Data Governance Interview - Jill Wanless

I am really pleased that Jill Wanless agreed to be interviewed for the second of my Data Governance Interviews. Jill is a Senior Advisor who is leading the development and implementation of an enterprise data governance program for Export Development Canada, a Canadian crown corporation. I have followed Jill online for a few years now and was lucky enough to meet her at a conference in London this year.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I've been working on the Data Governance program since the middle of 2010 but it actually started in 2006 with a data quality initiative and has evolved from there.

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

I was a Business Analyst working on an Information Management readiness assessment as part of a CRM project. The assessment results showed us to be at a level 1 maturity and made some recommendations for priority work needed to support the CRM project; a data quality assessment , a data clean-up and a business glossary to name a few and I became the lead for a newly established data quality team tasked with implementing.

The work was successful but it was housed in IT so was much focused on project delivery. It has since evolved to be business/IT partnership that is business led and includes policy, processes, stewards, metadata management, change management, data quality, standards development and measurement. Whew!

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

Good question. It is not an easy role! When I was in IT working on data quality I was not in the best shape. I was a smoker and didn't take good care of myself. I saw that the program was evolving to be business led and I knew that this was going to be a very hard sell and so I needed to prepare. Not only mentally but physically. I quit smoking and started running and haven't looked back. I make sure to take care of my self to make sure I can handle what comes next.

I don't want to scare anyone. It's hugely rewarding. But it means a whole lot of change and is mostly about people so this means some discomfort. It means some business processes will need to change, maybe some people will need to work differently and who and how we make decisions on our data will need to change. And it's a tough sell because the connection from good data quality to the success of the corporate objectives is not a straight path like many other corporate programs. To this day we still do a lot of work to confirm our resources.

Because it involves a lot of change and it also is an evolving capability you may find that where you report to may change many times. You need to be able to see the opportunities in the constant change. You need to be resilient and you need to be committed and passionate and continue to focus on the benefits and the value.

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

When it first came out I read Customer Data Integration by Jill Dyché, Evan Levy, and Don Peppers. To this day I still think it's one of the best. I recommend Twitter as an amazing source of knowledgeable people who are doing the same thing and have so much experience and lessons learned to share. is also an amazing resource which has tips for if you are just starting out or if you have done this for years and are taking governance to the next level. LinkedIn is great too. You can ask a question and get tons of replies from experts in the community.

I find it's kind of like being a parent. What works for one family may not work for the next. Your data governance program will be a little bit different than others as it depends on the organization's culture, structure, priorities, etc. So everyone who has every attempted this has a story to tell of what worked well and what could be improved upon.

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

I'd have to say it's ensuring we have resources to sustain what we have done. We have business stewards who are stewarding the data and that's not the issue. It's mostly around the effort required for the core team to sustain what we've built. We're finding that this is not a data governance problem though. It's an organizational one and it's typical in organizations that move from siloed project delivery to one that involves establishing enterprise processes that includes sustainability. We're building a solid plan and business case for our resource needs to confirm commitment but with many other corporate priorities underway I believe it will continue to be a challenge until information management becomes part of the strategic planning.

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

Wow. I have never thought of this. Good question. Now that I think about it I think it would be interesting to implement data governance for health organizations such as hospitals and health clinics. It's such a costly service with potential deadly consequences if the data quality is poor. I'm pretty sure that good data governance could identify many areas for cost savings and reducing diagnostic errors. Would be fascinating!

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

I have 2 pieces of advice ☺.

1/ Surround yourself with people who are like minded and see the value of what you are trying to achieve. There are people across the organization who have been doing data improvement work for years.

2/ don't talk about data governance for the sake of data governance. Nobody will get excited. Talk about achieving value and eliminating waste. Get a hold of your corporate objectives and identify the value data governance will bring using the corporate language. You will get leadership attention.

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

Great question! I have many memorable experiences but one that continues to haunt me (and I just tweeted it the other day) is an ongoing challenge.

Throughout the evolution of our program I am continuously dumbfounded by the very fact of having to point out that information is an organizational asset. We build out technology systems to house and report on information. We provide smart phones and laptops to manage our information. The world connects through sharing of information. We are digitizing everything and the internet connects information all over the world. Yet here we are fighting to get people to understand that information is a fundamental asset that we need to manage. We implement projects and information management is an afterthought. We redesign our processes yet we don't connect them to the information that supports or triggers them. If someone could explain to me why this is so I would be sure to sleep better at night lol.


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