Insights from the 2019 DGIQ Conference

FEA02x - edited feature imageThe 2019 Data Governance and Information Quality (DGIQ) Conference (http://www.dgiqconference.com), hosted by Debtech International and DATAVERSITY, took place in San Diego, California from June 3-7, 2019 and this year’s event was another resounding success!

The conference offered a variety of presentations, panels, workshops/tutorials, and a vendor showcase scheduled across four days, along with opportunities for data professionals from all corners of the world to network and share challenges, successes, and lessons learned along their data governance (DG) journeys.

No matter one’s level of experience, maturity, or awareness, this conference offers a little something for everyone who attends! There’s simply no way to experience or write about everything the conference offers, so I’ll share some of the insights I gained from the sessions I attended. Every attendee receives a USB drive pen with copies of the conference presentations, so be sure to look there for any sessions you missed (and to revisit slides for sessions you attended too). All the presentations are worth reviewing, and I often find something new in them every time I look at them.

Venue

The conference was held at the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa in the bayside community of Pacific Beach, nestled between the sparkling shores of the man-made Mission Bay lagoon and the Pacific Ocean just miles from the airport and downtown. Adorned with palm trees, koi ponds, tiki torches, and waterfalls, this Polynesian-themed resort provides a fun and relaxing atmosphere with easy access to beaches and a winding path along the shoreline for joggers, walkers, cyclists, and the occasional Segway rider. The lagoon is rich with wildlife, and this year a doting Mama Mallard watching over her four ducklings entertained attendees and hotel employees alike as they waddled around the koi pond and cozy outdoor patio of Moray’s Tiki Lounge.

Conference sessions were held in spacious rooms within the main building as well as in the Bahia Belle and the William D. Evans, two sternwheelers (built to mimic 1860s-era Mississippi riverboats) moored along the beach areas. Lunch was served outdoors on the South Beach in the open air of our expansive Southern California (SoCal) skies. The shaded seats under patio umbrellas are usually in high demand, but not this year – our mornings were drizzled and misty while the bright SoCal sun slumbered, only occasionally peeking through the expansive clouds of an exceptionally overcast sky that often burns off by afternoon – a spring phenomenon known affectionately to locals like me as June Gloom (and preceded this year by its equally overcast sister, May Gray).

While some of us enjoyed the cloudy skies as a welcome change from the 340-plus days of sun each year that we typically enjoy, those who traveled to California from much colder areas were a little disappointed with the missing sunshine and warmer temperatures. I guess every decade or two, even the weather in SoCal can be less than spectacular – we’ll have to cross our fingers that Mother Nature provides extra sunshine for next year’s conference! Fortunately, those who stayed after the conference for a few days of vacation in America’s Finest City enjoyed a splendid weekend when the sun returned.

Pre-Conference Tutorials (Day 1)

Despite the dreary morning weather, bright smiles and laughter inside the conference chased away the gloom as hundreds of attendees gathered in the morning for coffee, breakfast, registration, and reconnecting with colleagues until the first melodic meeting chimes of the day gently reminded us that sessions were starting.

Day 1 (June 3) kicked off with half-day pre-conference tutorials in both the morning and afternoon, all facilitated by familiar experts in the field willing to share their expertise, guidance, and best practices across a variety of topics and experience levels. Choosing which to attend is always a challenge, but don’t worry – the pen that comes with your registration materials includes a USB drive with the conference presentations, so it’s easy to catch up on all of them.

Being only a few years into our DG program and eager to define metrics that illustrate its value, I chose to hear Kelle O’Neal (First San Francisco Partners) talk about Growing Your Data Governance Program: Progress vs. Meaningful Impact  for my morning tutorial.  As always, Kelle’s presentation covered a lot of ground including lists of specific metrics to ponder (score!). Some of the expert advice I captured included the following:

  • Apply metrics across all areas of your program including data quality, progress/adoption, and impact
  • Insert DG metrics and processes into PMO methodologies to foster a data-centric perspective
  • Tie organizational change to your DG program & processes
  • Measure progress toward where you WANT to be – and avoid the ROT (redundant, obsolete, trivial)

For the afternoon tutorial, I opted for A Review of Data Governance Tools  with Sunil Soares (Information Assets). Those of you who have attended DGIQ in the past may recognize Sunil as a familiar face – he has a long track record with software vendors and platforms, and he offers a wealth of knowledge and insights about trends with both traditional and emerging DG tools. As we are in the process of building our data lake, I was hoping to learn more about how the options for data lakes have matured and which solutions are yielding success stories. In addition to spending a few hours talking about a variety of tools and functionality (plus fielding numerous audience questions), Sunil also shared these gems:

