Data Governance Interview - Jim Harris

I'm very pleased that Jim Harris agreed to be interviewed for the first blog on my new website...

Jim Harris is a recognized industry thought leader with more than 20 years of enterprise data management experience, specializing in data quality, data integration, data warehousing, business intelligence, master data management, data governance, and big data analytics.

As Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive Compulsive Data Quality, Jim Harris offers an independent, vendor-neutral perspective and hosts the popular audio podcast OCDQ Radio. Jim Harris is an independent consultant and freelance writer for hire.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

Long before the term become commonplace. For over 20 years, the primary focus of my career has been data quality. Most of my past client engagements were working as either an employee of, or a consultant representing, a data quality tool vendor. Therefore, I was often focused on applying technology to the low-level details of data management, such as data profiling, data cleansing, and data matching. However, the success of almost every project I worked on had less to do with technology and more to do with what we would now refer to as data governance, which I define as the strategic alignment of people throughout the organization through the definition, implementation, and enforcement of policies for data access, data quality, data management, and effective data usage, in order to support critical business activities, fact-based decision making, and enable optimal enterprise performance.

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

I have always been fascinated with data. As a young boy, I was never good at athletics, but I loved analyzing the statistics of my favorite professional sport: baseball. When I got my first computer (a Commodore 64), I spent countless hours programming a text-based baseball simulator that my friends and I played. Every little detail of the game was controlled by data using probability tables, which were initially open to my friends to modify so they could help me make the game more realistic. However, I noticed that most of their modifications simply made their players and teams unrealistically good. Therefore, I had to provide my friends with some guidelines about was an acceptable modification and code some checks and balances into the program to make sure that no one broke the rules. In a way, that was the implementation of my first data governance policy. It was no surprise then, that I studied computer science at university and after graduation went to work, first as a software engineer and later as a consultant, for a company that specialized in data quality.

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

The term “data governance” is misleading since it appears to put the emphasis on “governing data,” whereas what data governance actually governs the interactions among business processes, data, technology and, most important, people. Being a data geek that’s well-versed in technology is essential for many tasks, but being able to understand the business processes that data and technology are supporting is what separates a successful implementation from a failure. To gain this understanding, you need to talk with, and more important listen to, the people throughout the organization who are responsible for each aspect of the business processes, as well as the people responsible for the data management and technical architecture. This is why I believe that the most important characteristic needed for data governance success is people skills.! !!

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

I am a big fan of John Ladley’s book Data Governance: How to Design, Deploy and Sustain an Effective Data Governance Program. It’s a very practical guide on how to actually do data governance. Among the topics covered in the book are the difference and relationship between data governance and data management, the importance of establishing principles before creating data governance policies, and the various ways that data stewardship can be performed.

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

Communication is key. I know that sounds like obvious advice, but in my experience the hallmark of a failed data governance program is poor communication. All too often, the initial focus of data governance is on how the organization is going to start doing things differently, how people’s behaviors will be expected to change (and often demanded to change by executive management). However, one of the greatest sources of resistance to change is the lack of a clear understanding of why change is necessary. A data governance program needs to begin by communicating why data governance is necessary, before communicating what needs to be done, how, and by whom. Communicate early and communicate continually.


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