Data Governance Interview - Suzanne Coumbaros

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Suzanne is a fellow DAMA UK committee member and a data management professional with many years of experience in data management including governance, architecture, data warehousing, business intelligence, data quality, data development and data strategy. Originally a computer programmer, statistician and mathematician from Cumbria UK, she has worked for many government led organisations and well-known public and privately own companies both across the UK and Africa. Her background comes from having created data management teams in different organisations and countries.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I have worked in data management roles for the last 20 years and specifically in Governance lead roles for nearly 10 years.

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

Having spent many years solving corporate and law enforcement agencies data issues, I designed a number of data warehouses and began to investigate best practice data management. I came across DAMA and soon their DMBOK became all I read. It resonated with all the areas of data management I had already fulfilled and I was intrigued by the central function of Data Governance which binds these altogether. As I learnt more about this area I worked hard to put what I had learnt into practice with my first governance role. It was a great learning curve as I quickly understood that changes in an organisation’s people, processes and technology, not to mention the regulator changes, mean this role never stops. I then secured a Data Officer role in financial services where I was able to quickly implement data governance and begin working with the development team to use this to enable the development of a single client view.

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

Patience is key. Knowing that data governance may not be the organisation’s number one priority means that you may have to wait your turn to be heard. Following on from that, having empathy for the management and executives in the organisation will help you appreciate their responsibilities and other commitments. This will ensure governance is not forced, but is ready when they are. Finally having sales skills will be essential. Governance is not for everyone and will not sell itself; regulation has helped make it a topic for organisations but it should be driven as an enabler and not just a tick in a box for the regulators.

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

Without a doubt the best and most important book you should have by your desk is the DMBOK from DAMA. They recently published volume 2 and it is my “go to” resource for all data management queries

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

When I was brought into one organization I joined because I was told of the huge investment they were making into data management only to soon find out that the executive sponsor was leaving and the governance function was now only a ‘nice to have’ rather than the key focus for the organisation.

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

I really enjoy helping others and so working for an organization that does this is important to me. I have had the privilege of working in a variety of organisations dealing with different types of data. By far the most rewarding was helping law enforcements and government agencies manage their data to ultimately help solve crimes. I also enjoy the enormous challenges of financial services and the huge importance of governance that the regulations place on these organisations.

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

I would suggest getting a mentor. Someone who has experience in governance and is able to help you.

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

Discovering that South Africa had 11 valid address types and 11 official languages… a data governance dream or nightmare :-)