Sahar Nezami

Top 100 Data Innovator 2022: CIBC’s Sahar Nezami

Sahar Nezami, Senior Director of Advanced Analytics and Data Management, Internal Audit at CIBC, shares her achievements in the last year and what she’s focused on for 2022 

Would you please start by telling us a bit about your greatest achievements at CIBC over the past 12-24 months? 

I run the data analytics team in internal audit, and we have a lot of authority, and we have a lot of scope. So, we support all the audits that are done on the entire organization, meaning we have a 360-degree view of the entire bank.  

In addition, we have access to any data anywhere at any time in the organization. So, we work with a very large-scale environment.  

The nature of the role is very interesting. Number one, we are very tool agnostic, and we are skill agnostic as well. So, when I’m posting for jobs, I don’t ask for knowledge and experience about any specific tool or database because, when you land in my shop, you can be working with any type of tool or any type of database depending on what the client is working on. So, we have very specific, best-in-class talent management policies to make sure that people stay with us and grow with us.  

There are two things that data analytics leaders often complain about. One is that they can’t find or they can’t keep talent. That has never been our problem. Secondly, when they find very good data scientists, they can’t speak the language of the business. Again, that has never been our problem because, as people who are auditing other people’s businesses, or analyzing other people’s data, that’s a skillset you either learn in my team or you come to my team with. 

How do you go into somebody else’s business and work with somebody else’s data and still deliver a quality job? The skills that you really must know are interviewing skills. How do you ask the right questions? How do you learn somebody else’s business in a short period of time? Data profiling, and the like, all become very important.  

We’ve introduced a lot of programs to make sure that people are rotating from every part of the bank. Now, we are now actually leading destination for top analytics talent.  

Two or three years ago, people didn’t even know internal audit had analytics. Right now, every analytics and technology rotation program has a stop through my shop. So that’s a big achievement on the talent side.  

How has the data and analytics maturity in your organization evolved in 2021? What new challenges is this giving rise to? And how are you working to overcome them? 

I develop three-year strategies for my department, and we just kicked off our second three-year strategy. We have gone through the maturity cycles very quickly.  

When we started, we just had to just introduce analytics to people, which I call the adoption stage. Then, we wanted to go to the expansion stage and then to the innovation stage. So, we went through the adoption and expansion stages in the first three-year strategy.  

By the time we kicked off our second three-year strategy, we were well into innovation. And what I say about innovation is, if you’re a mature data and analytics shop, you’re serving up your data analytics as a product or as a service, which is exactly what we have done.  

In the past two years, we’re the only analytics team in the entire organization that has our own website. We call it our data hub. The hub is an internally maintained website where we serve up products and services. There’s going to be ad hoc stuff that people come to us for. But anything that is repeatable, like access to our data pipeline or access to cleaned data, running dashboards, requesting consulting etc, is all done on the hub.  

So, we have now moved on to data ‘as a service’ and analytics as a product, and that’s where we are now. And when you get to that level of automation and innovation then new use cases and clients emerge. 

Now that we have a home for our hub and for our services, the next part of what we are doing is the automation of the processes in the department. So, if someone comes to me and asks for help with a manual process that someone in their team is spending time on, and it’s repeatable and valuable enough then we can automate it, we just take that entire process, and we create a web application. So, people can just go to our website and enter the data. This kind of automation not only adds value but also saves time. 

Sahar Nezami is one of our 2022 Global Top 100 Innovators in Data and Analytics. To discover the full list and exclusive interviews with this year’s ‘top 100’, click here now.

Sahar Nezami will join the speaker line up for CDAO Canada taking place on 29-30 March in Toronto. To join Sahar and Canada’s most influential data leaders, register your interest here.