  • Leverage data quality policies to define which DQ dimensions you use (and there are MANY to choose from!)
  • If you have more than 10 steps in a workflow, break it into multiple workflows
  • Analyze situations where multiple data elements can be combined to derive confidential information
  • Many DG tools and platforms are increasingly using AI/ML to enhance their value and utility

A series of industry special interest groups (SIG) followed the tutorials. Working in healthcare, I attended Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Louisiana’s Expanding Data Governance from a Data Warehouse Function to an Advocate of Core Values Across an Enterprise. Yolanda Griffin and Brian Badinger explained their journey in five steps, starting with building an enterprise data warehouse (EDW) and then leveraging a DG initiative to map subject areas in their EDW, deploying data stewardship and oversight councils, engaging their Information Governance Office on data masking and a business glossary, and finally reaching their target state of “data nirvana” to drive data quality and better business decisions. A bright red Louisiana lobster shared their recipe for Enterprise Data Governance (you’ll have to read their presentation to see the ingredients!) before they described their use of data services to enhance analytics capabilities. Their parting takeaway points included the following:

  • Survey your enterprise data
  • Define a governance scope that brings value
  • Align processes with mission & goals
  • Create strategic partnerships
  • Remember that data governance is a continuous JOURNEY!

Our first day concluded with a welcome reception hosted by IBM and a client dinner sponsored by Informatica on the North and South beaches, where attendees enjoyed drinks and appetizers while sharing what they learned from their first information-packed day. As evening descended and the chilly ocean breeze picked up, folks headed off to dinner or their rooms for a good night’s sleep. My day wasn’t done yet, though… I faced a slightly longer commute with a 20-minute drive home to central San Diego where my tuxedo kitty Oona (named for her Charlie Chaplin-esque white moustache) was overjoyed to see me after spending the day alone – napping, no doubt!

The verdict? Day 1 was amazing, the conference was off to a great start, and I had already learned a LOT. I knew the next two days would be even more eventful.

Conference Sessions (Day 2)

I arrived early on Day 2 (June 4) to explore the tantalizing breakfast options in the registration area and grab a cup of coffee. Newly arrived attendees queued for registration and the lines moved quickly and smoothly as friendly staff efficiently checked everyone in, shared key tips (nametags! Wi-Fi access! lunch on the beach! drink tickets!) and a friendly reminder to complete the ubiquitous pink evaluation form (for a chance to win FREE registration to next year’s conference!) before delivering conference materials (and that valuable USB pen!) safely tucked inside a handy black shoulder bag.

Michele Koch and Marichelle Tanag of the Data Governance Professionals Organization (DGPO) kicked off the day presenting the Six Core Areas of the DGPO Data Governance Framework while some attendees finished breakfast. If you are looking for a way to structure or launch your data governance program, be sure to review their “Sexy Hexy” (as it’s affectionately called by in-the-know DG professionals) – it’s a well-designed framework that’s adaptable to any industry, company size, or experience level. You may also want to consider becoming a DGPO member – they provide great resources and knowledge sharing opportunities (including online webinars) for all levels of data management professionals.

Nate Haskins of S&P Global dynamically delivered the first Keynote Address, entitled Data Governance in the Digital Age. Using rich infographics packed with detail, Nate explained the challenges S&P faced with over a million data sources, 10 million news sources, and TBs of alternate data sources (and I was worried about the volumes & variety of healthcare data… wow!). They engaged lean business practices and leading edge technology complemented by human activity to wire their DG practices into a data pipeline organized around “Data Operations as-a-Service” using rich inventories and metadata for every activity in that pipeline, plus a Data Management System to connect data sources and products to clients. S&P now delivers faster translations, more news stories, automated data extractions, and auto linking across millions of databases. I was fascinated by their data quality program – over 145,000 automated quality checks each day, and a $50 incentive to customers who alert them about data quality issues. What a way to crowdsource data quality!

Solving the Enterprise Data Dilemma followed as the second Keynote Address, from Danny Sandwell of erwin, inc. Danny succinctly described the challenges that today’s organizations face to unlock the business value of their data (understanding myriad disparate sources, tracking data usage, managing data flows, using manual processes – does any of that sound familiar?) and explained how modern data governance elements (including enterprise modeling and architecture, cataloging, automation for data mapping/metadata, and identifying critical/sensitive data elements) all help increase data literacy and build trust in data solutions, thereby benefitting all of the data roles in their data value chain. His slides are packed with ideas on where to expand or enhance your data governance program, so be check them out on your USB pen if you missed his keynote.

