Speaker Spotlight Column: Nicola Askham on Data Governance

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edw2013-speaker-spotlightby Charles Roe

DATAVERSITY™ recently interviewed Nicola Askham, the Data Governance Coach. Nicola will be giving a session at the Enterprise Data World 2014 Conference in Austin, Texas from April 27 – May 1, 2014. Her session is titled “The Successful Data Governance Manager.”

The Speaker Spotlight Column (and its parallel venture the Sponsor Spotlight Column) is an ongoing project that focuses on highlighting several of the central issues represented at the many Data Management conferences produced by DATAVERSITY.

The primary emphasis of the interview was to question Nicola Askham on her work and history within the industry, with particular importance on her presentation at the upcoming conference:

DATAVERSITY (DV): What are you going to discuss during your session at EDW14, and what will the audience gain from attending your talk? (Please be specific about one or two issues you’ll be addressing and the benefits the audience will obtain).

Nicola Askham: My session will help Data Governance Managers become more successful in their role particularly by looking at the soft skills required.  It is one thing to design a Data Governance Framework, but it’s quite another to implement it and make it happen. My session will focus on those skills and characteristics which you need in order to overcome the many challenges faced when working on a Data Governance initiative.

DV: What is really important about such a topic in terms of the current state of Data Management and / or how the industry going to transform moving into the future?

Nicola Askham: People often assume that Data Governance is all about the data. They think that you can design a framework and that it will just happen, but it doesn’t.  To successfully implement a Data Governance Framework you must change the culture of an organisation and the way it views and manages its data. This does not change as the technology changes and needs soft skills rather than technical knowledge (although that does of course help!)

DV: Please tell us a little about yourself and your history in the industry, past work experience, and how you got started in the data profession?

Nicola Askham: I am very lucky that I am doing a role that I love, but it wasn’t always that way.  For many years I worked for a large UK Bank and diligently worked hard at every role I had, but had no plans to get into data. However I was the Project Manager for a successful Data Warehouse and discovered an area which I had previously not thought about and quickly grasped that it was an area which could add great value to the business.  A chance restructure not long after the project completed, gave me the opportunity to move more into a role that lead me to start defining roles and responsibilities around data and I haven’t looked back since.

Finding something I was passionate about made me want to stay in the field rather than follow a more general banking career path, so at the beginning of 2009 I left the Bank to join a consultancy specializing in Information Management, before becoming an independent consultant in 2011.  Being a consultant is great as it has given me the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients across many industries.  It doesn’t matter what the industry is -they all have data challenges!

DV: What is the biggest challenge happening in your particular area of Data Management at this time?

Nicola Askham: The hype about Big Data is the biggest challenge at present.  Companies are always keen to jump on the latest “big thing” which is usually a technology led initiative. However, often they don’t think it through or consider whether the business needs it or indeed whether they are ready for it.

DV: How is such a change influencing your job?

Nicola Askham: Too many companies are trying to adopt exciting new technologies without getting a reasonable level of Data Governance in place first.  It makes my job even more challenging than usual, as I’m seen as the boring practical person saying to slow down and get your own house in order first!

DV: How have your job, and / or the work you are doing at your organization, altered in the past 12 months? How do you expect it will change in the next 1-2 years?

Nicola Askham: I am seeing a lot more companies embark on Data Governance projects because they have understood the value of their data to their organisation, rather than because they have to comply with regulation and I expect that to continue.

DV: Are there any other emerging technologies you predict will affect your job function in the future?

Nicola Askham: I think every new technology tends to cause a similar response i.e. an expectation that the technology will solve all their problems, so I think my job continues to be challenging trying to get the business to understand that tools alone are not the answer and that the data has to be understood and of good quality in order for these tools to work and deliver value.

One technology I am excited about is that there are now tools available to support Data Governance.  While these do not take away the challenge of implementing Data Governance, they do make the recording, maintenance of and access to the data needed so much easier.

DV: What’s your favorite “Data” or “Data Management” quote?

Nicola Askham: A couple of years ago I heard Peter Aiken present at a conference in London and I was struck by his analogy that people think about their data in the same way that they think about air i.e. they don’t, they assume that it’s good enough to breath until such time as it isn’t and they have a problem.  That really resonated with me.

DV: How do you explain what you do for work, at a cocktail party, or to your grandparents?

Nicola Askham: A good question and I’m still searching for that pithy answer.  However, I did attempt to address the issue a while ago in a blog post called: Friends, Relations and Explanations.

If you are interested in attending Nicola’s session at EDW2014, please see the conference schedule at: http://edw2014.dataversity.net/agenda.cfm?confid=79&scheduleDay=PRINT

Her session is on Sunday, April 27th at 2.30pm.

About Enterprise Data World:

Enterprise Data World is the business world’s most comprehensive educational event about data and information management. Over five days, EDW presents a diverse schedule of programming that addresses every level of proficiency, including keynotes, workshops, tutorials, case studies, and discussions.

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