Data Governance Winter 2012 Conference in Review

DGWinterReviewby Jelani Harper

There was plenty to sample, see, and soak up at the Data Governance Winter 2012 Conference. It was a series of panels and discussions among approximately 200 data-driven professionals from across the country held on December 3-5. Conference producers DebTech International and DATAVERSITY™ had the prescience to host the event at the Westin Beach Resort and Spa in sunny Fort Lauderdale, where attendees enjoyed mid-70’s temperatures and beach front views, while absorbing the latest issues related to Data Management and policy implementation.

Participants included a range of industries from financial to healthcare, and represented such prominent organizations as Wells Fargo, Walgreens, and Blue Cross. Surprisingly, business professionals outnumbered technical participants at a ratio of about 4 to 1, reflecting the growing necessity of conscientious Data Management and its emergence as one of the foremost organizational concerns in the 21st century.

A show of hands revealed that the majority of attendees represented organizations that were making initial forays into instituting formal Data Governance. Those representing companies that had Data Governance architecture in place were looking to refine various aspects of policy, procedures, and definitions of terms and roles within their structures, while comparing their systems to those of the more accomplished consultants and professionals around.

“A study that IBM did showed that one in three organizations have suspicions about their information, and one in two questioned whether they had access to the right information,” said IBM’s Matt Crittenden. “Another part of the survey found that a lot of employees and managers actually would go to the public internet to get information before they would look on their own systems, because it was easier to obtain that way.”

Memorable Keynotes and Presentations

Many of the concerns that reflected the growing interest of business professionals in Data Governance were elucidated by Patrick Keaton, North American Information Governance Practice Leader of IBM, in this second keynote address on December 4, titled “Starting the Governance Journey: Driving Governance Through Solving Real Business Problems.” Keaton explained the crucial difference between the implementation of a Data Governance project versus that of a program, and gave a number of real world examples in which ineffective Data Governance and management resulted in costly repercussions.

Keaton also addressed the mutating legalities related to data following the fiscal crises of 2008, while emphasizing structuring data around business, regulatory and legal value, as well as nixing unrelated data due to its potential liability. Later in the afternoon, Crittenden provided a number of specific processes to eliminate many Data Governance issues alluded to by Keaton in his presentation “The Governance of Data Quality: How to Avoid the ‘Whack a Mole’ Paradigm.”

Keaton’s keynote preceded that by EDM Council’s Michael Atkin called “The ‘Wicked Challenge’ of Data Governance.” Atkin’s address began the day by taking on one of the central issues related to effective Data Governance, the inherent difficulty in keeping Data Management business and regulation driven so that it satisfies both requirements. Like many other speakers throughout the conference, Atkin reiterated the need for uniformity in data identification, classifications and standards, and stressed the best practice of alignment based on the meaning of words, not on actual words themselves.

Atkin’s keynote provided a comprehensive history of the discipline of Data Governance in three stages, including the current one that began after the financial crisis of 2008. He contrasted one of the common themes of the conference – the methods required and the need to market Data Governance as an effective priority and program (as opposed to a project) to upper management – against the evidence that it is slowly emerging as such a priority as evinced by the recent interest of business professionals in this discipline. One of the more interesting approaches to overcoming company resistance and general ignorance regarding Data Management is to emphasize the poor nature of data quality, an area in which most organizations need improvement.

However, a number of speakers referenced the fact that marketing is the best approach to facilitating organization-wide acceptance of Data Governance: “you will be astonished at the number of times you will have to repeat yourself and market,” said John Ladley of IMCue Solutions. “On a scale of 1 to 10 it’s not like pushing a rock up a glass mountain, but there’s some work to do.”

Vendors and Data Stewards

Tuesday’s conference ended at the bar, with attendees enjoying complimentary beer and wine as they perused the booths of sponsors. Many participants came away with a grab bag of goodies in addition to the computer-carrying satchel distributed by Global IDs, one of the first of many gifts freely given before the holiday season.

