warehousing solutions. Nancy spent the majority of her IBM career in the field both in a sales capacity and running the North American Data Warehouse Architect team. In 2004, Nancy worked with the Toronto Lab team to patent a methodology for data warehouse architectures, which became the basis for the PureData for Operational Analytics today. She is an active blogger and you can follower her on twitter@nancykoppdw. She was recently named in the Top 200 Big Data Influencers by Analytic’s Week. Prior to IBM, Ms. Kopp-Hensley worked for McDonalds Corporation in the Chicago area.

1. Can you tell us a bit about what you are doing in your current role?  

In my current role I own the Marketing and Strategy for our database and database systems – this includes things like DB2, Informix, Netezza/PureData and System z. I also work with many of the industry analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, etc and work with our PR team to meet with press and work very closely with the product management team on our strategy and roadmap.

2. You have been in the business intelligence and data warehousing field for more than 20 years. Where do you see your field heading into the future?

Yes, and I have been lucky enough at IBM to leverage my experience in different roles here at IBM from Sales, Technical Sales, Lab, Product Management and Marketing. The great thing about Data Warehousing and BI is that data has become so core to business. Analytics is no longer a nice to have, it’s a business imperative. Big Data hasn’t changed that for Data Warehousing, it has in fact brought even more opportunity.

Years ago we started down the path of automating some reporting and analysis to run our business and we built data warehouses and marts to supply us with that information. But now we live in a highly instrumented society and we have so much more information available to us – about our customers, their likes, dislikes, their preferences. Information is instantaneous, and today’s business demands it to be so. So how does that change Data Warehouse, well we see a shift from the traditional complex single EDW to more of an ecosystem which includes the data warehouse but enhances it with new capabilities and technology that allows us to consume more information.

What’s even more exciting is where IBM is taking it next and that is with Cognitive. The biggest challenge most businesses have with all this data is relevance. How do you easily get answers to the questions when and where you need it. So now we have the ability to process and consume all this data with new technology but are we any further in understanding it better? That’s where Watson Foundations comes in. At IBM we see the next phase is helping our clients not just process Big Data, but understand it and put it to use. Watson is already at work in many industries including Healthcare and literally changing the whole patient experience with information that is tailored to that patient, their symptoms, their treatment plans. No other vendor can offer this capability. It’s an exciting time.

3. What do you look for when you’re adding technical talent to your team?

The first thing I look for is a passion for data. You have to love it, you have to want to change the world with it because if you have that passion, you can help our clients leverage it. You can help them transform their business, become a leader, provide better care, take better care of clients, have a more profitable business. Our CEO has spoken on many occasion that data is the “new oil”, a new natural resource that needs to be mined and refined. I believe that data and information can and has already changed the world. Whether you are an architect, in product management or in sales we all need to wake in the morning with that goal in mind. I also look for some practical business experience. You need to be in touch with the questions and challenges customers are struggling with. IBM is not a supplier of technology, we are a supplier of solutions. Anyone can learn the features of a product but can they help a customer apply that technology to solve a challenge and grow their business – that is the most important of all.

4. You regularly write blogs for IBM Big Data & Analytics Hub and IBM Data Magazine. I’ve always found that good writers tend to be avid readers. What are you reading, what’s on the playlist?

Ok well let me tell you what is on my desk…

–          “Understanding Big Data” ( an IBM publication)

–          “Scorecasting”  by Tobias Moskowitz

–          “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sink

–          “The Innovators Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen

–          “The Signal and The Noise” by Nate Silver

–          “Crossing the Chasm” by Georffrey More

I also really enjoy the time I spend on Twitter where I am influenced by so many great thinkers and leaders such as Hilary Mason, for example. I tend to follow many leading data scientists and it’s been interesting to read the things they are passionate about. I also try to make some weekly tweet chats such as the weekly Friday’s #BIWisdom one run by Howard Dresner, I have made so many fantastic connections on that chat – it’s been amazing.

5. What keeps you at IBM?

Simply put – Opportunity.  It’s absolutely the number one reason. I have been able to enjoy my field of data warehousing and business intelligence from so many angles and roles in IBM. I started in Sales, worked my way into Technical Sales leadership, Worked for the Lab, Product Management and now Marketing. There is no other company in the world where you can enjoy your passion in so many different roles. And, in every role, I learn even more about my chosen area of data warehousing, I meet new experts, I work with and meet new people. What could be better than that?

6. What are the most memorable moments of your life and career, things that make you smile whenever you think about them? 

Well, I would have to say my best day was the day I had gotten a call that someone who had worked for me and that I still mentored was announced as a Distinguished Engineer. That may not sound like a big deal but it was something that he and I had worked for and worked on for many years. We set the goal, we worked the plan and it did happen. What a great feeling! I also smile when I think about the small team of people I had in the Best Practices team, a job I was allowed to craft for myself (yes, I got to write my own job description). Together, only a handful of us changed the way IBM delivered data warehouse systems and filed a patent for the architecture. OK, that’s a pretty huge accomplishment, we changed the way a global company delivered systems, from a stack of boxes to an integrated system, and today what the market refers to as an appliance. 10 people were able to change a global company because this is a place where good ideas are embraced, supported and yes, do happen. That’s pretty cool.

7. What three pieces of advice would you give to people who would like to follow a career path similar to yours?

1. Be open, your expertise can take you many places. If you would have told me when I was in sales I would someday run Marketing I would have never believed you but I realized that with each new role I can bring new value and experiences to progress our business. 2. Data is the place to be, it’s a cool job, there are so many smart people who will surround you and I can’t imagine a more exciting place to be. 3. Make sure your job will harnesses your passion in some way because you need that to help clients, grow your business or lead change. Be passionate and if you aren’t feeling it, you are in the wrong job!

8. Anything else you would like to share?

I get asked all the time about IBM as a company. Yes, we are a 100-year-old company, which gives us strong roots and stability but we are also a highly innovative company. We file more patents than any other company, our leaders are transforming the company to meet the needs of business today with new technology and new deployment models such as Cloud. Think about what we have done with Watson. This innovation has gone from demonstrating this new capability from a game show to changing industries and providing solutions that no other vendor can provide today with cognitive computing.

This is the place to be, this is the place for people who want to lead, who love data, who love challenges.