After a quick coffee break, I decided on 8 Ways to Sneak Data Governance Into Your Enterprise’s “Diet” for my first session of the day because… well, FOOD! Ty Sonagere and Deb Bitzan from CoverMyMeds cleverly employed a food analogy to map DG to eight key concepts:

  1. Train employee palates – Introduce DG during onboarding & make it part of everybody’s lexicon
  2. Use what you already have – Capitalize on 3-5 aspects of your culture & tie initiatives to company priorities
  3. Provide a menu of options – Offer a variety of ways to start DG & recommend options
  4. Start with a small amount and mix it in – Slowly introduce DG without disruption & listen to your customers
  5. Don’t sacrifice flavor – Communicate consistently & frequently to build positive expectations & trust
  6. Expand their palates – Collect feedback to grow what’s working & change what doesn’t
  7. You’re not a dietitian, you’re a server – Position DG as an ally & avoid being the enforcer
  8. Eating contests & the like – Gamify DG with prizes to get folks involved & award the most engaged participants

Their upbeat style and friendly repartee showed they really walk the talk and had me laughing (and hungry!) as I left. Check out their slides for some great ideas, and bon appétit!

My next session was straight to the dessert (and maybe some sunshine!) to hear Jeff Wolkove (AZ Department of Water Resources) and Melanie Mecca (DataWise Consulting) talk about Launching Statewide Data Stewardship Training in Arizona. Facing significant interagency data sharing challenges, they leveraged the results of Data Management Maturity (DMM) Model assessments from five State agencies to recommend a dozen initiatives to drive policy changes across those agencies, launch a formal data management organizational structure, and deploy mandatory annual computer-based training on key data management concepts to managers, knowledge workers, and data stewards. Preliminary results (using performance metrics from course evaluations and feedback) from deploying to 10% of their stewardship community already show the value, effectiveness, and adoption of their program. Kudos on a great launch! I’m already brimming with ideas on how to incorporate some of their elements into our training program.

As noon arrived, I learned about policy- and attribute-based security from PlainID, enjoyed lunch on the beach networking with colleagues and new friends, learned how IBM is addressing GDPR/CCPA compliance challenges in their technology stack at another Keynote Address from Scott Buckles (IBM), and heard how Profisee is maturing their platform beyond master data management.

As the vendor exhibits opened and attendees refueled with ice cream, I rushed to the William D. Evans to prepare for my session about our experience Building Data Inventories to Jump Start Your Data Governance Journey at Scripps Health (if you’ve never attended a conference session on a riverboat, the only thing better is presenting on one!). I chatted with some of the early arrivers while seats filled and folks lined up along the back wall, and then my Irish storytelling genes kicked in and we walked through the history of the library card catalog. Starting in the pre-pager age of 600 BC with 30,000 clay tablets at the Library of Ashurbanipal, we moved through the paper age from the 1700s to Dewey’s (yes, THAT Dewey!) standardization of the insertable cards and drawer cabinets in the mid-1900s (a familiar experience for many of us who have been around a while, but not so much for the under-30 somethings!) before reaching our current digital age starting with the computer-based card catalog in the 2000s that we use today. To wit, librarians spent over 100 years standardizing the paper-based card catalog and its metadata – we are only two decades into the digital age, so we shouldn’t be surprised that so many of us struggle with cataloging and metadata requirements! My key takeaway was for those of you stymied with not owning or getting funding for formal DG tools – we were too, so we used tools we already had (SharePoint, SQL, ServiceNow) to inventory various data assets so we could metatag them, assign ownership and stewardship accountabilities, spot duplication/variation, and then surface record counts to leadership to illustrate the magnitude of our data governance challenges. We also used those metrics, plus tool limitations, as inputs to build a stronger business case for pursuing formal DG tools. Along the way, we educated many employees and leaders on what inventorying data assets means (as well as how to do it!). If you missed our story, you can find the slides (and the history of the card catalog!) on your USB pen.

I stayed behind to tackle audience questions, so I missed the last session of the day. One benefit of this conference that I find most enjoyable and valuable is the knowledge sharing amongst attendees – these conversations are tailored to mutual problems and novel solutions that allow us to explore and evaluate others’ ideas and how we might apply them to our own cultural challenges. The conference sessions are very informative and educational but these deeper-dive conversations are invaluable, especially for budding DG professionals trying to make sense of the complex DG landscape.

The last event of the day was the open exhibit and reception. Attendees moved about the Aviary Ballroom where dozens of sponsors manned booths and answered questions about their services and products, showcased tool functionality, and gave away tchotchkes and prizes. Folks also enjoyed yummy appetizers (the cheese spread and artichoke dip are my favorites!) and traded drink tickets for cocktails, wine, and beer from the bars while we mingled. This exhibit is a great chance to interact with vendors, especially if you have detailed questions for them or missed their sessions. Everyone is friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, and they all understand the data management challenges we face and how DG tools can help.