Those inclined to literature garnered books by IBM and SAP, while PwC and SAS distributed journals (some were encased in handsome, leather-bound protectors with pockets for pens and business cards). Other items included water bottles, carrying bags, inscribed pens, and a bevy of literature and white papers in conventional and mini-disc formats from the other sponsors including ASG Software Solutions, Collibra, Aprimo, Innovative Systems, Inc., Trillium Software, and Winshuttle.

One of Tuesday’s highlights was the Big Data Governance panel hosted by DATAVERSITY’s Tony Shaw featuring a roundtable discussion with Information Assets LLC’s Sunil Soares, Citi’s Eric Chacon, and SAP’s Maria Villar. Sandwiched between an afternoon coffee with ice cream break, and the open bar evening exhibition, the panel featured some of the more lively dialogue of the day as the foursome conversed about the particular challenges related to the governance of Big Data.

Although Big Data can present advantages over “little” data due to the sheer magnitude of its size and its ability to provide new legacy data, managerial concerns especially relate to issues of privacy and security, particularly when using open source architecture such as Hadoop. However, the real-time applications for streaming data provide organizational value, yet require a different set of tools such as visualization software.

A number of the panels addressed the conception and nature of the responsibilities of data stewards, which play an integral role in Data Governance. Ideas on the subject varied as much as the panelists themselves, with Robert Seiner (who hosted a morning presentation and an afternoon workshop on the final day) advocating the notion that everyone involved with the data process is a steward, while others believed that a steward’s principle job is to function as a conduit from the business to IT.

The latter definition was presented in a panel discussion moderated by Kelle O’Neal of First San Francisco Partners that included input from Express Scripts’ Elisa Pirylis, Nationwide Financial Business Operations’ Alexander Harris, Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Company, Ltd.’s Karen Majewski Tripp, and Standard and Poor’s Kevin Shannon.

One of the eminent challenges stewards face is the task of (repeatedly) informing an organization of the value of Data Governance, since they represent one of the vital components in this process. A further challenge relates to very few data stewards being solely assigned to such a position, as a show of hands at the conference revealed. Most simply perform stewardship duties while being expected to function in some other position full time, which inevitably detracts from their role as stewards and from the proper importance assigned to Data Governance.

Knowledge Integrity’s David Loshin presented one of the most informative sessions dedicated to data stewardship on December 3rd. The conference’s opening day was dedicated to a series of tutorials relating to principle components of Data Governance. Tutorials spanned from three plus hours (including coffee breaks) to half hour sessions. Loshin detailed the role of data stewards in setting policy and interacting in accordance with Data governance councils.

Loshin also denoted a procedure for quantifying the performance assessment of a data steward:

“When you’re in a position where you’re asked ‘what do you do, tell me why you deserve your bonus this year, you can say well here’s the criteria for the performance of a data steward, here’s how I met that role, here’s the metrics that we use to measure that and here’s the operating record.”

The final keynote on December 5th, “Addressing the Challenges in Implementing Data Governance Practitioner Panel” was moderated by Ladley and featured Walgreen’s Mike Jennings, LDS Church’s Pablo Riboldi, HealthNow NY Inc.’s George Yuhasz, and Nationwide Financial IT Architecture’s Ray Fox. One of the key obstacles is aligning an organization’s business objectives with its Data Governance; others relate to ramifications of cultural changes that implementing proper Data Governance provides.

The Big Picture

Many of the panelists and attendees alluded to the issue of Data Governance workers having a fair share of work in front of them. The hardest and most vital aspect of implementing Data Governance is procuring support from upper-level management, many of whom are relatively unaware of what Data Governance actually is.

Informing them and emphasizing the value of such a program to an organization requires capable marketing skills in a continual process of selling the value of Data Governance. Those that are successful and that can procure enough financial support and resources are entitled to the real fun of aligning their program with the organization’s goals, adhering to regulations, defining terms, while forming and working with various positions integral to Data Governance.

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