Sophie Angenot, CEO of QuaData
What started with an innovative idea grew into a successful data governance company. For Sophie Angenot, however, it was not a logical choice to do business in the technology sector. “I don’t come from an entrepreneurial background and I doubted for a long time whether I was ready to run a company,” she says. As CEO of QuaData, she is today a reference person in the field of data management and the human side of data. “Good data management stands or falls with the cooperation between people. Technical tools are indispensable for data governance. But they only work if you know who uses the data and for what purpose, and how data is exchanged between people.”
For the start of QuaData we go back to 2014. At that time there was little to do about data governance on the Belgian market. “If you typed in the term ‘data governance’ on LinkedIn, you might have 10 or 20 people working on it. However, it is not new, it has been around for more than 30 years. But companies were not yet aware of it,” says CEO Sophie Angenot, who became fascinated by data at a previous employer.
Bitten by data
After a few other jobs, Angenot started working at WDM Belgium (now Black Tiger), a company that processes and sells data for marketing purposes and quality services. With her customers, she saw that there was a lot of potential in that data. “Data is the new oil: that was the motto at the time.
More and more companies realized the value of data and what they could do with it. But I noticed that they were struggling to effectively implement their plans and ideas,” she explains the birth of her passion for data. What policy does a company have regarding data, how is it organized and which responsibilities are assigned to which people? It fascinated her immensely.
Good data management requires people to work together
Curious as she is, she started to read and learn a lot about it. From her research and experiences with her employer’s clients, Angenot found that the difficulties companies experience in dealing with data often have to do with differences of interpretation. That quickly brought her to the human side of data: people need to work together for good data management.
“Many companies consist of different departments, each of which has its own data. On the one hand, this structure is logical because each department has its own specific expertise and knowledge. On the other hand, it is counterproductive: the data is only managed based on the needs of their own department, while all teams – from sales and order management to customer service and invoicing – have to use each other’s data for optimal customer service.”
“What a company needs is an efficient organization of the entire data flow across different silos. With this data, people have to learn to work together, not just within their own team, as they are used to, but with all departments of the company.”
Human data management
This insight did not leave her and she kept thinking about it. “What data does a company have, where is that data located, which people use it? Those are all important questions. Few companies have a good overview of their data structure and organization.”
“I realized that there was a need to bring clarity to an abstract and complex subject”, says Angenot, who saw a lot of potential in training and guiding people and organizations to implement a humane policy on data.”
“For me, successful data management focuses on organization and structure. Of course technical tools are important, but they only work if people are on board. Only when we know what problem we want to solve and who can do it best, will we select the appropriate tools. Because that market is very large, from a scooter to a Rolls Royce. And not everyone needs a Rolls.”
At first, Angenot looked for a company where they did something like this, unfortunately without results. That is why she decided to take the plunge and became a freelance consultant to put her knowledge and insights about data governance at the service of companies.
“That was quite exciting, after all those years in paid employment. I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family. My father in particular thought that I should not just give up my job security, good salary and company car. I doubted for a long time, but at the age of forty I was like: it’s now or never,” she says about this.
Now or never
Angenot started alone, but it soon became clear that she needed more people for the projects she wanted to do. “I thought a lot about what my own company would look like. I had a good idea that it would revolve around data governance with a focus on the human aspect.”
“For a long time I thought I couldn’t do it, until I co-organized the JCI World Congress in Belgium in 2011. With a team of 5, we brought 4,500 people from 100 countries from all over the world together in Belgium for a whole week. By doing this, the realization grew: I can do this, so I can also run my own company,” she says.
“During that period she also came into contact with the people of growth partner iAdvise (today Inkubis). They encouraged her to set up a company around data management and data quality within the tech ecosystem of the Cronos Group. This is how QuaData was born in 2014.”This brought me into the technology sector, even though my focus was people first and technology second.”
Angenot’s company is part of the Cronos Group. It is a modern form of entrepreneurship because you already start up in an ecosystem of companies and that way you very quickly get your first use-cases can expand and then continue to grow.
“It is indeed a ‘comfortable’ way to set up a company because the group takes care of and arranges a lot of things for us, such as recruitment, fleet management, financial aspects… But I still have to market my idea and should work, of course. Sit back and relax, is certainly not the case,” she explains. “I wouldn’t want it either!”
QuaData immediately ran at full speed. “After a month we were already with 2. Finding customers was never difficult: the market for data governance is large and we bring a different story than the players who approach data governance in the traditional way, with a technical approach. QuaData stands for a form of governance that fits the needs and culture of a company. We adapt and think along with what our customers want to achieve. Instead of ‘here’s the plan and just do it’, it’s an interactive process with us, which is appreciated by many companies.”
The biggest challenge that Angenot experiences is finding the right people. There are not many people in Belgium with extensive experience in data management, and many of them also focus on the technological side. “That is why we also hire people with less knowledge and experience, but with a great interest and strong communication skills, whom we train thoroughly in-house. We offer them many opportunities for growth and try to be an attractive employer to prevent them from looking elsewhere. With the current war for talent that is very challenging,” she explains.
Today QuaData is with a team of 7, almost all women. “I recently hired our first male colleague. It is not a conscious choice to build a predominantly female team, because I would like everything to be more balanced. But I think the human aspect of our approach and the importance of communication resonates more with women, while men are more drawn to the technical. It is a cliché, but it seems to be true,” says Angenot, who is proud of what she has achieved with her team since 2014.
I don’t want to grow ‘to grow’. It must be meaningful and useful, always with a focus on the human aspect and the cooperation between people
What started with her ‘small idea’ has already had a major impact for leading companies such as Liantis, Brussels Airport and Vandemoortele. She would like to grow with QuaData to a team of 20 people. “But I don’t want to grow ‘to grow’. It must be meaningful and useful, always with a focus on the human aspect and the cooperation between people. Because that is how we distinguish ourselves in the market.”
‘Data governance is complex and expensive, so not for us’: it is a view that unfortunately still lives in many companies. Angenot tries to change that, through her sparkle not only to its customers and employees, but also on a larger scale. “I think it’s important to make my experience and expertise visible and share it, for example on LinkedIn. There is already more awareness among companies today, not only more large companies, but also more and more SMEs.”
“I hope I can ensure that even more attention is paid to the human side of data. Who knows, this could even have an impact on the tech sector in general, leading to more innovation in the human aspects of tech. My big dream is to one day write a book about it. But unfortunately I can’t write well,” she says with a laugh.
Fortunately, she can explain it well, we have already noticed during this conversation. “I used to do a lot of keynotes, I really enjoy doing that. It has been reduced by the crowds and by corona. But soon I will be heard at the Data Governance Conference of IRM UK in London,” says Angenot, who has become a reference person in the field of data governance.
“It gives me a lot of energy to turn a complex and abstract subject into a manageable story. I notice that companies are looking for clarityso I am convinced that the need for our expertise will not disappear any time soon.”