Carol Kim is an Executive Director at Enterprise Data at IBM, a world leader in information technology headquartered in Armonk, New York. She brings more than 20 years of experience in IBM leadership roles spanning various Finance & Operations disciplines (Chief Data Office, Finance & Planning, Pricing, Treasury), geographies (Americas, Asia) and business models (Services, Hardware, Software).
Ms. Kim is a leader who successfully builds high trust relationships with both Internal and external partners, her business degree and ability in technology supply a unique knowledge and skill set that helps the organization across all sides of finance and technology. Carol has received numerous recognitions for her ability, most recently the 2023 Most Influential People in Data by dataiq100, 2023 & 2022 Global Data Power Women by CDO Magazine and the 2022 Top 25 Data Strategy influencer by Databand.ai.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Carol shared her insights on the importance of data science in today’s business environment, her professional journey, success mantra, personal source of inspiration, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Do you think that data science is perceived to be more important now than ever before? And what has been the impact of AI on data science?
Data has applications in every field and no matter where you are in the world, there will always be a need, a use, and a demand for data. With the increasing amount of data being generated and collected, the need for data science skilled professionals is increasing and expected to grow in the future. Data science combines math and statistics, specialized programming, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning with specific subject matter expertise to uncover actionable insights hidden in an organization’s data. These insights can be used to guide decision making and strategic planning. AI can play a crucial role in this process by automating certain tasks and assisting data scientists in their work. For example, it can automate repetitive and time-consuming processes like data gathering, cleaning, and analysis, allowing data scientists to focus on high value-added jobs.
What can business leaders do to promote a data driven decision-making culture in their organizations?
One of the biggest obstacles in creating a data-driven company isn’t technical, but cultural. It is simple to describe how to inject data into a decision-making process, but it is far harder to make this a normal day to day activity, which requires a shift in mindset. Some suggestions to help create and sustain a culture with data at its core are:
- Data driven culture starts at the top. Have top managers set expectations that decisions must be anchored in data. Lead by example.
- Choose metrics with care. Leaders can have a powerful effect on behavior by artfully choosing what to measure and what metrics they expect employees to use.
- Quantify uncertainty. Absolute certainty is impossible. Require teams to be explicit and quantitative about levels of uncertainty. Is the data reliable? Are there too few examples for a reliable model? Analysts can gain a deeper understanding of their models when they have to evaluate uncertainty. And emphasis on understanding uncertainty pushes organizations to run experiments. Most importantly, it is all about having clean data. Your AI solution can only be good as your data. Feeding AI inaccurate or insufficient data will deliver misleading results that will undermine your initiative’s integrity and reliability.
- Use analytics to help employees, not just customers. Share why it is beneficial to them. It’s easy to forget the potential role of data fluency in making employees happier. If the idea of learning a new skill is to better handle data, few employees will get excited. But if the immediate goals directly benefit them – by saving time, helping avoid rework, or access to frequently-needed information, then a chore becomes a choice.
- Get in the habit of explaining analytical choices. For most analytical problems, there’s rarely a single, correct approach. Instead, data scientists make choices with different tradeoffs. So, it’s a good idea to ask teams how they approached a problem, what alternatives they considered, what they understood the tradeoffs to be, and why they chose one approach over another. Run agile retrospective meetings.
Carol, can you tell us about your professional background and areas of interest?
I have expertise in data, finance, and business transformation. I have 20+ years of experience in IBM roles spanning various Finance & Operations disciplines (Enterprise Data, Chief Data Office, Finance & Planning, Pricing, Treasury), geographies (Americas, Asia) and business models (Services, Hardware, Software). My business degree and ability in technology supply a unique knowledge and skill set that helps the organization across all sides of finance and technology. I am passionate about lifelong learning and making a difference in the world.
Brief us about your primary roles and responsibilities as the Executive Director at IBM Enterprise Data.
