Guild Contributor:

George Papadatos, Syngenta

George Papadatos, Syngenta

Global Head Data Strategy & Data Assets

I am a firm believer that data and technology mean nothing in an organisation without engaged people and the right culture.


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Laura Bineviciute, Head of Community Data Leaders

George Papadatos, Global Head Data Strategy & Data Assets, Crop Protection, Syngenta

Laura Bineviciute: Today I’m joined by George Papadatos, who is Global Head of Data Strategy and Data Assets at Syngenta. He’s also part of the steering committee for the Data Leaders Guild 2024. Welcome, George.

George Papadatos: Hi, Laura.

Laura Bineviciute: It is fantastic to have you join us and share your views on data and the role of the CDO today. First and foremost, tell us a little bit more about your role at Syngenta and what role does data play at Syngenta?

George Papadatos: Yes, absolutely. So I’m the global head of data strategy and data assets in Syngenta in Crop Protection, R & D. What we do in Syngenta, day in, day out, is we help millions of farmers grow safe and efficacious and nutritious food while taking care of the planet and where I work, there’s a lot of scope for data, from the micro scale of the labs and molecules and proteins, all the way to the macro level of the field and everything that’s going on there. So, it’s a very data rich organisation and data is an asset, the currency and the foundation of what we do, especially in the space of digital innovation and digital transformation.

So myself and my team, in a nutshell, we really make sure that we get the most value from our data.

Laura Bineviciute: Value of data. That is such a buzzword in this space today. I presume it may be a little bit connected to what we will say to my next question. What do you feel presents the biggest opportunity for CDOs and data leaders in the organisation today and in the coming 9-12 months?

George Papadatos: So perhaps this will not come as a surprise, but I would say the challenge for CDOs is to put together a very pragmatic and executable strategy for AI that goes beyond the hype and beyond early prototypes. So I would say that CDOs will have to work with their boards and their leadership teams and explain to them what AI can and cannot do at the moment, what are the risks, what are the caveats and then put together something that can be implemented.

At the same time. the foundations have not changed. Frankly, they’re still the same, so the mantra garbage in, garbage out still applies. So they still will have to invest in data management, data technologies, data governance and culture, while they show also value from these AI prototypes and MVPs.

Laura Bineviciute: One of the key areas that you’ve been helping us shape for the Data Leaders Guild is the data engagement on the organisation-side and aspect that we’re focusing on. What does data engagement mean at Syngenta and what have been your key learnings so far because you’ve been on quite a journey over the past year – 18 months.

Share a little bit more with us here.

George Papadatos: Well, I am a firm believer that data and technology mean nothing in an organisation without engaged people and the right culture. And by engaged people, I mean people that are savvy, confident and empowered to work in this data, digital, analytics, AI space.

They’re not necessarily data scientists or data analysts or ML engineers, but they should know why we’re doing this, what does it mean for them? And they should know what are the key concepts and principles around these topics, and then how to ask the right questions, what the right questions should be and whom to ask them to.

And then in the last one and a half years, as you said, we embarked on a very big, bold and ambitious data literacy, digital upskilling and engagement programme in R & D. And one of the key learnings, if you like, is that, of course we have to engage the right people early and often. Everyone should be engaged, not at the same time and not with the same message, everyone from senior leaders all the way to team members on the ground. So scientists, engineers, others in our organisation, and we have to engage early and often. We have to co-develop, co-own the approach and the content and the material, not operate from an ivory tower.

And then, in order to cascade the message, we need a big story and then little stories, and we need these champions, catalysts, ambassadors, who we call digital leads, to take the message, contextualise it for their own reality, their own groups, their own functions, and then cascade further down the organisation.

Laura Bineviciute: And when you say engage early and often, what does engage look like? Speak to them in person, write to them, bring them in, co work with you. What does it look like for you?

George Papadatos: All of the above. Engaging means organising workshops, talking to people one to one, talking them in teams, presenting to them, listening more, very, very important, listening to them, innovate and brainstorm together, effectively co-develop the content of the approach together.

That’s the only way you can maintain engagement and then get to adoption in the end in a large and very diverse organisation.

Laura Bineviciute: How do you staff for it? Do you take your current team and get them to add this to their to-do list, or do you have someone that is completely dedicated to lead with them?

