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Data Talks, Episode 9: Master Data and Governance, It's Not Scary

Episode Nine: Master Data and Governance, It's Not Scary

Host: George L'Heureux, Principal Consultant, Data Strategy
Guest: Liz Barrette, Vice President, Data Advisory Services

Why is there so much concern, frustration, and worry within organizations about terms like “governance” and “master data”? Perhaps it’s because these terms connote authority, policy, protection, rules, and regulation. Most of the time, it means change, and most people steer away from change wherever possible. 

Governance doesn't have to mean ownership and restriction. It's much more about enablement for consumption. Master data is about connection. Like the Rosetta stone, it’s a capability that enables languages and countries to speak and engage with one another. Similarly, when you're bringing data together as a collective whole within a business, you want to consider how to make the data connect with some kind of common focus - some kind of common key - that can help drive that enablement and have that power of connection.

Instead of worrying about terms we need to stay focused on the journey: what our actions are in order to get to where we need to be on our organization’s data journey, and progress faster. In today’s world being able to bring our data together and connect it is an imperative for business success. 

 

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George L’Heureux:
Hello, everyone. This is Data Talks presented by Dun & Bradstreet. I'm your host, George L'Heureux. I'm a principal consultant for data strategy and the advisory services team at Dun & Bradstreet. In advisory services, our team is dedicated to helping our clients maximize the value of the relationship with Dun & Bradstreet through expert advice and consultation. And on Data Talks, I chat every episode with one of the expert advisors at D&B about a topic that can help consumers of our data and services to get more value. And today's guest expert is my manager, Liz Barrette, who's the leader of data advisory services at Dun & Bradstreet. Liz, now how long have you been with Dun & Bradstreet?

Liz Barrette:
17 years.

George L’Heureux:
And In this role that you're currently in, what do you do? What are you doing for our customers every day?

Liz Barrette:
Well, I lead a team of incredibly intelligent data experts. And our role is to work with customers who are trying to take their data and turn it into power and ensure that Dun & Bradstreet is a significant value along the way.

George L’Heureux:
And before Dun & Bradstreet, you were a customer. Right?

Liz Barrette:
I was. Right in the middle of my D&B tenure, I left D&B, after about 10 years, and became a global master data practitioner and a D&B customer.

George L’Heureux:
It's interesting that you use that term, because that's exactly what we wanted to talk about today, was master data. Now over the last couple of years, and in particular, maybe the last few months, we've seen a shift in our industry where we're talking a lot more about the terminology that we use on a daily basis, sometimes without even thinking about it. One of those terms is master data. We're seeing some companies move away from that now. Can you talk a little bit about why we're seeing that shift?

Liz Barrette:
Sure. And I really do believe that the nature of the environment today is actually exacerbating it. But the terminology around, really, a handful of terms have always been very scary terms. Two of them that I can think of is the term "master data" and the other is "governance". They tend to invoke fear and loathing, I think, a lot of times out there. And I mean it in an appropriate way. Mainly from the perspective of mastering data, is extremely hard. And the term "master", nevermind the context in the environment today, it invokes the sense of something in control, in charge, something at a very highly skilled level, a sense of excellence.

Liz Barrette:
And coming in and trying to run these kinds of programs or supporting mastering, the reason I say it's very scary, most people steer away from that because it's so hard to do that, from the perspective of excellence and control, people want agile. They want things happening right now, today. And to be able to provide this capability requires a lot of understanding about data, an awful lot of understanding about people and the ability to move the needle, as well as really understanding the business and what you're trying to accomplish. So from that perspective, that terminology, "mastering", can be very difficult.

George L’Heureux:
So how-

Liz Barrette:
Then you have the other side... Sorry. Go ahead.

George L’Heureux:
I was just going to ask, how do we take some of the electricity out of that term, then? How do we take some of that charge out of it and make it clear to clients, to the industry, that it's achievable?

Liz Barrette:
Well, I guess the question becomes, what is it that they're really trying to achieve? Right? When you think of a master data program, it's from A to Z. And it's more about a journey through the mastering process, or through the journey of enterprise data management. Everyone that has data in a company is on this journey in some way, shape, or form. A lot of times they can be starting at the very beginning, where they're working with Excel and files and spreadsheets, and trying to make heads or tails of what that customer might look like, and what kind of business they're doing with them today. Another part of the journey may be that they're within their CRM system, and they're really trying to understand that the potential and the opportunity around those customers and prospects. The next part would be around bringing together their CRM and their financial systems, and bringing those together. It is a journey along the way.

