Josiah Kimani is a dedicated professional in the data industry. Having studied in Kenya at the Strathmore University in Management of Information Systems, he exudes a great passion on the quality and governance of data for the benefit of any organization he engages with. He specializes in quality of reference data, process improvement to ensure data is right first time and also issue resolution management, because as sure as you will find issue with data, he believes you need a robust mechanism to resolve those issues. He is an expert in his own right and a delight to work with.
How long have you been working in Data Governance?
I started working in data governance as a freelance consultant for small businesses in 2008. I then took it seriously in 2011 when I realized that it was an extremely important space to be in. So I would say 7 years in total.
How did you start working in Data Governance?
Well I started by helping out small businesses in capturing their data in a structured manner that allowed them to report on the performance of their businesses. This then led me to an environment where data was not very well handled by front line staff which was having an impact in the way the businesses would report. The obvious answer was always the fact that someone in the business knew a lot about the subject and could act as the Subject Matter Expert to fix the issue halfway through and present the results but this never really tackled the underlying root cause. So my passion is to get things right the first time and to put in measures that properly resolve and eradicate root cause, began there.
What were your initial thoughts when you first fully understood what you had gotten into?
Well, initially, I thought it was quite easy to resolve and when dealing with smaller companies it is indeed quite easy. However, working in the data governance space and getting it right requires change in attitude and behaviour as well as keeping your eye on the big buzz of return on investment. Combining these three things and still being able to maintain professional working relationships could prove to be a challenge and that is when I realized that it was not such an easy space to be in. I knew right then that I required excellent communication skills and stakeholder engagement and management skills.
Are there any particular resources that you found useful support when you were starting out?
Absolutely! Resources were both the people and the tools. Working with people that understood the data at the frontline and also with IT resources that did not just dwell on the infrastructure but also the data that was held in the infrastructure, made all the difference. These people became the data champions that I would use whenever I needed to impress upon their teams on the importance of good data practices. In addition, the IT experts used open source tools to implement data cleansing capabilities as well as providing outputs that did not meet the business rules. Bringing together the human resource and technology allowed the right results to be achieved but I also used these results and exceptions to address the processes that either needed review or to implement new ones where they did not exist.
What is the biggest Data Governance challenge you have faced so far?
As I mentioned earlier, getting data governance right requires a change in attitude and behavior towards data. This change is not specific to just an individual or a team but is an organizational change and being an expert in this field, the natural instinct is to lead on those changes. However, if the culture in place is ingrained in the people, the deliverables in the organization then become the “elephant in the room” that need to be tackled but it is not an easy one to deal with. The challenge is to get buy in from the organization both top-down and bottom-up. It requires pegging the concerns identified to the wider organizations KPIs which will be music to the ears at the top but also to elaborate what it means to fail on KPIs from the bottom-up. This also presents a further challenge to the data governance team and that is; understanding the business enough to articulate those specific improvements to both those at the top and those at the frontline. It therefore, goes to show that data governance teams require a combination of business savvy skills as well as a good understanding of Information Systems along with good communication, negotiation and liaison skills that bridge between technology, people and process, which is not always a readily available combination in the market.
What have you implemented or solved so far that you are particularly proud of?
One thing I have been really proud of and continue to be proud of since I first started this journey in data governance is the processes that I have put in place. At every organization I have worked for, I have implemented a process that did not exist and one that continues to be used long after I have left. I do not profess to have perfect processes and neither do I believe there is such a thing. In fact, I expect that long after I have left, my processes should undergo reviews that improve them or even discard them in tandem with the ever changing demands and technologies. In addition, the processes I have implemented always consider the people and the technology with clear accountabilities. My pride comes not by implementing the process alone but ensuring that the accountabilities are relevant and agreed. The accountabilities are activity focused and not individual focused. Now you might ask what does that mean, and in simple terms it means that putting someone accountable to something and having no actions attached to that accountability means nothing. However, putting actions in place that require to be addressed and then assigning those to an individual or team means that something will be done about it. Many are the times where I have seen accountabilities distributed on a position and individual basis but when you look at what the person actually does to ensure that there are some actions taken to deliver as part of a process you find nothing and this is what organizations call “process breakdown” because the actions have not been attached to a person realistically.
What single piece of advice would you give someone just starting out in Data Governance?
One single piece of advice is lead as an expert and believe in yourself. The old adage of “this is how we have always done things” results in someone who is starting up to carry on with the same old ways of working. If one is starting up and they want to lead in the end then they need to follow the simple ABC of governance which I use and it is – Accept nothing, Believe no one and Check everything. Whether one does these on their own or within a team it is important to be vigilant and challenge the status quo because underneath the surface lies a lot of theoretical approaches that have little practicality in supporting the current business status.
Finally, what do you wish you had known or done differently when you were just starting out in Data Governance?
I have no regrets about anything and I believe that the time I ventured into data governance was my time and I still consider myself quite young so I have a long way to go. However, If I had known that there was such a deep rooted data governance issue in many industries, I would have invested more time much earlier. I don't believe that I am any worse right now but I would be a more seasoned data governance guru. I am also a mentor at the University of Westminster and whenever I get an IT student, I inform them much earlier in their career that Data Governance is a field they need to start investing in much earlier so that they can hone their people and business skills as well as their technical skills and after a number of years they will have the skills I mentioned earlier which are suitable for the data governance expert.
Having read my interview with Josiah you can also read my free report which reveals why companies struggle to successfully implement data governance.