Dr. Prashanth Southekal: Energizing Businesses with Data Analytics

Dr. Prashanth Southekal | Founder and Managing Principal
Dr. Prashanth Southekal | Founder and Managing Principal

Powering up businesses in current times is data analytics. Before the recognition of ‘data is the next oil’ by companies, it was an untapped resource that was waiting to be discovered. With the advent of machine learning and the application of statistical analysis to data, it became a resource of great power, bringing about a transformation on par with industrialization to businesses. The boost to business performance across all industries has been immense, and perhaps no one can attest to it’s power better than DBP Institute.

DBP Institute, where DBP stands for Data for Business Performance, is a Data Analytics Consulting, Research, and Education firm. It implements and optimizes solutions that lie at the intersection of Data, Technology & Business productivity for measurable and monetizable business results. The company’s outstanding performance is a result of an emphasis on three ideals– Expertise, Execution, and Excellence.

Prashanth H Southekal, Ph.D., MBA, ICD.D is the Founder of DBP Institute. He is an author, Keynote speaker, board member & Professor of Data & Analytics. He believes data is a valuable, measurable, and monetizable business asset only if it is managed well; if not, then data is a liability that is very hard to get rid of.

Dr. Southekal has been consulting for over 80 organizations, including P&G, GE, Shell, Apple, FedEx, & SAP. He has trained over 3,500 professionals, writes regularly for Forbes, and has also authored three books on the subject of data, analytics, & ML. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Data and Analytics at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain and CDO Magazine included him in the top 75 global academic data leaders of 2022.

In an exclusive interview with CIOLook, Dr. Prashanth Southekal shares how insights from data is transforming businesses and the world.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at DBP-Institute.  

I was born and raised in India. After my Master’s in Information Technology from IIIT Bangalore (IN), I started my career with Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Brussels, Belgium. In 2004, I moved back to India and worked for General Electric and SAP before SAP transferred me to Calgary, Canada, in 2009 for a three-year assignment. In 2012, I started my entrepreneurial journey with DBP Institute (DBPI) to provide digital, data, and analytics consulting services.

While running DBPI, I completed my Ph.D. from ESC Lille (FR), my MBA from Kellogg School of Management (US), and the ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors (CA). I published three books – Data for Business Performance (2017), Analytics Best Practices (2020), and Data Quality (2023), and over 5,000 copies of my books have been sold worldwide. I spoke at numerous conferences from Singapore to San Francisco on Data and Analytics (D&A). Today, apart from my entrepreneurial pursuits, I am also a Professor at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, and I sit on the Editorial Board of MIT CDOIQ and on the Advisory boards of BGV (a Silicon Valley-based VC firm), Grihasoft (IN), Evalueserve (CH) and Astral Insights (US).

What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

The road was not very easy, as I had to overcome many challenges in my career. Firstly, adapting to the Canadian job market took time. When I moved to Canada from India, my skills were more technical and relevant in the Indian job market. I had to learn and unlearn skills to suit the Canadian job market. I also had to learn the North American culture and business practices.

Secondly, till 2015 all of DBPI’s clients were in Calgary (CA) in the Oil and Gas sector. When the crude oil prices fell in 2016, we lost many consulting contracts from the Oil and Gas companies. So, we decided to diversify to markets outside Calgary and explore services outside consulting. We started looking at the US as the new market for consulting services and education and research as our new service lines. Pivoting was difficult and required a lot of patience, persistence, and learning from failures.

Tell us something more about DBP-Institute and its mission and vision, and how you have impacted the Data and Analytics Consulting industry.

As mentioned before, DBPI today is a Data and Analytics (D&A) consulting, research, and education firm. The word Institute in the firm’s name is to deliver business results based on proven best practices. DBPI sees D&A as an enabler for the 1-100 rule, which states that while it costs just $1 to proactively identify and fix the problem, the cost to fix the problem increases dramatically to $100 when it is reported by the customer. However, most SMEs ($5 Million to $5 Billion in revenue) often run businesses by guesswork and false assumptions as they lack the necessary expertise and resources to effectively execute D&A projects. DBPI provides insights and recommendations by considering all the available alternatives so that companies can proactively consider the best alternative to increase revenue, reduce costs, and mitigate.

Our mission is to help companies leverage data and technology for improved business performance, and we have a very active Advisory Board of senior business and technology leaders that monitors and counsels on DBPI’s mission. Our 2025 vision is to be the first option for medium-sized businesses ($5 million to $5 billion in revenue) in North America to create their digital, data, and analytics future.

Since our inception in 2012, DBPI has offered D&A consulting services to over 35 clients in Vietnam, India, UAE, Israel, Netherlands, Spain, Canada, and the US. We have trained over 3,500 business leaders in D&A worldwide, and we have provided research services to 6 start-up and early-stage D&A companies in taking their idea and product to the market. Our revenues are growing annually at 20%, and our prices are about 80% cheaper than our competitors.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives DBP-Institute.

Our values are important because they help us to grow and serve our clients with purpose. We believe in SPICE values, i.e., Simplicity, Passion, Integrity, Commitment, and Excellence.