Enterprise Data’s mission is to empower our employees to perform at their best by providing trusted and secure data driven business insights. I lead a team of subject matter and domain experts who work towards bringing new users onto the Enterprise Data & AI Platform. Our goal is to identify the necessary capabilities to be developed, ensuring that data is harnessed to generate significant business value across all of IBM’s processes and business units. Our responsibilities encompass governing, managing, transforming, and integrating data to create tangible business value. By doing so, we enhance decision-making processes, drive financial outcomes, and uncover revenue opportunities while optimizing resource utilization and streamlining various aspects such as cash flow and cycle time. Additionally, we actively work on reducing expenses, mitigating regulatory issues, and improving overall performance. I also lead 3rd Party Marketplace and ingestion to provide centralized acquisition, governance, management, and oversight of external data assets across the enterprise. In addition, I lead IBM’s data strategy, and manage the Enterprise Data’s finances, business operations and business controls.
What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion in tech? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?
Throughout my childhood and early adult years, I learned firsthand that race and sex biases are weaved in our education, in extra-curricular activities, in job interviews, in pay, and in professions across industries. Stereotypes (whether it be cultural, social, racial, gender, religious, etc) are unfortunately present and ingrained in one’s mind since childhood, and thus can be difficult to remove. We are products of our upbringing, and as such I, too, have grown up with certain biases and opinions. I fortunately have had opportunities to live in various countries and travel and work with people from all over the world, giving me the opportunity to “learn and unlearn” the concepts of diversity and inclusion. Systemic problems such as discrimination in the workplace require systemic changes and placing higher value in strengthening supportive relationships. These important relationships take the form of not just mentors and sponsors, but also allies committed to building a better future that is more inclusive.
I’m a proud Exec Sponsor of IBM’s Tri-State Asian BRG (Business Resource Group), and our mission is to promote Pan Asian leadership, mentoring and volunteering opportunities. I believe it is important to educate oneself and others (knowledge is power) about diversity and inclusion and react (when you see something, say something). Ways to take action to improve equity and inclusion in tech: allyship, talent identification and recruiting, training, assessment, education and dialogue, accountability, advocacy, wellness, community action, safety, etc.
What, personally, has allowed you the success you have had in the role of a leader in technology?
These days all leaders are expected to understand and lead technology initiatives that shape the future of their organizations. This requires collaboration, communication, coordination, and co-creation skills. The ability to nurture talent is also essential to success, along with strategic thinking and effective execution. With my data, finance, and business transformation background, I am able to be a translator that connects business with the technology. Help the business side understand the opportunities and limitations of technology, and help IT understand the business goals, needs and requirements. Building a bridge between the two helps enable success.
Where or whom do you seek motivation and inspiration from? How?
I love trying new things, learning new things, meeting new people, and thus love traveling and reading. I like to surround myself with inspiring people and cherish intelligent conversations. I look for new challenges, try to be creative and am always learning from others.
What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?
I have accepted that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance. For now, I have defined success for myself as follows: Feeling fulfilled, doing work that is meaningful, being valued and recognized for contribution, having the opportunity for growth and to have an impact, developing strong personal and professional relationships, and working in an environment that allows authenticity and integrity. And at the same time having the flexibility to successfully integrate work and life, maintaining good health, achieving financial stability allowing lifestyle and choice, making time for my loved ones, and not be afraid to unplug and take vacations.
I have a job that I love, I stick to my values, set boundaries, diligently practice time management, and make time for myself and my loved ones.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I am passionate about lifelong learning and making a difference in the world. IBM’s purpose is “to be the catalyst that makes the world work better” – IBM aspires to make a lasting, positive impact on the world in business ethics, our environment, and the communities in which we work and live. I am excited to leverage my finance, data, and business transformation expertise to make the world work better.
What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in tech?
Technology offers a world of great opportunities – it is broad, exists in every industry, and it is constantly evolving. Focus on your strengths and continuously seek and explore opportunities where technology can be leveraged alongside your existing skillsets or passions. Have an open mind, embrace new challenges, and expand your network and skillsets. My greatest growth came from pushing outside my comfort-zone. Build relationships with people who you aspire to be like. Always be willing to listen and learn and surround yourself with great mentors, coaches, and sponsors. Have a positive attitude, stay curious and focus on your potential and willingness to grow!