Why DX Starts With Data Mastering: The Blackstone Files

Image credit: iStockphoto/twinsterphoto

The cloud plays a crucial role in the Blackstone Group’s digital strategy. The global investment management company maintains a cloud-first mentality and uses the cloud for all IT functions whenever possible.

For data management, AWS and Snowflake play essential roles. The firm runs Tamr on AWS to master, clean, and curate its data to create golden or complete records on the companies in its investment portfolio. The data that’s fed into Tamr comes from Snowflake and is also stored there after being cleaned.

Blackstone’s chief data architect Thomas Pelogruto shares what lessons the firm learned from its cloud and data journeys. Some of the advice he offered included aiming for small wins when migrating to the cloud, using data mastering to start digital transformation projects, and turning to the cloud instead of setting up a data center.

Less noise, more golden records

Blackstone is a huge asset manager that has reached into several public and private entities spanning the globe.

“Keeping track of all those relationships — how can we uniquely identify a property portfolio company or a third-party vendor — is a daunting task. Doing that inside of a master data management system, you're constantly faced with data governance challenges, duplicate records, and all of that associated noise,” said Pelogruto.

Blackstone used Tamr to improve its signal-to-noise ratio and get that golden copy of uniquely identifiable legal entities.

“You have data sitting in different caches, and we try to move all the data into a singular data warehouse, but it's still in different databases, in different data domains. And now we have that opportunity to actually be a lot better about unifying the data set and making it an actual golden copy of our data,” explained Pelogruto.

To the cloud and beyond

In the old days, you’d plan out a five to seven-year infrastructure plan, build a data center, and you would have to be relatively static with that plan over that period. It’s because a server or network upgrade took a long time and was a considerable capital expenditure.

With AWS, Pelogruto didn’t have to worry about how many users there are or maintenance. All of that is then built-in and just readily available.

“And having an ability to have a singular access point for all of the different data sets that exist in a firm as large as ours, the only way that was feasible to do that was to use a cloud-based data warehousing solution like Snowflake,” he added. 

Get your data warehouse in order

You have to put a material amount of effort into assembling your data. It is where Tamr and Snowflake proved to be a potent combination. It helped Blackstone to get its data organized into a clean cloud architecture.

“We are also on AWS, so we're moving everything into the cloud. That was definitely a prerequisite to being able to embrace fully and actually integrate a tool like Tamr to make that data clean and usable inside that warehouse,” said Pelogruto.

Moving to the cloud? Start small

It's a divide and conquer strategy with it came to moving to the cloud.

“Don’t boil the ocean. Getting a few wins and some of your data into the cloud is valuable for getting buy-in and learning how to use this new set of tools. [The tools] are very different, and that's the more surprising part. It’s usually good to start with a small group of stakeholders and a very well-defined problem and dataset. You'll learn a lot along the way and be in a much better position to really do this at a greater scale,” advised Pelogruto.

He also urged companies not to try collecting all of their data. That's going to fail.

“You'll never collect all of your data. Go with one data set, one set of questions you want to answer. Then other things will fall into place, and you can build from there. We have a very agile methodology at Blackstone, and this approach fits very well into that mindset,” he added.

Digital transformation starts with mastered data

Data mastering is the first step in all Blackstone’s automation stacks. From there, it's about undergoing digital transformation and making very laborious processes streamlined and automated.

It allows you to join and report back on various kinds of data “that you were never able to do before, simply because you didn't know how to bring together data sets A and B,” said Pelogruto.

“It's the first step in the journey. It's definitely not the last step,” he added.

Ravi Hulasi, the chief cloud evangelist at Tamr, wrote this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/twinsterphoto