George Papadatos: We have somebody completely dedicated to this and then we have other people, we have a core steering team, if you like, and then again by engagement people and building a relationship and trust with them and preparing them with the right again content and material which would be, of course, of very high quality and very relevant, very relatable to what we do every day, then they go and then they cascade the message further down.

But we do have to create and maintain good quality content. That’s key, especially in our organisation. We cannot just use off-the-shelf material. We cannot use kind of off-the-shelf examples from tech companies like Google or Amazon or Netflix. The examples, the case studies have to be relevant to what we do.

Laura Bineviciute: That’s very interesting. And I think many people might want to pick your brain a little bit more on that, because it certainly is a subject that is not resolved for many and an engagement is, of course, an ongoing journey that doesn’t always fit very naturally with data teams. So thank you so much for sharing that.

When you think about the efforts that you’ve been working on, can you share a moment when you saw a change in attitude or behaviour towards data that validated that you were on the right track?

George Papadatos: I can give you a very recent example, actually, that happened a couple of weeks ago. There is a group in our organisation, about 400 people, and what they did is they organized a digital development event and day for them, and they used a lot of the approach and the content and the assets that we created as part of this bigger digital upskilling data literacy programme.

And this event was very well participated and very, very well received. So about four or 500 people talking about things like sharing data, data governance, data quality tools available to them for business analytics, for visualisation, for machine learning, for integration, but within their own context.

Again, and that’s something they did without our direct involvement. They self-organised, they took ownership and initiative and they took the message and contextualised it and cascaded it to their own organisation. So that’s a great example of an organisation that goes into the right direction. This is exactly what we want to achieve, this is exactly what we want to see and it’s a sign that our approach is working, because we couldn’t be able to do this centrally from a central data team.

Laura Bineviciute: That is absolutely fantastic. It is great to hear. First of all, congratulations. It’s a huge achievement to change people’s behaviours in a way where they put digital and data governance in the same place. I think that certainly doesn’t happen all that often. But jokes aside, honestly, this sounds like a great success and well done.

George Papadatos: Thank you. We’re very pleased.

Laura Bineviciute: And my next question is a little bit more to do with Guild itself and the opportunity to share this story, hear other stories and exchange both in a more in an environment where you hear presentations, but also in an environment you can have a lot of time to discuss and dive deep into the subject with other CDOs. Why do you find this important and what does it add to your role?

George Papadatos: So the role of CDO equivalent in organisation changes all the time. It’s not static, it’s not fixed. There’s new data modalities, there’s new capabilities like AI, Gen AI nowadays. There’s new dynamics with other adjacent leaders like the CTO or the chief digital officer, the chief AI officer. And frankly, the role is defined differently and differs from organisation to organisation. So it’s great to have a safe place where we can exchange learnings, approaches, challenges, failures with other peers, and we can use them as a sounding board and at the same time use and reuse high quality content and artefacts.

Laura Bineviciute: That’s great to hear and I look forward to more of that in 2024, in June. And my very final question is, in fact not coming from me, but it is coming from someone else that we’ve interviewed and you also have met previously, part of the steering committee at Guild, Nuno Assis from Miele X, who is asking – and he didn’t know that this question will end up with you, so this is complete chance he is asking it to you – looking back at your career, if you could start again, what one thing would you do completely differently that you feel would make a big difference?

George Papadatos: Well, when I was younger and earlier in my career, I tended to believe that data and technology is the answer to everything, and everything will be solved with data and technology. But then as I grew more mature and older, I realised this is not the case. It’s again about engaging, explaining, having the patience, listening to people.

Start with the why, start with the business problem in mind, and then work out the data and technology approaches and solutions. So I wish I knew this earlier, but I hope now it’s not too late.

Laura Bineviciute: Well, clearly, with some of the wins that you’ve shared, I think it’s very clear that you’re going to the right direction and so I definitely don’t think it’s too late. You don’t seem to be planning to retire anytime soon!

George Papadatos: Certainly not yet!

Laura Bineviciute: That’s great to hear. I look forward to seeing you at Guild. Thank you so much for your time and sharing your wins and your considerations in data, and we’ll speak very soon.

George Papadatos: Thanks, Laura. I enjoyed it a lot.

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