Data Governance interview

Data Governance interview

Data Governance interview
Nigel has worked in data management for over 25 years.   He spent much of
his career at British Telecommunications (BT) where he led a series of
company wide data improvement projects which brought huge benefits to BT. 
Also in BT, he created and ran large Information Management and Customer
Relationship Management (CRM) consultancy and delivery practices.  After
leaving the company in 2010 Nigel has since been a data consultant with
several organisations including Trillium Software and FromHereOn (aka
Enterprise Architects).  Currently he is Principal Information Management
consultant EMEA for Global Data Strategy.  He has been an active member of
the Data Management Association (DAMA) for many years and is currently
Vice-Chair of the DAMA UK chapter.  

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

At least 20 years, probably before the term Data Governance was even coined
and popularised.  Although we did not have a name for it at that time, Data
Governance became an issue in BT in the 1990s. When running data
improvement projects it became obvious that a lack of business leadership
and accountability for data was a major cause of the data quality problems
we uncovered, and a significant barrier to fixing them.  So we placed a big
emphasis on getting business people interested and actively involved, and
they eventually led the improvement projects.  In practice they acted as de
facto data owners and data stewards, even if we didn’t call them that at
the time. 

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Some people view Data Governance as an unusual career choice, would you
mind sharing how you got into this area of work?

Like many people, purely by accident.  Until the 1990s I had a pretty bog
standard IT career, progressing from a programmer to business analyst, then
onto team leadership and project management.  Then I ran a project to
investigate and remedy outstanding software faults on BT’s biggest customer
service system at that time.  Its achievements were brought to the
attention of a BT board member, the Director of Strategy.  She met me and
said ‘I want you to lead some work I have started on how we can improve our
overall management of data’.  Saying no was not a good career option, so
that’s how I got into data as a focus in its own right.  From there, data
quality and data governance eventually became an abiding interest and

What characteristics do you have that make you successful at Data
Governance and why?

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I suppose it’s for others to judge my success (or otherwise) but I feel
I’ve been helped by a couple of things.  First, I am not, and never have
been, a technology geek, despite my many years in IT.  So my natural
instinct is to start any data challenge not with technology, but by a focus
on business and its people.   Nowhere is this more important than Data
Governance where 80% of success depends on getting people to think
differently about data, and in creating a direct link between Data
Governance and what the business is trying to achieve.  Technology has an
important part to play in delivering Data Governance, but is always an
enabler, never a starting point. 

Second, a sense of humour definitely helps. All of us who have tried to
sell the benefits of Data Governance have at some point been met with
scepticism, indifference, incomprehension or downright hostility.  The
ability to try to overcome this with a smile and a lighthearted quip,
coupled with an underlying determination to win people over, has definitely
helped.  It doesn’t always work, but it often can.   

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Are there any particular books or resources that you would recommend as
useful support for those starting out in Data Governance?

I always found inspiration in the early pioneers of data quality and Data
Governance, Tom Redman and Larry English.  Between them they have published
several books and are the founding fathers of the discipline.

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