Isaac Sacolick and the Digital Mindset

The former Greenwich Associates CIO details the research and financial services firm's transition year

What do clients want from their strategic consultants? Is it sufficient to provide data and advice when businesses need to become more data-driven, leverage benchmarks, and offer competitive customer experiences?

Isaac Sacolick, chief information officer, innovator, entrepreneur, and thought leader, is out to change the perception of the consultant by injecting life—and rich data—into client engagements. As Greenwich Associates’s new CIO, he’s helping the leading provider of global market intelligence and advisory services to the financial industry leapfrog the competition by arming consultants with actionable and relevant analytics. “We look at this as strategic. The way we collect, share, and use data needs to be very different going into the future,” Sacolick says. “A consultant that arrives to a client meeting armed with a robust set of facts, insights, numbers, and statistics sets the stage for a new, deeper conversation.”

Sacolick and Greenwich Associates are so invested in the plan that they’re building a new set of product offerings designed to deliver more insights faster than ever before. To make the plan a success, Sacolick is automating his process and increasing efficiencies using agile development principles to help Greenwich Associates process data in real or near real-time.

Sacolick brings two decades of eclectic experience with him to Greenwich Associates. He’s built tech startups, led tech efforts for two McGraw-Hill divisions, and amassed CIO and CTO credits in several industries. He’s leveraging that experience in his new position to unlock previously trapped data, modernize the information environment, and put it all together to create a new breed of reporting.

Traditional data businesses—or those that have data at their core—often use batch processing. Data comes in, gets crunched, and produces reports. “The old model of gathering information is outdated. We’re in a world that needs real-time analytics and on-the-fly ways to do data discovery,” Sacolick says. His teams are working to enable a more flexible process by first helping Greenwich Associates’s consultants deliver more insights, and also by developing SaaS tools to help customers get direct access to customizable data.

But this new approach is about more than mining data; practitioners need to share that information in clear, digestible ways. Thus, a big part of Sacolick’s transformation at Greenwich Associates involves taking the entire data layer into a more agile environment. Although the company’s primary users are internal consultants, self-service capabilities require his teams to deliver a new layer of simplicity in presentations. To do so, they’re surveying and meeting with customers to understand and explore real-world needs. “We’re asking clients what they do downstream with our data so we can solve even more problems for them,” Sacolick explains.

The old model of gathering information is outdated. We’re in a world that needs real-time analytics and on-the-fly ways to do data discovery.”

This level of organizational change will always take work. Established companies are not used to looking at change over two weeks or two months—they think in years. Successful, agile CIOs nurture different skills and demonstrate benefits along the way. Sacolick helped newspapers and publishing companies go online, and he knows the value in developing technologies and services in which part of the product is the data itself. When the product has data around it, developers must design with the customer in mind.

Most IT departments are accustomed to supporting products and responding to support tickets. Sacolick’s approach causes those departments to execute in a new way. In his blog, Social, Agile, and Transformation, Sacolick says that during the transition, a CIO needs to help his team embrace “baby steps toward a hard-to-define future.” He starts every transformation by implementing the agile process and communicating the need to reevaluate and readjust often.

Since the agile process is more iterative, the business team should have a new level of engagement. “We have to get them to the table often, and we have to help them acknowledge that they don’t know everything their customer wants,” he says. Together, IT and business teams can prioritize tasks and goals without working in silos. The model erases the “tech” and “business” agendas, and replaces both with one digital business agenda.

At Greenwich Associates, the data transformation is a work in progress. At deadline, two programs have completed the transformation with six others running in parallel to enable the switch. “We can’t build everything and make the change all at once because it’s too risky. We build, deploy, transform, measure, get smarter, reinvest, and repeat,” he says.

Early outcomes are encouraging. The company’s core fixed income program runs off the new platform, and a new digital data collection capability is part of the standard Greenwich Associates customer experience division in retail banking. The team has rebuilt its research website, Javelin Strategy, and invested internally in a more robust CRM.

The process, and other earlier transformations, has helped Sacolick broaden and sharpen his skills. At McGraw-Hill, he ran a small business in a big enterprise. At Greenwich Associates, he’s part of a smaller business with more tangible returns. Now, he handles everything from day-to-day IT issues to unlocking a $2 million revenue stream, and he has to be equipped to handle both extremes. For Sacolick, that’s what the CIO role is all about. “People worry about who drives the business—and some of us want to have rigid descriptions on what we do—but we should all be working to increase touch points with customers while finding new ways to capture and use data,” he says.

At Greenwich Associates, 2016 marked the start of a transition year. They’re implementing Sacolick’s new approach, proving that it’s successful, and finding new ways to bring more value.

Editor’s Note: At publication, Sacolick has left Greenwich Associates. He is currently Founder and Technologist of StarCIO.