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Jenny SchoenbergerTalent and Development Specialist, FourKites

And why executives embraced his proposal

While working at a high-growth company has many benefits, it’s not without its challenges. As others have pointed out, “you’re asked to do and take on more. You need to be comfortable with ambiguity, learn on the fly, and adapt quickly to change.”

Sometimes, adapting to change means doing something new. In the case of FourKites’ Nate Givens, that meant identifying a business need and creating an entirely new role.

“There was an opportunity to create a centralized team to streamline data usage across products and teams to guarantee a high rate of growth and innovation continues into the future,” he shared.

Prior to creating the Data Czar role and team, Nate was hired as the Director of Business Operations & Analytics. His adaptability and willingness to be proactive demonstrates everything we value at FourKites: a One Team mindset, bias for action, extreme ownership, being customer-obsessed and having a good attitude.

I sat down with Nate to learn more about his background, the opportunity he sees and what it means for FourKites and our customers.

Tell me more about yourself.

I have a diverse background in data analysis/data science and software development at large, established companies and early-stage startups. I also have a broad academic background, with math, systems engineering and economics degrees. The common thread throughout has been data: collecting it, storing it, analyzing it, and presenting it to decision makers in actionable ways. Outside of data, I love to write. I’ve had a few sci fi, fantasy, and steampunk short stories published in magazines and anthologies over the past couple of years.

What opportunities did you see that led you to switching teams and ultimately your new role?

Data is at the heart of supply chain visibility. The work FourKites has already done in collecting, aggregating, and providing our customers their logistics data is incredible. The bigger we grow the more opportunities to learn from the data we collect. But at the same time, innovation and growth can make the data ecosystem start to get very complicated. We have different teams accessing different data sets for different purposes, and there was an opportunity to create a centralized team to streamline data usage across products and teams to guarantee a high rate of growth and innovation continues.

What was the feedback from other managers and leaders along the way?

The first proposal for this role was an email I sent to the CTO, Delbert, and he responded enthusiastically. He brought in his senior leadership team, and I brought in my team, and we did three additional drafts of the proposal, adding details and synthesizing different perspectives. I’ve also had meetings with our CPO, CMO, CCO, and other executives. The reception has been really great. Everyone sees how this new role can help FourKites grow faster and deliver more value to our customers, and the feedback has helped me further hone the short- and long-term objectives I have for the team.

What’s with the Data Czar title? Why not something more traditional?

I really wanted to emphasize working across departments and at all levels of the company. The off-beat job title helps with that because it’s a little hard to pin down. Where does a “czar” fit in an org chart? Nobody knows, and that’s kind of the point. The ambiguity is useful in working in a lot of different contexts, with different teams, and at different scopes.

What excites you about what you and the team are trying to accomplish?

Well, first, it’s just incredible to see an opportunity, articulate it, and then get the support to create a whole new role and team so quickly. It shows how agile and dynamic FourKites continues to be as it grows.

Second, there really are just some amazing opportunities to implement really impactful processes and tools and the timing could not be perfect. I’ve seen smaller, younger companies try to adopt too many formal procedures too early, and it’s a struggle because the costs can be high and the value is not necessarily there when you’re just starting out. And I’ve seen larger, older companies struggle to adopt and execute best practices around data strategy and data governance when they already have these massive, complex data ecosystems and bureaucracies, and it’s just immensely difficult to make fundamental changes at that stage. For FourKites, we’re mature enough that it really is time to step up our data strategy game, but also still agile enough that we can make relatively big changes fairly quickly. It’s the perfect time for some exciting work, and I’m just really glad that the FourKites leadership really has the vision to invest in this vision.

What is the greatest challenge or roadblock to what you and the team want to achieve?

The greatest challenge is that FourKites is continuing to grow and change so rapidly. It’s like making upgrades to a car while it’s driving. We’re still innovating, developing new products, and bringing on more and more customers. That means that strategic data decisions can’t just be based on the current state; they have to consider where we’re going and be flexible enough to adapt to unexpected changes as they arise. So it’s definitely a challenge, but it’s also part of what makes the work so rewarding.

What lessons do you have for others trying to tackle their data strategy?

There’s a lot of really great information and understanding out there about best practices for data governance. I think there’s a general understanding that data is incredibly valuable and that managing and governing that data as a strategic resource is vital for long-term viability. The hard part is figuring out how to build a bridge between where you currently are and where you see you need to be.

One key lesson is to time that effort correctly. Data strategy can’t be the very first thing a startup focuses on, because you have to do the essential work of building out and proving the product. Everything else has to be kind of barebones at that point, including data strategy. But you also can’t afford to wait too long, and I think that’s the trap that a lot of enterprises fall into. If you’re not proactively thinking about data strategy and data governance, then you end up waiting until tech debt and data governance issues are acute and endemic. By that time, it’s really hard to remedy the underlying issues without huge costs.

At FourKites, we believe that data analytics and collaboration will transform global supply chains to deliver goods the world needs more reliably, equitably, and sustainably. Our teams work together to tackle complex challenges, helping customers ensure their shipments reach their final destination. Whether it’s medical supplies from Cardinal Health or groceries for Walmart, our work touches the lives of millions. As our company grows, so too do the opportunities to hone our skills and chart our career paths.

Want to join us? Check out our current openings to see if there’s the right opportunity for you.

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