Data Governance Interview with Rob Saundby

Data Governance Interview with Rob Saundby

I have been working in IT for over twenty years, of which the last ten have been specialising in data management. During this time, I have been lucky enough to have worked across a wide range of industry sectors including banking, insurance, telecoms, media and retail. Because most of my engagements were through a consultancy, there has always been a strong focus on client delivery and, working with many different organisations, I have realized that data management is fundamentally quite similar, regardless of the industry sector. I set up my company Rockit Solutions in 2018 to specialise in data management.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

Having worked in IT for several years, I always saw data as an integral part of designing and building systems to support business operations. Although it wasn’t called data governance then, the basic principle of needing quality trusted data was always there. Back in 2010 when we first worked together, it was new ground working with data owners and data stewards and running a data governance forum. In 2014, I started to specialise in data management in financial services for a capital markets consultancy based in the City.

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

For me, this is a natural intersection of where technology and business meet. I think I have always viewed data governance through a lens of how it can be implemented, so a more practical rather than theoretical perspective. Working in the banking sector, I saw many parallels with the risk-based controls approach that financial organisations take, but for data, rather than other assets.

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

Over the years I have worked in most aspects of data management including; data governance, data architecture, and data quality and have been interested in some of the more niche areas such as data cataloguing and data lineage. As a generalist, I enjoy describing the big picture and have found that this is something that I can bring to the table for clients I have worked with.

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

I would recommend Data Governance 2nd Ed by John Ladley as an excellent book on the subject and for up-to-date discussions, I find LinkedIn very useful for the latest blogs and information.

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

The most consistent challenge is sponsorship. Having sustained, executive sponsorship for improving data in an organisation is the single most important factor for effective data governance. Without it, a number of things can happen; it can be a real struggle to gain stakeholder engagement and buy-in, reduced funding and team resources, lack of adoption, lack of appropriate tooling, no improvement in data literacy, in adequate training and education.

You have made Data Catalogue’s your niche – what led to this?

Although the people and process slide of data governance are clearly challenging in many organisations I think that the next step, of actually cataloguing data assets, measuring data quality and delivering tangible business value, which you could call this “implementing data governance” is even less well understood. I would argue that understanding data is key to governing it, and so the process of understanding it, using a data catalogue tool is an important part of the process.

Why are Data Catalogues so useful for organisations?

There are a number of reasons why data catalogues add value to a data governance initiative. First, they provide a single place to go to find out about data – where it is, what it means and who owns it. Of course, you could say that this can be done in Excel, but modern data catalogues provide different ways of visualising the information making them much more effective. Second, they can link related information such as owners, applications, processes and policies in a way that provides context, which makes them very useful when deciding how to use data. Third, they can make use of scanners and classifiers to make sense of databases and filesystems much quicker than can be done by hand. This makes them very useful for dealing with the complexity and size of many modern enterprises.

What single piece of advice would you give someone looking to buy a Data Catalogue tool?

With so many different tools on the market, I would say be clear about what you want a data catalogue to do. For example, if you want a technical solution to scan your entire estate’s data assets, you may choose a different tool that will primarily be used to manage data steward activities and escalations.

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

One example is an organisation that embarked on a lengthy process to procure a data governance tool. The long and short of it is that after detailed requirements were drawn up, tools evaluated and trialled, and feedback given from key stakeholders the best solution was found to be – an Excel spreadsheet business glossary published on their intranet. As it turned out, the company simply needed to start with a very basic approach that added business value from day one.

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