Anthony Seraphim of Texas Mutual Insurance spent some time with Snowflake at Data Cloud Summit 2020 to share how his company uses the Data Cloud and the Alation Data Catalog to serve trusted data insights to business users.
Texas Mutual Insurance is on a mission to support a stronger and safer Texas by taking care of workers. The company provides workers’ compensation insurance for Texas employers and helps to prevent on-the-job injuries and illnesses and minimize their consequences.
Originally founded in 1991 as an insurer of last resort—an insurance company willing to offer policies to parties considered high-risk—the company has expanded its services and now has more than 70,000 policyholders.
“We are passionate about ensuring Texas workers go home safely to their families each night,” said Anthony Seraphim, Texas Mutual Vice President of Data Governance. “We work hard to be a model provider of workers’ compensation insurance. We do this through innovative, responsive partnerships with our customers, our communities, and within our organization,” he added.
Building Trust in the Data
A few years ago, Texas Mutual CEO Richard Gergasko deemed data a strategic pillar for the company, which led to them hiring Seraphim to lead data governance.
Seraphim researched the company’s data environment and set out to establish a data governance plan. He discovered a lack of trust and confidence in collected data.
Texas Mutual employees didn’t trust dashboards and questioned data quality and data sources. It didn’t help that there were no uniform data definitions or rules in place. Data lacked classification, so it was all treated the same, making it difficult to protect more sensitive data. Data was also siloed, with knowledge isolated in organizational groups. A set of data might be well understood within a business unit, for example, but it could not easily be shared outside of that silo for enterprise-level conversations.
To address the data trust issues, Seraphim wanted to create transparency. The first step was to identify a data footprint that would make it easy to understand where data was located. Next, he wanted to implement an AI-enabled data catalog and establish a classification system.
Seraphim proceeded to define a charter for data governance and a data classification system. He ensured definitions were aligned to the needs of operations, analytics, and business scenarios. Along the way, he identified data owners who needed a voice in defining rules and solving quality issues. He created an operational data management council to maintain accountability and built dashboards to show real-time data quality. In addition, he implemented a data catalog tool to track data lineage and created a framework that allowed data to be fixed upstream to better resolve quality issues.
While this was all underway, Texas Mutual’s data and IT teams were deciding on a cloud strategy and moving to a cloud-first approach.
“The whole market was moving toward the cloud for greater resource efficiency, cost transparency, and business agility,” Seraphim explained. “We also knew a cloud-first approach would allow us to scale rapidly, embrace new technologies faster, and shift IT resources away from low-value to high-value tasks.”
Designing the Perfect Data Solution with Snowflake
The data governance team wanted to create one central place for all Texas Mutual employees to find and understand data and eliminate the confusion from having to log in to multiple tools. The Snowflake Data Cloud along with Alation’s Data Catalog offered the ideal environment.
“We wanted to make it easy for data consumers to search for information and for our team to put it quickly at their fingertips in an easy-to-consume format,” said Seraphim. “We decided to implement a cloud-based data platform that could deliver results based on specific business needs. We also wanted to put business-driven data quality and stewardship policies in place for effective data governance. Snowflake and Alation were the partners who could help us accomplish these goals.”
Snowflake offered the ideal platform, according to Seraphim, providing the security, database administration, and cost transparency the company needed.
“Using Snowflake supports our overall strategy in many ways. First, data security is critical, and Snowflake delivers exceptional security capabilities,” Seraphim said. “In addition, capabilities such as automatic query tuning free our team from cumbersome data administration tasks, which take a lot of time and resources. It just becomes a distraction from our data governance charter.”
Seraphim added, “Snowflake also provides great cost transparency and is key to our success in building data trust with quality data. We can use automation in Snowflake to accomplish much more testing than we did when it required a manual effort.”
Snowflake’s integration with Tableau, the team’s data visualization tool, is another reason Snowflake is a great fit for Texas Mutual, according to Seraphim.
Empowering Data Users with Alation
To initiate a framework to guide data empowerment, engagement, and enablement, Seraphim adopted the Alation Data Catalog and Governance solution.
“With Alation, we can clearly define data ownership and empower our business users with a one-stop shop for data—both business information and technical metadata,” Seraphim explained. “Critical data elements are easily accessible with an easy-to-use query tool, and AI and machine learning drive automated ingestion and use.”
With automated AI-driven ingestion, subject matter experts don’t have to spend their time uploading data and definitions. They can define rules once and then focus on effectively curating and analyzing data.
Alation provides Texas Mutual with a powerful way to engage with users. “Alation uses a social media-like interface that facilitates seamless collaboration,” Seraphim said. “If a user sees a problem with a particular data table, they can easily suggest that others don’t use it. It’s a powerful tool.”
Texas Mutual also uses Alation to support its cloud migration. The solution allows the data team to make data-informed planning decisions because they clearly understand which data is being migrated to the cloud. They also can readily identify top users and most-used domains.
“Alation helps us migrate with clarity and with transparency between IT and business users. IT can see what moves into the cloud, who uses new assets, and who still works in the legacy environment. This also helps us with adoption of the Data Cloud,” Seraphim said.
Exceptional Workflows, Smart Business Decisions
For Texas Mutual, cloud data governance includes monitoring data quality combined with data stewardship. Seraphim and his team use APIs with Alation to integrate business definitions and technical metadata to create data quality rules and deliver exceptional data workflows.
If there is a quality issue, they can go back to the technical team for resolution. This all feeds into a data classification system with bronze, silver, and gold levels based on data quality and security. Only data classified as gold is used by executives because it supports more-informed, higher-level business decisions.
Today, Texas Mutual business users no longer question quality, who built a dashboard, or where data comes from. Instead, they refocus that energy on using powerful new tools to gain a deeper understanding of data to continually enhance the business and the services they deliver to Texans.