Data Governance Interview - Jim Orr

For the third in my series of Data Governance interviews, I am really pleased that Jim Orr kindly agreed to answer my questions. I was lucky enough to meet Jim at the MDM and Data Governance Summit in London earlier this year.

As President of James Orr Consulting, LLC, Jim specializes in the field of data governance, master data management, data quality and information asset management. His experience includes leading consulting practices and thought leadership initiatives at Firstlogic, Business Objects, Trillium Software, and Information Builders. During the last 15 years he has provided data-centric solutions and consultative direction to agencies, enterprise and mid-market organizations world-wide, spanning nearly every industry. Much of his time is dedicated to working with executives, business leaders, and program stakeholders to transform organizations into data-driven entities. In addition, he is;

  • Founding member of the Data Governance Professional Organization
  • Author of the book entitled "Data Governance for the Executive"
  • Industry thought leader and frequent guest speaker (GARTNER, MDM/DG/CIO conferences, DAMA, TDWI, etc.)

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

15 years

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

For me it was not really a choice, rather a natural migration from the data quality field. My leadership roles in business, technology and data quality consulting practices served as a natural breeding ground for helping organizations solve their broader governance challenges. It also came at a time when data governance was getting traction in the industry.

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

My data governance strengths reside in my business acumen and change agent capabilities. I know how to educate, sell and work the executive ranks to drive successful initiatives. For me, it is all about the business, and working it from the top down. Though it sounds sac religious, data is secondary to success. Most organizations know what needs to be done with the data but find themselves paralyzed because they can't organize themselves properly in order to get it done.

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

Aside from my own book "Data Governance for the Executive" I can't think of any. ☺ In all seriousness, this discipline is still growing and shaping itself on the fly. My recommendation to those starting out is to sample the works of several authors and practitioners in the industry. This exercise will give the reader a good cross-section of how the discipline is viewed within the industry from a data, business and technology perspective. From there, you can formulate your own opinions and solutions that meet your specific needs.

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

Getting the client to realize that they were their own worst enemy. Unfortunately, many governance programs fail because a substantial number of organizations are unable to solve the problem on their own accord. This discipline requires business process reengineering and trying to accomplish this from the inside out and bottom up is commonly met with limited success and frequent failure.

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

I enjoy working with organization that truly want to help themselves versus those that are perpetually stuck in bureaucratic processes, institutionalized project based approaches and overly political environments.

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

Learn how to establish and convey a comprehensive business message for governance. Furthermore, to recognize that you may not be in an appropriate position to accomplish this. I've seen far too many professionals deliver subpar business cases that they were actually very proud of. Even if the business case is adequate they are often too close to the situation to be taken seriously in their organization. In other words...get help to position the success of your program.

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

My most memorable moment has to be a meeting I attended at a major insurance company which I write about in my book. It involved bringing business and technology professionals together for the first time as part of a data governance initiative. Only one business person attended, however, the individual validated an address quality problem for the IT professionals by exposing the fact that the company had a return mail office staffed by nine people. This led to further discoveries whereby this single address problem was costing millions of dollars in lost sales revenues, foregone marketing opportunities, escalated customer care issues and costly mistakes in the order-to-cash process. The discoveries from this one meeting led to the funding required to expand the data governance initiative. It also proved, once again, that the most valuable benefit of data governance is the transparency it brings to an organization.


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