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CalPERS Data, Analytics Manager: ‘Focus on Data Quality to Create a Data-Driven Culture’

As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Shilpa Nayak is manager of enterprise analytics and data services at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), a role she has had since December 2021. She was previously data analytics and business intelligence (BI) delivery lead at CalPERS from November 2020 to November 2021. Prior to entering state service, Nayak was most recently a software engineer III at Walmart Global Tech, a role she had from September 2017 to November 2020.

She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a focus on information science from Savitribai Phule Pune University in India and a master's degree in computer science from the State University of New York at Albany.

Industry Insider — California: Take me through your time in the public sector. How long have you been at the state, how long have you been at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and how long have you been in your current role?

Nayak: CalPERS is my first stint in the public sector. I came on board in 2020, during the pandemic, and have been on my Enterprise Analytics and Data Services team for almost three years. Working at CalPERS has been a great learning experience and professionally rewarding. In addition to my professional data warehouse experience, I bring a solid academic foundation. I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a focus on information science, from India; and I earned my master's in computer science from the State University of New York. I bring 16-plus years of IT experience from the private sector. Over the course of my career, my experience has taught me to listen deeply, and that capable and driven team members matter the most.

IICA: How would you describe your current role, manager of Enterprise Analytics and Data Services at CalPERS, in terms of responsibilities and duties? How large is your team?

Nayak: As the manager of Enterprise Analytics and Data Services at CalPERS, I manage and assist in the development of CalPERS analytics and business intelligence strategies, frameworks and standards to ensure the proper delivery of information assets, such as data dashboards, data extracts and data governance/analytics, to meet CalPERS' business needs and ensure that we deliver high-quality data-driven insights and solutions to support the organization’s strategic goals. I oversee the design and implementation of data warehouses, data marts and data integration processes, ensuring that we leverage the latest technologies and methodologies to optimize data access and usage. I also manage the development and implementation of data visualization and reporting tools that provide actionable insights to our business users. As a manager, my three main focuses are on talent development, delivery excellence and transparency in communication. I currently manage a team of 25-plus team members, providing leadership, guidance and mentorship to the team, and ensuring that they have the necessary skills, tools and resources to succeed in their roles.

IICA: What big IT initiatives or projects are you working on? What sorts of projects might be coming your way in 2023?

Nayak: My team is currently working on a couple of big initiatives. The first one is developing an enterprise analytics data strategy. The data strategy will establish a foundation for business intelligence (BI) data governance, data security, data operations, technology and processes. Our data strategy vision, mission and values are focused toward and aligned with our CalPERS vision and core values statement for providing a sustainable retirement system and health-care program. Then, we will continue enhancing the self-service data analytics platform features for our CalPERS business users based on user feedback and changing business needs. Secondly, the main project that’s coming in 2023 is the implementation of the business intelligence data platform modernization road map.

IICA: You accepted a CIO Leadership Award at last month’s California Public Sector CIO Academy. Can you share a bit about the work that led to you receiving that award, the needs it resolved, its goals and your role in it?

Nayak: I received an IT leadership award at the 2023 California Public Sector CIO Academy for the business intelligence data platform modernization road map that sets the foundation for data advancement and ensures efficient and effective use of CalPERS BI data and tools. So, with this modernization road map, we are focused on customer service and supporting CalPERS' business plan initiatives by moving our analytics users to a modern dashboarding tool, enhancing our data-as-a-service offerings, and staying in compliance with CalPERS and state policies. I was instrumental in developing strategies to optimize CalPERS BI data governance and data delivery to safeguard CalPERS data.

IICA: What best practices might you offer as a result of having completed that work?

Nayak: I would offer the following best practices for Enterprise Analytics and Data Services for better decision-making and to achieve their strategic objectives:

  • Establish a data strategy: Develop policies, procedures, standards and data governance to ensure the accuracy, completeness and integrity of the data. Implement strong security measures. This will ensure that data is managed and used in a consistent, efficient and secure manner to deliver a sustainable system.
  • Define clear business requirements: Collaborate with business teams to identify the business objectives and clear requirements that you want to achieve through analytics and data services initiatives. And ensure alignment with business strategic goals and priorities.
  • Focus on data quality to create a data-driven culture: Ensure that the data used in analytics initiatives is accurate, relevant and up to date in order to promote the use of data in decision-making processes across the organization.
IICA: In your time at CalPERS – or at another state entity – what IT project or achievement are you most proud of?

Nayak: The IT project that I am most proud of is managing and delivering the self-service data analytics platform for our business users, which allows them to access and analyze their own data. This reduces reliance on IT resources and increases productivity; and leads to faster insights and more informed decision-making. We continue to improve the self-service analytics platform based on user feedback and changing business needs. This deliverable has increased efficiency, improved data literacy and streamlined data delivery for faster decision-making across business areas.

IICA: What has surprised you most this year in government technology?

Nayak: One of the biggest surprises in government enterprise analytics and data services this year has been the increasing focus on data security and privacy, particularly considering recent data breaches and cyber attacks targeting government organizations. This has led to a greater emphasis on data strategy and the need for robust data governance and data protection measures to ensure sensitive data at rest is stored and handled properly. Plus, reducing technical debt by retiring outdated and end-of-life products by moving to modern tools and technology will reduce risk to any vulnerability and keep our data safe.

IICA: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the govtech/SLED sector?

Nayak: I enjoy reading insights from thought leaders and industry experts on StateTech Magazine, Government Technology Insider and Government Technology.* I follow government agency and private-sector websites and newsletters to stay abreast of developments in the government sector. I am a Gartner member, where I read Gartner’s white papers, attend seminars and discuss the industry with their experts. Finally, I am also on social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, following various leaders and professionals to learn the latest current events. More than learning, this also gives me the opportunities to connect with other professionals in the industry.

IICA: What are your favorite hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Nayak: Outside of work, I love to spend time with my family by going on hikes, traveling to different cities/countries, and cooking and baking with my two girls. I have enjoyed reading fiction but lately I am reading more management and leadership books. I have always been inspired by strong women in top leadership positions, so whenever I get a chance, I listen to their podcasts and read their biographies or books. I am currently reading a book written by Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg encourages women to “lean in” and take charge of their careers by being more assertive, taking risks and seeking out mentors and sponsors to pursue their career goals with more confidence and ambition.

*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider — California.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.