Data Governance Interview - Andrew Davies

This data governance interview is with Andrew Davies, who I came across online as he enthusiastically contributes to online data related discussions. Andrew has been in the IT industry for 21 years coming from the background of a degree in applied mathematics. He started out his IT career as a database developer and having gained a good grounding in software development he went on to look at the more theoretical aspects of databases, starting with E.F. Codd’s seminal paper on The Relational Model of Data.  He firmly believe that if you don’t know the principles on which a discipline is based you can’t know how far those principles can be safely bent or when they can be broken.  After several years as a relational database designer he moved into data architecture and have recently moved into his current Information Architecture Management role in the Enterprise Architecture team for the BAE Systems Naval Ships business.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

Data Governance has been a part of my role for about 12 years.  As the senior database designer in a software house where the product was data-driven getting the data right and controlling it through its lifecycle was critical to the credibility and success of the product.  We had to be disciplined about it because being data-driven was a key selling point of the software and we had to demonstrate that not only was our own house in order but that we could help customers who weren’t in such a good place with their data.

 How did you start working in Data Governance?

It wasn’t a conscious decision to work in that area and I’ve never really worn that badge overtly.  It became part of my role because it was naturally a part of what my day job was.  In fact I didn’t recognise that I was doing it as a specific part of my role at first.  It was only when I started to make use of the DAMA framework that I began to realise exactly how my role was spread across the range of data management activity and that a substantial part of what I did fell under the Data Governance banner.

What where your initial thoughts when you first fully understood what you had got into?

Because I had been doing what I had been doing for a number of years there was no sudden epiphany-like moment.  I managed everything in my remit that I needed to and we had robust processes that meant everything was controlled.  That meant the governance aspects were more about ensuring people knew what the established processes were and what they had to do in order to keep the development machine working smoothly. 

Are there any particular resources that you found useful support when you were starting out?

Common sense!  When I first started in this area I wasn’t aware of any specific formal frameworks so I relied on my mathematical training and logic, thinking things through and also tapping the experience of my manager.  He had been working with data for a long time and brought a wealth of experience from a number of large and small organisations.  When I discovered the DAMA framework and started to dig into that I found that we aligned nicely with what DAMA talked about.  Since then I have looked at other frameworks and am never afraid to pick the best elements of each.  I do ensure that those elements can neatly fit with what we already have, though.  That must be done up front otherwise you can find yourself in a situation where you have a random collection of non-integrated tools and techniques which promote conflict and confusion. 

What is the biggest Data Governance challenge you have faced so far?

Data Stewardship is a thorny problem.  It is challenging getting people in a business to take responsibility for their own data and make them realise that IT is not the owner of the data.  IT departments may provide the services, facilities and expertise that support the data but they don’t own the data and getting that message across isn’t something that happens in just one conversation.  It takes repeated discussion and putting the message across consistently but in as many different ways as you can.  Sooner or later people will begin to understand.

What have you implemented or solved so far that you are particularly proud of?

One thing I still consider very successful is the analysis and design work I did for a database to support head office and Point of Sale software.  The application suite was data driven and the database to support the head office functionality was designed from scratch.  Some very detailed analysis and innovative design work by the whole team resulted in a system that was capable of supporting the requirements in a way that wasn’t customer specific.  This made the product very flexible but still relatively straightforward to configure because the majority of the documentation was produced at the time of the design and development.

How has changing roles impacted on your ability to improve Data Governance at BAE Systems?

Interestingly I don’t think the move to a more senior position will, in itself, change things.  Instead I think the fact that I am now working in the core Enterprise Architecture team will result in me being able to more directly influence strategy and help the business shape and mature its EA capability.   

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

Be collaborative.  Your core business teams have to be able to work with what you do.  You can produce perfect data strategies and governance frameworks, but you have to provide the support that allows the business to transition from where they are to where they need to be to comply with them.  To do that they need your help, they can’t do it alone as they probably won’t understand what has been put in place, why it is there or how it benefits them and the wider business.  There is a big communications and support job you have to do.  Taking a three line whip approach is not a recipe for success. 

Finally, what do you wish you had known or done differently when you were just starting out in Data Governance?

Hindsight is a marvellous thing and it is difficult to single any one thing out.  My career route has taken me from hands-on development through architecture to management and I have grown into and then out of each role into the next one.  If I had known at the start what I know now I may not have been in a place to make best use of that knowledge!


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