DBPI’s work culture is to offer improved value proposition to the clients with 4Es – Expertise, Execution, Excellence, and Enthusiasm in all three D&A service lines – consulting, research, and education. We do this by:

  • Focusing on change and adoption by improving D&A literacy.
  • Reusing solutions by productizing and focusing on 12 D&A services in all four phases of the D&A life cycle – data capture, data integration, data science, and decision science.
  • Reducing rework or waste by assigning specialists to projects. Our network-based consulting model aggregates proven senior, independent, and experienced consultants who believe in our values and mission under the DBPI umbrella.
  • Delivering small and fast with rapid prototyping. We call this Proof of Value (PoV).

What methodologies do you implement that contribute to new growth opportunities?

Fundamentally, D&A is about measurement and performance improvement. DBPI helps companies leverage data and technology for improved customer intimacy, cash flow, and profitability using our “power of one” methodology. The “power of one” methodology is to incrementally improve the business performance by one unit in every one iteration. This one unit could be a 1% increase in price, 1 day reduction in the CCC (Cash Conversion Cycle), a 1% reduction in COGS (Cost of Goods Sold), a 1% improvement in the customer’s NPS (Net Promoter Score), and so on.  The one iteration is typically 6 to 12 weeks.

What change would you like to bring to the Data Analytics Consulting industry if given a chance? 

Today most D&A consulting is centered on implementing technologies. While technology brings speed, scale, and security, we at DBPI believe it is not a foundational element in implementing D&A solutions. We conducted field research and found that the three foundational elements to realizing value from D&A are data culture, data quality, and data literacy.

In this regard, DBPI brings together data culture, data quality, and data literacy, along with technology and governance in our consulting offerings. We see five key components in D&A solutions. We strive to improve the level of data culture in our clients with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and measurement frameworks like Balanced Scorecard (BSC) and Goal-Question-Metric (GQM). Most companies have very low levels of data quality. We offer ten practical and proven solutions for remediating and sustaining data quality. D&A solutions enable change, and this change is only successful if people are educated. So, we strive to improve data literacy in our clients by educating them on 15 key competencies.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the D&A Consulting industry? How is DBP-Institute preparing to be a part of that change?

I see the evolution of the D&A industry in 4 main phases.

  • Pre-2010, the focus was on digitalization, i.e., data capture by converting manual and paper-based business processes into digital records
  • Between 2010 and 2015, the attention was on leveraging D&A to measure and improve business performance
  • Between 2015 and 2019, the objective was to improve data quality
  • After 2019 (after Covid), the focus is on improving data culture and data literacy

The next significant change in the D&A industry will be in leveraging AI (Artificial Intelligence) for improved business performance. But you cannot separate data from AI, and you cannot separate AI from data. The end state of all AI solutions is data, and that data will be used again by AI solutions. The foundation for AI is quality data. So, we at DBPI want to be part of that change by helping organizations in improving the data quality so that their AI solutions are successful.

What are the lessons you have learned in your professional and personal journey? 

Zig Ziglar, a World War II veteran, motivational speaker, and trainer, once said, “When you focus on problems, you get more problems. When you focus on possibilities, you have more opportunities.” In this regard, below are my “3P” leadership lessons.

  • Patience. Every meaningful or growth initiative starts small and takes time to get built. But in this growth or change process, you often feel uncomfortable as you are letting go of some old habits and developing new ones. This discomfort is typically an integral part of growth as it acts like a catalyst for you to stretch and adapt.
  • Persistence. Henry Ford wrote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” A lot of what you attempt depends on your mindset. Grit or persistence helps you to do or achieve something regardless of any setbacks. I stay persistent by having a written goal and reviewing the progress regularly.
  • Positive Attitude. It is believing in yourself and being optimistic about situations. They say, “You cannot control what life throws at you, but you can control how you respond to it!” I believe a positive attitude comes from being grateful for what you have and using past accomplishments as support. In addition, I always surround myself with about 15 to 20 smart, humble, and driven people who support, motivate, and inspire me. Also, a positive attitude includes taking care of yourself with exercise, sleep, spending time with friends and family, and finally, constantly upgrading yourself by learning new skills and knowledge.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Data Analytics Consulting industry?

Apart from my “3P” leadership lessons, entrepreneurship is also about BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and Networking. A BHAG will inspire and motivate you and your team to push the boundaries to go to the next level. On networking, they say, “Your network is your net worth.” As an entrepreneur, you cannot do all the work by yourself. You need to collaborate with smart, humble, and driven people who have strengths that complement yours.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for DBP-Institute? 

DBPI’s 2025 vision is to be the first option for medium-sized businesses to create their digital, data, and analytics future. We have identified seven areas, and I am working with the DBPI’s advisory team on building these capabilities so that we can offer more value to our clients.

Personally, I am working on two key projects in 2023. Firstly, my third book, “Data Quality: Empowering Businesses with Analytics and AI,” published by Wiley, will be in the market in February 2023. I am planning a roadshow in at least ten cities to promote the book and highlight the importance of data quality in the business. Secondly, I am working on training over 1000 business leaders in D&A in 2023 as I believe business professionals who are closer to data and business are in the best position to leverage D&A for improved business performance.  

Quote: “DBPI helps companies leverage data and technology for improved customer intimacy, cash flow, and profitability using our “power of one” methodology.”