Data Governance Interview - Matt Becker

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 Currently, Matt serves as the Managing Director of Sullexis’ Enterprise Data Strategy and Solutions practice. He has spent 18+ years creating and implementing strategies that drive client performance through technology adaptation in areas ranging from big data to enterprise data management to business intelligence and analytics.  He enjoys delivering the value gained by implementing solid information management principles, thereby reducing inefficiencies and gaining insight into overall operational performance.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I spent the early part of my career helping to design and implement various data warehouses and analytics for the Energy Trading & Risk Management industry.  Because of the regulations involved in ETRM projects, starting around 2005, I started incorporating data management procedures and reporting requirements to identify, verify, and track the adherence to the data regulations associated with those DW initiatives.   In fact, every data project that I now oversee, has had some sort of DG set of deliverables.

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

It was a combination of by accident and necessity.  Because of the reporting and visualization work I was doing on various BI / Data Warehouse implementations for the Energy industry early in my career, I started seeing a pattern emerge.  The data quality after the go-live of the data warehouse was usually very high but quickly degraded.  Many times, this was a result of the tools being used and the people involved not following a standard approach or adhering to an agreed set of guidelines to maintain the availability, usability, integrity and security of the data.

So, I typically became the person that would build that data quality discipline into the project, usually in the form of a roles and an accountability matrix.  This matrix would define the data requirements and standards needed for ongoing support and maintenance.  Over time this evolved into working with a number of clients on specific DG initiatives helping to provide a framework and a playbook for the overall management of data to drive quality, consistency, and usable insights.  

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

Good blend of having been a business analyst, developer, tester, architect, and project manager. Having done all of these roles throughout my career has given me valuable exposure to all aspects of a solution lifecycle (planning, design, architecture, code development, testing, implementation, and deployment).  Understanding of this framework for a typical project enables you to apply a similar framework and approach for Data Governance methodology (i.e. planning of roles needed, design of the roles and processes to be used, active communication and coordination across both IT and Business functions).

In addition, deep domain knowledge is an added plus in helping to shape the data governance priorities between the IT systems and the business operations.  For example, I have spent quite a few years in the Upstream Energy sector, where Well Data mastering is a significant challenge.  Too many times, companies focus on just throwing technology at the problem to try to solve their data availability and reliability issues.   However, the issue was that the data in system A did not match to system B because the data wasn’t properly defined (i.e. a Well Legal Name vs. Well Short Name, or Spud Date vs. Drill Date) resulting in more expense and time than what was really needed.  In these situations, the company in question has not prioritized their efforts to first develop a common Well language, using DG standards, to ensure a foundational understanding of the data.  Too often, when this step is done first, portions of the existing technology and solutions available in-house can typically be repurposed, saving on the overall expense and allocating those funds to more prescriptive technological solutions needed.

In fact, at Sullexis, we have a section of blogs on our website (http://sullexis.com/blog/) that talk about combining the right data practices with technology to improve such things as data migrations and on-going data quality through practical DG practices.  One of our most recent blogs focuses on creating a common data language to ensure there is a mutual understanding of core concepts central to the company’s operations.

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

  • DAMA’s DMBOK v2 – A fundamental guide to data governance
  • Manager Tools.com (https://www.manager-tools.com/) – you have to understand how to manage teams, individuals, projects, and processes in order to be effective in implementing data governance.
  • https://www.nicolaaskham.com/ - your website has a lot of great articles and blogs that serve as a very good aggregator of data governance knowledge from a broad and varied set of sources.
  • Practical Data Migration (Johnny Morris) – great book for working data migration efforts, which is many times how Data Governance gets introduced into an organization.
  • Visualization and Reporting Tools:  Tableau, Spotfire, Business Objects, MS Power BI – understanding how reporting and analytic tools function, are implemented, and how end users utilize them to properly is important to know how to combine their use with DG methodology.

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

The big challenge is the same one I face at almost every client I work with where Data Governance is a new concept…understanding.  There are many companies that don’t realize that one of their most valuable and key assets is their data.  If you think of data as a garden, one needs to take the time to remove the weeds (bad data), clean out the clutter and debris (duplication), till and care for the soil (managing your technology stack), and properly feed and water (define and execute your roles and procedures).  These on-going activities (data governance process) result in the garden yielding a good crop (high quality, reliable data).   I like to take the time to engage and educate the right levels in the organization to solidify their DG understanding and ultimately gain their support.

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

Oil and Gas/Upstream Energy – first this is where I have spent quite a bit of my career, but secondly, many of the newer technologies (Big Data, Cloud, IoT, etc.) are just now being implemented, and there is an explosion of data and the need to better govern its use.  Executives are realizing the need to treat data as an asset and with that you must have the right governance and coordination between people, process, and technology to keep your employees safe, your solutions effective, and your operations competitive.

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

One of the best bits of advice that I received from my very first project manager about a year after I graduated college was "I want you to be the 'Go-To team member'."

Be the one who is willing to do the task nobody else will. Dig in to the details of the data processes and the business users that use them on a daily basis.   

Be the one who may not know the answer but will go do the work to find out.  Get into the weeds of the data issues or challenge so that you understand the root cause.  This will help you identify the data governance approach to employ to accounts for those issues.

Be the one that others will look to for a good attitude, a positive outlook, and assurance the job will get done and get it done well.  You will be amazed how well people will respond to you if you are positive to them…and many times when dealing with data issues, you need to stay positive!

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

I was at a recent data visualizations conference and many of the sessions were focused on technology improvements like better leveraging IoT technologies in daily operations, no-SQL solutions for data aggregation and consolidation, and new visual modeling techniques using R-based tools.  But the most heavily attended session was about a company’s data governance journey and how they changed their culture and their methodologies to focus on data as the cornerstone of their operations.  The questions that I heard after that session warmed my heart.  So many times, it takes a large undertaking just to get people to understand why data governance is so important, but now the conversations were focused on the how and not the why or the what.  Everyone wanted to know how they could go about implementing data governance in their organization.  I think that is representative of a movement in global corporate community…this increased focus on data.  I think this is just the beginning of a data governance revolution!