Data Governance Interview - Robin Stielau


Robin Stielau is the IT Director with Brady Corporation, Milwaukee Wisconsin. Robin has  been with Brady for 33 years and is currently accountable for the enterprise global technologies that enable Sales, Marketing and Customer Services, global PIM (Product Information Management) capabilities and global master data governance.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I have been directly accountable for master data governance at Brady since 2015. 

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

What motivated me to accept responsibility for master data governance was the obvious business need and my passion for improved data. I had a very clear vision of how to go about getting it.  Master data governance was the responsibility of a central team outside of IT. Changing circumstances at Brady presented me with the opportunity to get involved and I requested the data governance function be moved into IT under my direction after which it was.

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

I call it a lack of ego. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have one, but one of the most important characteristics of success in governing data is recognizing and staying true to the fact that the data governance team does not own the data or decisions surrounding it. The reason we exist is to facilitate and hold those who do accountable. We are servants to the methodology. Facilitation skills are critical. Bringing together owners of various data domains with data consumers on a regular cadence to address data requirements, what healthy data looks like and how to measure it, improvement roadmaps to correct or complete data and data processes and to eventually provide visibility to improved business outcomes based on more accurate, complete and timely data.  Passion, commitment and grit as governing data is never ending.

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

  • Nicola Askham is a great resource. In a world of information overload, I found her communication on the topic to be most helpful in understanding what data governance was and wasn’t; her communication is clear and straightforward.
  • Talking with as many peers and experts as possible at conferences and other business meetings
  • Blogs, whitepapers.
  • Stibo was a great resource to me (our PIM is a Stibo product, STEP)

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

My biggest challenge was to change the perception in Brady of what master data governance is and is not. Previous data governance management was more involved in making decisions regarding master data as well as changing data the governance team felt needed to change. This was damaging to the program as business data owners were not making decisions nor were they always in agreement with the changes. “Under new management” – we changed this.

We occasionally have challenges with overloaded data owners or wrong people identified as data owners. Data owners can’t be by name only or any person that has some capacity, they have to have some skin in the game and be committed. If not, we force a change.

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

It’s a long term journey, not a race. Having strong executive sponsorship is definitely helpful.

My most memorable experience with data governance was the “ah-ha” moment one of our key business leaders had when shown the negative customer experience on one of our websites resulting from bad product.  In this case it was a size attribute for one of our key products; a set of signs.  The size had been entered on signs within the set in multiple (non-standard) ways; 7 x 10, 7 in x 10in, 7 in L x 10 in H, etc. Unfortunately all of the non-standard sizes appeared in the left hand navigation on the site. It presented a horrible experience for our customers and was the direct result of non-standard master data.

We now had a believer in the value of good master data. I use this example often when explaining the value of standard, accurate master data.

Having read my interview with Robin you can also read my free report which reveals why companies struggle to successfully implement data governance.  

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