Data Governance Interview - Jan Lenders

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Jan started his professional career as a bookseller and made the obvious switch to IT in 1986, working as an application programmer for a data centric application for the financial industry. From 1990 onwards, he focused on database design and later moved into data integration. In 2007, he decided to switch to a non-profit organisation and specialise in data integration. Since then, he has been working for a university of applied sciences in Arnhem, Netherlands.

In 2015, he obtained a MSc degree in IT at the University of Liverpool. For his dissertation project he researched the mutual effects of choices in Data Integration and Propagation areas on Master Data Management (MDM) and Data Governance (DG).

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

Although I do not have Data Governance as part of my official job title, I have helped to initiate DG initiatives and projects in our organisation. I learned from you that DG should not be an IT-led initiative. However, since our university did not have any official DG policies, IT as a provider of master data interfaces, was confronted with virtually all data issues. The only way to provide data with a reasonable level of quality was for IT to lead the initiative. As I have now learned from you, this is a textbook example of Mistake #1 of the 9 biggest DG mistakes, but we had to make a start.

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

Throughout my career in IT I have been involved in managing data. While data has gained a dominant position in the IT landscape and data volumes are growing rapidly, I do not think DG has grown at the same pace and its importance is being underestimated. So as an IT guy, my involvement in DG arose from the lack of it in the organisational units where it should actually be allocated since we try to deliver qualitative good data.

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

Any IT worker involved in data management should visit IRM UK’s Data Governance conference and MDM summit at least once. For me, the books written by Alex Berson and Larry Dubov, as well as David Loshin’s books have been very helpful to understand DG. But I honestly learned a lot from your report "The 9 biggest mistakes companies make when implementing data governance". We seemed to make most of these mistakes in our organisation, but we currently are working on solving the worst of them.

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

That would be the underestimating of DG's importance by the business units and overestimating the quality of their data. For instance; we did not have one dedicated source system for organisational units. As a result, codes, abbreviations and names for units were kept and maintained in virtually each system without consensus. This had never been a real problem until data was being exchanged between these systems.

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

Spend half a day in each business unit with the people who are actually browsing, searching, entering and changing data to understand what is happening to their data and in particular why.

Finally, I wondered if you could share a memorable data governance experience (either humorous or challenging)?

Data quality issues are likely to become painfully visible when data is exchanged between systems. To illustrate the understanding and importance of DG in general and data quality in particular I often make a comparison with traffic and traffic rules:

In France everyone drives on the right side of the road. Because there are agreements that are maintained, there are relatively few problems in traffic.

In England everyone drives on the left side of the road and again there are few problems.

The real problems only manifest themselves when cars leave from the mainland go to England or vice versa. This can only work if good agreements are defined and enforced.