Liz Barrette:
And each part along the way, you can get value out of. You can, what you would call master, or really make sure that the data is of a certain quality to provide the insight and the value that's going to bring power to the company at that time. And if we think about it from that perspective, they're doing this all along the journey. It's not a from start to finish and you have to wait to get those results. It is happening all along the way. So I think part of it is that terminology. “Master” means you're not going to be a master data program until you're finally finished and it's a global scenario. No. You're doing this all along the way. So trying to get them to understand it's a process, it's a perspective, but it's not necessarily about control. It's about using the appropriate tools and foundation and the data that's going to help them take their data and make it more valuable to them.

George L’Heureux:
So part of that shift toward that sort of understanding has got to be education around what you just talked about, which is that there is an iterative nature to this. There's a step-by-step nature to this, and it's not that all the value is going to be at the end of the journey, but it's steps throughout.

Liz Barrette:
Yeah. And also think about it from this perspective. That when you're working with data and you're trying to take it along its journey to power, to a powerful component, you're working with some of the most important assets that the company has: data and the resources around that people. And both of those are significant assets to a company. And to be able to do what you need to do, you have to be able to bring those together in a way that takes the data and maybe actions upon it. Maybe stewards it. Maybe changes definitions. But being able to have some kind of common thread in-between is really the crux of this. So when you're talking about education, the first thing you have to really understand is what is it you're trying to say? Where is the power going to come from, and what kind of power are you trying to get out of it?

Liz Barrette:
So thinking about it from that perspective, the education comes more around, how do we work together? What does the data look like in various different components, different systems that we have? How do they talk together today? And where are some of the gaps? Are we only looking at things from an internal perspective? How do we get the outside view?

Liz Barrette:
So there's all sorts of things that, you know, you can change the nature of this massive undertaking into something that has components to it, which will show that value. And during that time, you will be educating, you will be understanding, and working together collaboratively and collectively to move along that journey together. And most times you can't do it... I highly don't recommend don't do it without having expertise like a Dun & Bradstreet come to the table and support you with our global reference database. Mainly because you spend a lot of cycles and time trying to come up with something that experts have available to you already. And working with a partner can get you moving along that journey much faster, and much more effectively.

George L’Heureux:
And so you have that idea of not reinventing the wheel with things like reference data from a global data partner, like Dun & Bradstreet. And then you hit on something else that I really think is key. And I've seen in my career. Obviously, you've seen in yours, which is this idea, and this false idea, that an enterprise master data program is something that's limited to IT, or just one part of the company. In reality, for it to be successful, it's got to encompass functions and groups from around the organization.

Liz Barrette:
Absolutely. We have something here that we've worked on, which is almost an organizational readiness assessment. It's being able to understand what does IT think about their program? Where do they think they are in their journey versus a sales associate, versus the marketing team, versus the financial system and programmers and developers. And it's always really interesting to see that a lot of times we'll find that technology and IT may feel that they're further along in their process then, say, a sales person or the marketing team, because they're further down getting those assets through, and being able to take those and translate it to something that they can work with.

Liz Barrette:
And being able to understand how to interpret how people feel that they are engaged in their enterprise data management journey, I think, is very critical here because you can build anything and everything you want, but if people aren't finding value in doing something with the results of your work effort, it just doesn't end up being valuable. And usually, those are the programs that change up, are unfunded, and don't end up coming to fruition. And unfortunately, I see more times than not these programs being unsuccessful, because they're not thinking about both assets, the data and the organization, and how to make sure that, collectively, they're coming together to ensure value of your program.

George L’Heureux:
So I want to shift gears a little bit and tie it way back to something you said when we first started talking, which was about governance being another one of these terms that sends chills up the spines of people and has really loaded connotation. Why do you think that is? Why does that term, "governance", cause so much... I Don't even know the word for it. So much concern, so much frustration, so much worry in organizations?

Liz Barrette:
Well, just thinking about the term, et cetera, it's authority, it's policy, it's protection, it's rules, it's regulation. Most of the time, it means change in some way, shape or form. And most people will steer away from change wherever possible. When you're thinking about governance, you have to realize that it's more just about, in a sense, a governing orchestration. Think about our or our government today, right? We can't run as an entity, as a country, without having some kind of governing body helping us. If you're working on your data journey without having some kind of data governing body helping move that and progressing that, making sure that the policies and the procedures that are coming up around your data, let's just think about one. Creating a data record, right? A customer record. Making sure that you're creating it appropriately with the right amount of insights as you're going through the intake process. If you don't have that, if you're not making sure that it could meet the business needs, you have a heck of a lot of extra work that needs to go into it.

