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Steve Neat, GM EMEA, Alation

Describe your career to date 

​​I have spent the past 35 years working in the software industry, helping large organisations to maximise the return on their IT investments. I’ve always worked on the supplier side, specialising in areas such as CRM, ERP, BI, analytics and database technologies. Over the past seven years I have moved into the data management space, and have helped companies to build a data culture and maximise the value of their data assets through data cataloging, governance and data intelligence.

What key skills or attributes do you consider have contributed to your success in this role? 

The most important skill for all my leadership roles has been attracting, hiring, developing and retaining great people – while giving them real clarity on the vision for the business and what role they play in building a great company. I’ve been very lucky in my career to have been able to learn from some great leaders and inspiring customers that I’ve had the privilege to serve.

 

What level of data maturity do you typically encounter across your client base and what tends to hold this back? 

Data maturity ranges wildly across the diverse client base that we serve. I’ve worked with mature financial services companies who have been forced by regulators to know precisely where their data comes from, what it means and what it’s used for, as well as with retail and consumer packaged goods organisations that have long understood the competitive advantage of behavioural customer data. I’ve also worked with those on the other end of the scale, such as traditional manufacturers who are being compelled to use more data for their survival during the recent pandemic, supply chain and economic challenges.

 

Building a thriving data culture requires investment in people, process, and technology. If the key stakeholders of any organisation don’t see the necessity or value in building a data culture then it rarely takes off without the necessary investment and support, despite the enthusiasm and efforts of a few enlightened data champions. Stakeholder support and engagement is key to success in building a strong data culture.

What trends are you seeing in terms of the data and analytics resources your clients are demanding from you? 

Our clients continue to demand solutions that bridge the gap between the insatiable data demands of the business community and the needs of the traditional data custodians in IT. Business users want to rapidly and easily find data that can be used for reporting, analysis and AI. It needs to be trusted, understood and well governed, as well as be available through the same ease-of-use experience they have with consumer applications like Google and Amazon. In short, our data catalogue has to enable every knowledge worker to quickly and efficiently find, understand and trust the data that they require to make better business decisions every day.

 

What challenges do you see for data in the year ahead that will have an impact on your clients and on the industry as a whole? 

This year starts with some economic uncertainty and financial challenges. Businesses will be desperate to use data to model their strategy and improve operational efficiencies – but many under-invest in the platforms that provide the necessary trusted and meaningful data that can genuinely help. Chief data officers will have to work especially hard to evangelise and prioritise investments in data intelligence technologies such as data catalogues, data quality and data governance – that collectively unlock the true value of their data assets. 

How are you developing the data literacy of a) your own organisation and b) your clients? 

Organisations are still struggling with driving data literacy and building a data culture, particularly when, in many cases, data remains the preserve of specialists within data teams in ungoverned spreadsheets. Data can help drive more impactful business decisions regardless of a person’s role – technical or non-technical – and this is when an organisation can start to better serve its customers and build competitive advantage. 

 

Alation plays a critical role by enabling all data users in an organisation to find and understand the data they need – and know that it is trustworthy. Taking the example of one of our customers, Vattenfall, a large European energy firm. They describe Alation as being a bit like Google, enabling users across the organisation to add simple search terms to find and share the information they are looking for quickly, and create a culture where “people always know and trust the data they are working with”.

How are you tackling the challenge of attracting, nurturing and retaining talent? 

The “data space” remains hot right now so strong candidates are fortunately already attracted to joining a fast-growing market leader. Indeed, our EMEA team has grown from 20 to 65 in the past year – as data is acknowledged as a strategic asset and demand for data catalogues continues at an incredible pace. The growth of the business clearly presents career development opportunities, but I think it’s Alation’s unique culture and professional opportunity that helps retain the talented team that we have.

Steve Neat
has been included in:
  • 100 Enablers 2022 (EMEA)
  • 100 Enablers 2023 (EMEA)