Data Governance Interview - Sue Geuens

The lastest Data Governance Interview is with Sue Geuens.  Many of you will know Sue through the tremendous amount of work she puts in as the current President of DAMA International.  I am so pleased that she found time in her hectic schedule to answer some questions and shared some valuable insights into her views on Data Governance.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

Officially for about 18 years, but I think effectively and sub-consciously most of my business life!

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

This is a really funny story. I started work at the National Home Builders Registration Council here in SA on 7th February 1996. My boss handed me a disk with a list of registered builders and told me this was now my responsibility. I had a look and told him I needed a database to do this. He gave me his credit card to go and buy one. I chose MS Access since it was the only one I knew and then went on to copy the list and paste into Access – creating a table with the paste. I then spent about 3 weeks typing into this table – directly in Access before it occurred to me that there were patterns to the data and that there had to be a better way. The rest, so they say is history!

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

I believe that a strong knowledge of business in general is very important. I have been in a number of jobs since I started work at 19 and in each instance left the job knowing much more than when I started. It has given me a very good enterprise view. Funnily enough, I think my ability to see the patterns and flow in data is also a good characteristic to have – allows me to think out the box – and that is a complete necessity when “doing” Data Governance. Finally, I get along with people and can be quite objective – surprising my friends will tell you as they all think I am quite scary and stand offish, but DG is all about people, isn’t it?

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

I was very lucky in that I got involved with DAMA in 2006 and ended up having many contacts who are considered as Data Governance gurus. I tap their knowledge and expertise when needed. I do have a few favourite books though although they are not specifically DG based. Danette’s book on DQ and Graeme’s books on data modelling – both personally signed and well used. And of course, I do have the DMBOK. Before that I was pretty much seat of the pants and I am surprised at how well I managed!

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

Holding my tongue! I am quite strong and sometimes it drives me nuts when I see something happening that is just wrong – but I have learnt that I have to let the client make the decisions, even when I know it is not right – my job is to guide and advise.

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

I do a lot of work in the very big companies, but I do feel the smaller organisations are just as needy for DG. I would love to be able to create a DG implementation program for small companies – that wouldn’t cost the traditional arm and a leg and that doesn’t need a huge team (internal and external) to implement

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

Patience, patience, patience. Is that a single piece? DG is slow, its frustrating and its likely to fail at least once – so being patient and getting back up each time you stumble is the only way to go!

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

I have so many stories it’s hard to decide on one only. However the one that I think is the most impactful is this. At one of my clients, there were a number of very difficult personalities on the DG Council. This made our meetings fraught with interesting possibilities. One of the meetings was particularly difficult and there was a real battle going on between two of the attendees and it got really personal from one side. Which was not acceptable or productive. I was struggling to stop this from happening since I was chairing the meeting - face to face and via video conferencing. Suddenly the person who was being really abusive stopped in the middle of a sentence, jumped about a foot out of his chair and then just sat there completely quiet. The rest of the group looked on puzzled, but he stopped dead – so we eventually gather ourselves and carried on. I found out just after the meeting that my boss at the time, who was sitting next to the abuser had actually kicked him under the table – HARD. Talk about Data Governance being a contact sport!


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