Liz Barrette:
So making sure you work together to understand what are the rules, the laws around your data itself, you will actually up not being as successful as you could be, and end up doing an awful lot of rework. But again, I think it's just terminology. Most of the time you have to have these processes, these governing bodies in place. But it doesn't mean that it's about ownership and restriction. It's much more about enablement for that consumption.

George L’Heureux:
When we talk about governance, sometimes those things can be as simple as when you're entering a record, like you suggested, into a database, making sure that there's not already that record in the database, making sure you're not creating a duplicate. And that's a fairly simple statement to make. And when you can break it down that small, sometimes they're really simple steps you can take to fulfill that need.

Liz Barrette:
Absolutely. And just by having, you know, "Please check your system to make sure that record isn't there" can be one step. And then, having someone review and make sure that the record you've created isn't a duplicate is an easy second step. Or a lot of times it's part of some of these platforms now, to make sure those are reconciled. But without thinking it through, without understanding what you're trying to do and how, you'll end up with a large database of stuff that you now end up having to sift through and work through, and it's a significant amount of effort.

George L’Heureux:
So you had mentioned that it was maybe a little bit terminology. Are there things that we do, are there things that we can do, that the industry can do, terminologically, to take some of the power, to take some of the concern out of the terms like governance or master data, to make it not so scary for enterprises that are embarking on these types of journeys?

Liz Barrette:
Well, I honestly don't know that we're going to change the word governance. I think that's pretty much a staple. It is what it is. I do think there's something to be said about master data. I don't know what the proper term is, but I really look at the idea of the Rosetta stone. It's a connection, it's a capability that enables this language to talk to this language, and this country to engage with this country. It's that same kind of thing that when you're bringing data together as a collective whole within a business, is about how do you make the data connect and talk to each other with some kind of common focus, some kind of common key that can help drive that enablement, that power of connection.

Liz Barrette:
So what's the right term, other than master data? I don't know. There's been so many terms that have worked around there. But I think it's really what works for your business. If you feel that master data, programs, process, whatever is appropriate for you, fantastic. Hang your hat on that and work with it. But if it's something that would cause friction or uncomfort within your business and your team, your resources, then you absolutely should change it to whatever is appropriate for you. More than not, the real trick is are you on the journey? And do you understand that you are, and where you are? And are you working with teams of people who can help you move that journey?

Liz Barrette:
So I'd love us to stay away from worrying about what the term is versus what are we doing to get there and move along faster. In this world right now of being able to digitize much more and having to work from home and having the need to understand things much more broadly from a perspective of things being so disparate, I think being able to bring your data together and connect it is even more imperative in order for businesses to succeed. So I can see many more companies moving ahead and saying, how do we do this together? How can our business proceed without being on this journey and understanding where we're at? So from my perspective, term is a term. We can call it whatever we want, with whatever business. Let's worry more about how we can help each other to progress.

George L’Heureux:
A rose by any other name. Right?

Liz Barrette:
Exactly.

George L’Heureux:
So before we go, Liz, if someone's listening or watching right now, and they're just at the start of this type of journey, whatever we want to call it, what would be your piece of advice for them early on?

Liz Barrette:
The most important is to be able to do three things. Make sure that your company has a vision, they have a reason, a need, to look at their data and use it in such a powerful way that's going to help progress the business. Think about what your strategy will be. How are you going to get there? And then who's going to own it, from a perspective of doing the work, nevermind the executive sponsorship. If you can put those three pieces together, now you've recognized that you've got something, and you need to do something. It's the who, the what, the why.

Liz Barrette:
And once you have that set up, or you're thinking about it, bring in someone like a Dun & Bradstreet that's going to help you to understand how to help you progress along that journey. Really, never do it alone because it is so time-consuming and difficult. And there's a lot of bias that can happen when you do things a lot more manually. There's so much available to support you and help you. And you can move along your journey within months if you bring in an expert to support you.

George L’Heureux:
Well Liz, thanks so much for joining me and sharing your opinion and your expertise on this topic. It's really been an enjoyable conversation. I hope others have gotten something out of it as well.

Liz Barrette:
I did, too. Thank you so much for your time, George. Really appreciate you.

George L’Heureux:
Our guest expert today has been Liz Barrette, the leader of data advisory services here at D&B. And this has been Data Talks. We hope that you've enjoyed today's discussion. And if you have, we please encourage you to share it with your friends, your colleagues. Let them know about the show. And if you'd like more information about things that we've discussed on today's episode, please visit www.dnb.com, or talk to your company's D&B specialist today. I'm George L'Heureux. Thanks for joining us. Until next time.