Data Governance Interview - Richard Lee

I'm delighted that Richard Lee agreed to be the subject of my next Data Governance Interview.  Richard is the Managing Partner of IMECS, LLC, an executive consulting firm that works with Senior Executive Teams in the domains of Business Transformation, Governance, Risk & Compliance, Advanced Analytics and Business Informatics.

Richard recently undertook a staff role at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) to lead their Enterprise Information Transformation Program. In that capacity he was also their Data Governance Officer during the course of the program.

During his consulting career he has worked with clients around the world and within multiple industry segments such as Insurance, Financial Services, Utilities & Energy, Technology, Telecommunications, Pharma & Healthcare.

He has a MSc & BSc in Electrical & Computer Engineering and an MBA (Strategy & Decision Sciences).

Finally, he is a 2014 IBM Champion for Information Management and IBM Social Media VIP.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I was the principal consulting architect for NASA's EOS Data & Information System program in the '90's and worked with NASA's Stewardship Council for Space Data to establish Policies & Practices for the PB's of data being collected in support of the Mission to Planet Earth (a long-range program which continues today). I also worked with (then) Senator Al Gore's "Sub-Committee on Science, Technology & Space" to establish overall Strategy & Standards for all of NASA's Space Data programs

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

Governance is a critical component of each Organization/Enterprise today. It sets the tone and direction for the entire Organization as it pursues its Strategic, Tactical & Operational Goals. Data Governance is a critical component of this Governance structure and one that needs rapid maturing in all Organizations.

Many who aspire to work in Data Governance roles come from backgrounds where they have had consultative roles in helping to define & optimize Corporate Structure & Policy, Organizational Dynamics and Business Informatics. To be an effective Data Governance leader you must have a long-term strategic view of Risk & Opportunity Management, Regulatory Compliance & Information Strategy.

I enjoy supporting the Governance Function no matter the type and set the long term Information Strategy for ICBC which required starting up a formalized Data Governance function. Most Organizations start DG because of either a data breech or a quality issue. At ICBC we started it as part of our overall Transformation Program activities because we had major information-related decisions that required independent governance e.g. What Claims history to migrate from the legacy platform into the new application and new EDW? Etc.

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

The most significant characteristic is that it must be Business-lead with full Accountability manifesting in the Executive Team. It cannot succeed if it is IT-lead or an IT function. IT has key responsibilities and a seat at the table, but is the "management leg" of the stool, not the governance one. (Separation of Duties between Governance (oversight) and Management (operations) is essential.

Another critical path activity is to make Data Governance a component of your overall Risk & Compliance functions, not an outlier living within IT or some part of the business.

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

There are many, many good books, blogs, wikis and conferences centered on Data Governance. However, what is conspicuously missing are good materials on the bigger picture of Governance, Organizational Structure & Strategy. You need a holistic approach to all of these areas and not try and bolt-on DG. I like a few books relating all three; "Governance and Risk", Dallas; "Org – The Underlying Logic of the Office", Fishman; and "Organizational Culture & Leadership", Schein.

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

DG Operationalization is one of the most challenging consulting or leadership endeavors that I have undertaken during my career. It is always fraught with challenges, most of them Cultural. We (consultants) focus a lot on structure and maturity, but often ignore (at our peril) the Cultural Adoption requirements that come with DG. I am not speaking to the traditional change management regime of communication, training and readiness, but the need to evolve both the Organization Structure itself to an optimized form that best facilitates good Governance, but also making everyone truly believe (and act) that Information is an Asset. If you do not conquer these two requirements you have a very low potential for success and will no doubt be subject to what I call "Snap Back" where no matter what energy and effort you put it starting up and operationalizing your DG activity if the Culture does not "adopt it" it will "snap back" to the status quo once the intensity dies down. This phenomenon has lead to the high-rate of failure in all DG Programs.

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

Financial Services (Banking, Insurance, Exchanges, etc.) have been the first to adopt DG traditionally due to Regulatory Compliance needs. They have also been the first to abandon it and pursue the fatally flawed notion of a Chief Data Officer (more on that in another blog session). Many other segments including Government followed their lead with many having matured well over time if properly executed.

One segment that seems underserved is the Technology Sector. It is very much the Cobbler's Children in respect to not practicing what they often preach to their own customers. I have seen this first hand in a number of my client engagements over the years including my neighbors here in Redmond, WA. All of these companies are preaching the gospel of disruption via The Cloud, but their own internal behavior should provide no level of Trust for their customers. They do not believe with any conviction that "Information is an Asset" and behave like "Data is just stuff".

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

Here are a couple of points:

  1. Start where you have the most pain i.e. Data Quality, Single Version of the Truth, Privacy Policy Execution, Regulatory Requirements, etc. Don't try and "boil the ocean" out of the gate.
  2. Engage your Leadership and Culture from Day 1. Do not operate in Stealth Mode and then force down everyone's throat later!

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

There have been many. Here is a couple.

  1. We don't need DG we have (either Data Management or Data Security). (Really?)
  2. You can have your DG, but I still make the ultimate decision. (Sigh!)


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