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Meena Thanikachalam, Head of Data and Analytics and Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Banco Popular

Describe your career to date

I am the Head of Data and Analytics and Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Banco Popular and I am also a part of the executive leadership team. My focus is on fostering value creation through data and analytics and propelling business value and growth by utilizing data as a strategic asset.  

I consider myself a visionary leader and a business technologist specializing in performance-focused strategy and driving organizational change to help businesses reinvent, grow, and succeed by connecting business, data, and technology. I have been instrumental in designing and implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning products and customer centric solutions which have helped global corporations drive operational effectiveness and revenue enhancements.  

During my career, I have led merger and acquisition efforts in banking and insurance and am passionate about identifying opportunities to monetize and unlock the true value of data and solving problems with a beginner’s mind.  

My recent interest and focus at Banco Popular includes building strategic thinking and vision around the use of traditional and generative AI (genAI) solutions, responsible AI models, hosting private models, incorporating small language models, and coupling innovative AI solutions with data for organizational success.  

In my previous role at Ally Financial, I served as the Chief Architect and enabled massive data transformation by building a highly scalable, robust, resilient, and secure modern data and analytics cloud data platform and driving innovation around the use of data and analytics. 

I have an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, an MSC from the Eastern University, and a bachelor’s in engineering from the College of Engineering, India.  

Data literacy is a key enabler of the value and impact from data. How are you approaching this within your organization? 

Our vision for data literacy is that every member of the organization should be able to feel empowered to make better decisions by using data. Getting there requires an executive buy-in and a clear strategy.   

Starting with guiding principles, can help pave the path towards becoming data literate. These do not have to be followed in a particular order, and there is no right or wrong way to start the journey.   

  1. Bringing our organization along: Our approach here is to enable every employee to make better decisions by learning how to use data. Data literacy should not be intimidating. Make it simple, as everyone already uses data in their daily lives. This approach can be combined with the appropriate tools and technology to help everyone improve their data literacy skills.  

  1. Nurturing a culture of curiosity and enthusiasm: While data literacy is primarily about using and analyzing data, it also involves developing other skills such as curiosity and enthusiasm. This can help our talent to explore different perspectives on the information and make better decisions and utilize data for storytelling. Our vision is about cultivating a culture of collaboration and embracing data literacy, where the decisions are made by a collective of individuals rather than by a single person.  

  1. Investing in our employees: Encouraging and constantly motivating our employees to learn and acquire skills is vital to improving data literacy rate. A regular cadence of online or live session to foster a community of like-minded individuals who can share their insights and encourage one another is vital for the success of a data driven organization. These discussions can help develop a foundation for data-centric dialogues within the company.  

To become data literate, every member of an organization should adopt a scientific outlook, where the use of data allows them to question a hypothesis or disprove one.  

How are you preparing your organization for AI adoption and change management?  

AI can help organizations improve their performance and streamline processes by allowing them to make better decisions and improve their efficiency. AI is all about employees and machines working together to solve complex problems.  

We are currently at the transition phase, which means that both AI and our team work together to make the best possible solution. Bringing people into the process makes the development of the solution more human-centric.   

In my mind, preparing for AI adoption and usage involves defining a comprehensive AI strategy that includes, AI usage aligned to business priorities, awareness of existing and impending regulations around AI and risk mitigation framework and responsible use of AI, setting up AI platform capabilities that is scalable, resilient and a governance model in place to govern ongoing AI initiatives.  

More importantly, one of the most critical factors to be considered when it comes to implementing and integrating AI is change management. This process will involve creating a plan that will ensure that the new solutions are thoroughly integrated into the daily operations. Also, having a communication strategy that sets realistic expectations can help keep everyone appraised.  


Meena Thanikachalam
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2024 (USA)