George of the data governance jungle: Principles for leveraging data as a strategic asset

One thing it takes is watching and listening to George Firican, an award-winning data governance leader, founder of LightsOnData, expert practitioner and our guest on a recent episode of Ask The Experts.

Based in Vancouver, B.C. George is a constant source of educational, inspirational, and practical content on the value and importance of data governance, as well as the occasional latte. He delivers his message through all manner of media including YouTube videos, podcasts, livestreams, industry event appearances, instructional courses, and Star Wars memes. With his wife Diana, he co-hosts the popular LightsOnData show, captivating LinkedIn Live audiences with their charming banter and insightful interviews of data leaders. He also puts his leadership acumen into play at a regular day job as Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia.

George clearly defines data governance as a discipline that provides the policies, processes, standards, roles, and responsibilities needed to ensure that data is managed as an asset. “Who needs to do what, to what data, under what conditions, and what procedures, tools, and overall best practices to use,” he explained. Essentially, whatever it takes to “benefit most from the value that data brings.”

With his experience across a wide range of industries and sectors, George recognizes the variety of benefits to be gained from location data and address verification. Insurance companies “need geocoding to profile potential customers to see if they're in the flood zones,” he explained, “if you're part of the banking sector you can be better prepared to assess your risks.” If you are any type of branded goods company “you need to know where your customers are, where your products are, where they're being sold, and whole supply chain.”

Because George is such a talented content creator, here are four of his greatest tips from some of his most popular videos, as well as links to each.

Invest in communication

According to George, the primary key to data governance success is communication. “Data governance is 90% communication,” he said. George knows, like it or not, data governance brings change. “Even though that's a positive change, it's still change, and people don't like change even when it's good.” Data leaders need to communicate as often as possible providing answers and guidance to common questions from their team and wider business community. What have we done? What are we doing? What are we going to do? Why is this important? George suggests tying those answers to “the individual, the unit, and of course the wider organization.” Here are the rest of the Nine Keys to Data Governance Success.

Don't sequester your data scientists

“Unfortunately,” says George, “we often see data scientists separated from the rest of the organization.” To create a data-driven culture, George’s first piece of advice is to ensure data scientists “have an ongoing collaboration with business stakeholders in order to understand those insights, those ins and outs, in order to make sure that model that you're building and whatever your AI, machine-learning things that you're making, are going to be reliable and in sync with what the business needs and what the business is.” Leaders must foster ways that data scientists can interact and learn more about the business initiatives, focus and strategy.  Data scientists should also be more connected to the data governance team to understand  the core business data and ensure their models can be operationalized. Hear his thoughts on How to Create a Data Driven Culture.

Busting the upper management involvement myth

According to George, the number one data quality myth is that you don't need top level management involvement. “You must have top level management involvement to improve the quality of your data,” declaims George. While the typical C-Suite may not have data quality on their radar, “they care about the repercussions of not having good data quality.” George believes executives have a broader awareness of organization-wide activities and help tie all the data parts together at a strategic level. Their engagement is especially critical when the cultural change aspects of data come into play. “When you're trying to change the culture and change behavior, you have to hear it from the top,” George advised. Watch all Eight Data Quality Myths.

View data as an asset

The single most important guiding principle for successful data governance is that data is an asset. “Once you start viewing data as a strategic asset,” George believes, “it can really change the thinking about data and managing it. It has a different type of importance to it. You're going to assign resources to it. You're not going to bat an eye for not continuously investing into it.”

My co-host Robert Dickson, Loqate’s Vice President of Professional Services, concurs “once data is identified as an asset and has a tangible value, there's no problem allocating people, time, and money to continuing that process,” said Robert, “and people see that as a value to the organization.” Learn the 10 Guiding Principles For Successful Data Governance .

Beware of misinformation

As with so many topics these days, data governance has suffered from its share of unwarranted misinformation. George observes that data governance can be misconstrued as bureaucratic, controlling, restrictive, constraining and slowing down progress. “I feel that's not really the case. I feel that's a lot of misinformation.”  But he is hopeful for the future when “the question will be not what is data governance and why do we need it? The question instead will be: what do you mean you don't have data governance in your organization!?” Echoing another visionary leader, we all look forward to the day when we no longer wonder what data governance can do for us but focus on what we can do for data governance.

Watch the full interview with George Firican on LoqateTV: Ask the Experts to learn more.