Data Governance Interview - Janani Dumbleton

This week, I'm very pleased that Janani Dumbleton agreed to be interviewed for my blog.  I always enjoy discussing all things Data Governance with her, as she obviously shares my enthusiasm for the topic.  Janani describes herself as the perennial consultant, but I'll hand over to her to explain more in her own words...

I guess it just describes how I like to approach any challenge, which is to listen, understand and then act. I am not sure of that is a good or a bad thing, but it does force me to empathise with people and their battles with technology, processes and data. I have worked in the information technology and data world for around 16 years, with varying focus on Business processes, implementation of systems such as CRM, ERP, Data warehousing, Master Data Management and then the planning and management of Data quality and more recently , Data Governance. I started my career in the heart of the silicon valley in California, but settled down in the United Kingdom. Currently I am a principal consultant at Experian Data Quality, working on propositions and you can read my musings on the company blog.

I have come to love the relationship between real life processes and data, and proudly wear the badge of a geek. In my personal life, I continue to wear that badge, with a keen interest in anything science fiction, love reading and when I get a chance, spend time gaming on the virtual battlefield of Guild Wars 2.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I stumbled into data governance when I was responsible for all business systems and data during a five year hiatus from consulting when I decided to stay with one of the companies where I implemented an enterprise wide CRM, ERP, Reporting and Content management solution. However, my role at Experian Data Quality gave me the opportunity to develop a more consultative approach, including developing the framework and services around data governance. So overall it would be around seven years.

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

Yes, it is always interesting when nothing in your role warns you about data governance. I had to tackle the data governance bull by its horns when I had to start managing and controlling how data was used by the organisation and more importantly by partners and external stakeholders, all the way from acquisition to archival. It also meant working with many different business users with different data agendas.

I always believe you learn things by pretty much jumping into the deep end, if you don't try it you will never know. That does not mean jump blindly, so I did do my research reading books and blogs. It's only when you put things into practice you see the practicality of the many emerging frameworks around data governance, one size does not fit all, so you have to learn to tailor and refine over time. So that's what I did, to varying degrees of success, however, the failures set me up very well when I had to think of creating the consulting service later on in my career.

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

I think success is always built by learning from failures, if you do not know what wrong looks like, it would be very difficult to sustain successes. So I like the process of reflecting not only on good, but also the tough experiences of the past.

Another important factor is being able to listen, as data governance built around a single template, you have to adapt. You have to understand who and why you are implementing, and ensure that is reflected when you design, deploy and most importantly, delegate.

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

I have found inspiration in many sources, your blog included. I think reading blogs and views of practitioners are a great way to keep up to date with the governance, world, and I also found it useful visiting events, like the IRM MDM/DG even held in spring each year. However, if you are just starting out, the following two resources really helped me when get my head around the basics and then get some real world examples.

- the Data Governance Institute website has a very good framework and supporting resources from Gwen Thomas.

- "Selling Information Governance to the Business: Best Practices by Industry and Job Function" by Sunil Soares is a great gem of a book for industry perspectives.

What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced in a Data Governance implementation?

I would go back to my original role as an employee managing business systems, it was exceptionally difficult as it represented the ideal customer I would like to he today. I did not have any experience, no clear business mandate, an initiative driven by best intentions, and a disparate group of stakeholders. But I had to get it done to keen my own sanity with changing systems, data and emergence of new processes each year. Today, I see that experience as a good benchmark of where not to be, and it helps shape my conversations with customers on any data project.

Is there a company or industry you would particularly like to help implement Data Governance for and why?

I believe the real sectors that need help are ones without the headline-grabbing regulatory drivers breathing down their neck. It's where data quality is not top of the agenda, and processes are reactive, people work in silos, and many of the businesses are paddling hard to make financial success. One particular sector I find fascinating is Charities. These organisations have to make do with whatever little they can allocate for back office functions, plunging all their finances into their front office operations. I think they represent a good challenge, and are also calling out for good data. Charities need to make most of their data and maximise the effectiveness of their processes, what a good story for governance!

What single piece of advice would you give someone just starting out in Data Governance?

Get top level business buy in, the only way you can succeed in governance is by ensuring your stakeholders on your project are bought in and everyone shares in the end goal vision. You cannot implement data governance on your own, and best intentions do not make a business case. So get people involved, bought in.

Another recommendation would be to consider a pilot within a controlled set of data and processes, especially if you are struggling with wider business buy in. If you can prove value soon and successfully, you can not only develop a reusable template that works, but also use your success story to get wider buy in.

Finally I wondered if you could share a memorable data governance experience

This one always makes me laugh as it was one of my first meetings as a newbie embarking on governance. I had to gather up to 12 different stakeholders from across and outside the business, and they were heavyweights in their areas of membership, finance, business services, so we are talking about very strong personalities. The objective of the meeting was to run through some troubling data findings, and I wanted to use this opportunity to identify data owners and start creating a federated model of responsibility. Well the meeting went well, everybody agreed that things had to be fixed and I was feeling quite confident. But somehow during the way, my role changed from being the one with control, to the one with all the actions, furiously scribbling away. Somewhere towards the end reality sunk in that I was now responsible for all the corrective actions for these data problems and it was very hard to swallow and I did not have any room to manoeuvre. But I learnt my lesson that sometimes understanding the stakeholders early on can save you a load of pain. And group meetings don't always solve problems!


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