Friends, Relations And Explanations

So I've been blogging for four months now and I've had great feedback, but I had one of those light bulb moments during a conversation with my best friend recently.  It turns out that my friends and family still don't know what it is I do!

Now for someone who espouses the importance of being able to communicate in my job, that's a little worrying.  It seems that I have focused on communicating what I do in the world in which I operate during business hours, but not extended that to those in my personal life (excepting of course those friends I have made in the course of my work).

So I decided to put the record straight.  The first step was obviously to find out what they think I do and the results have been very interesting. It turns out that my friends and family think that:

I'm a data geek and therefore sit at a computer wearing glasses—which is of course true some of the time

I speak a "datary" type language—not true. I definitely speak English and go out of my way not to use data type jargon when talking to business people, but having said that I do have to be versatile to talk to the IT guys in a language that they understand.

Go to lots of meetings—I wouldn't describe them all as generic meetings but I do spend a lot of time with people helping them to understand their data and how they can manage it better.

Smile sweetly at people while getting them to do what I want them to do—again whilst I wouldn't use those words precisely I do work hard to influence and persuade people to manage their data properly.

I govern data, which involves telling the data exactly what I want it to do and then treat it harshly if it doesn't do what it's told! This one is definitely not right. Not immediately obvious from the job title, but I actually have very little to do with the data itself. I work with people and the processes they use to make sure that their data is of good quality but there is some truth in the fact that I encourage people to define what makes their data good enough for them to use and then monitor whether it the data is doing as its told.

I put in place systems to manage data better—similar to above, it’s definitely about managing data better, but my focus is much more on the people and the processes they follow than the systems.

So how do I describe what I do? Well I help organisations manage their data better and part of that involves getting individuals to sign up to be responsible for sets of data. You know how sometimes simple problems never get fixed because it's not anyone's responsibility to fix it? Well it's exactly the same with data.

Peter Aiken, President of DAMA International, summed up the situation wonderfully at the recent Data Governance Conference in London. Most people think that data is like the air - it's just there and is good enough for what we want to use it for. So in any organisation most people (if not all) need data in order to do their job. They expect that it will be there and it will be fit for purpose, but it’s no one’s particular problem to worry if the data is good enough to control stock levels properly or service customers properly etc. I help fix that by helping an organisation identify who owns sets of data and helping them put in place processes to help them proactively manage their data and improve the quality of it.

So it appears that whilst terminology may differ, on the whole my friends and family understand what I do better than they had realised and for the record, my best friend thinks “you do something to do with data and I think you tell people how to input and look after it and make someone responsible for it”. Not a bad summary at all, in one simple sentence – if only it was that easy to do…!!


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