More Conference Sessions (Day 3)

Day 3 (June 5) kicked off with Zen with Len Silverston (Universal Data Models) on the beach as he coached a ring of attendees through a series of mindfulness and stretching exercises. As we all know, building DG practice into your organization can be rather challenging at times (change management is the name of the DG game!) so we would all benefit from remembering Len’s concept of S-T-O-P (create some Space, seek your True intention, remain Open, Put into action) as a useful coping mechanism in our tool bag.

Upstairs in the reception area, attendees enjoyed another delicious continental breakfast with coffee and more networking before dispersing to the first session of the day. I headed to the Kon Tiki Ballroom for the Practitioners Panel: Tips from the Trenches – If I Knew Then What I Know Now to join Cynthia Parsons (Nationwide Insurance), Kevin Shannon (Dun & Bradstreet), and Jayne Dutra (Multnomah County) on stage as Len facilitated questions for us about what we would do differently, how we ensure business commitment and overcome roadblocks, how we show value, and how we use innovative ways to communicate DG. We wrapped up with each of us sharing a picture that conveyed a one key takeaway for the audience:

  • Beautiful, rainbow-hued leaves show how Data governance will change (Cynthia)
  • A yellow diamond-shaped road sign advises us to Keep it real (Kevin)
  • Yummy red and white mini cupcakes reflect the need to Feed them in small (flavorful) bites (Jayne)
  • A group lesson on fishing reminds us to Teach everyone how to fish (Me)

After the panel, Michele Koch  from the DGPO  announced the third place winner (Amica Mutual Insurance Company), second place winner (SRP), and first place Winner of the Annual DGPO Data Governance Best Practice Award. Scott Peachey and Cynthia Parsons from Nationwide Insurance graciously accepted their award (each wearing one white glove so as not to smudge the trophy!) and took turns telling the story of how the seeds of their DG efforts in finance blossomed over sixteen years into an Enterprise Data Office and robust Data Governance & Quality Assurance (DGQA) service across multiple lines of defense (auditable business units, DG/QA, audit & compliance). In addition to educating employees about their DG service offerings, they also tackled training, communication and marketing, data policies/standards, and the use of metrics to demonstrate business value across several dimensions of their program. Congratulations to Scott, Cynthia, and Nationwide for a well-deserved award! Everyone who reaches the final stages of DGPO consideration should be commended for their journey, and I would encourage all of you to seek them out at future conferences and learn vicariously from their successes.

After a lengthy coffee break and another jaunt through the exhibits, we headed to the last session of the morning. I chose to hear Delta Dental of Michigan’s Move Beyond Risk: Build a Data Governance Program That Pays for Itself. Curtis Mischler explained how they use five key business drivers to define “in scope” for DG and then shared several success stories about data architecture initiatives that generated enough cost savings ($300K to $1M+ each) to pay for their DG program (and staffing). They addressed standardizing tape backup processes, updating and applying data retention procedures, introducing tiered data storage, purging paper files, and cataloging/consolidating external reporting. As I headed to lunch, I ponder how we might show more value with our program by building a partnership with our infrastructure teams. Outside at the beach, the sun was starting to come out from behind the clouds (as if promising sunshine for the upcoming weekend!) while we enjoyed a beachside meal and continued sharing insights and making new connections. Desserts and coffee were served in the exhibits area, giving everyone another opportunity to chat with sponsors.

With only two sessions remaining, I happily returned to the William D. Evans riverboat to hear Sutter Health’s Data Governance Journey with Danielle Reno and Amber Johnson. Starting with a lean team of two, Sutter grew its DG staff over several years to a team of five working in tandem with 120 enterprise data management staff (including EDW, ETL, and MDM) and 123 data stewards to standardize metrics and reports, implement key data quality processes and data-related policies, engage cataloging, and increase their data literacy. As is typical with healthcare organizations, we learn to do a lot with the little we have, and their story is both inspiring and encouraging for those of us further behind on the DG trajectory.

For my final conference session, I attended Building an Effective Business Glossary: Using Enterprise Definitions to Strengthen Your Governance and Improve Your Data Quality with Gary Jordan (Red Hat) who talked about the need for a business glossary and formal category/subcategory terms to tag and organize your data assets and drive a common language across the enterprise. Two great pieces of advice included avoiding terms already defined elsewhere (e.g., financial, accounting, legal) and leveraging pop-up tips with definitions to breed trust in your terms and metrics. He also reminded us to practice our 30-second elevator pitch on the value of an enterprise glossary – and I can share from personal experience that this will come in very handy with business units who already think they speak Corporatese and everyone else is wrong – even though they all the same terms but with different meanings. DG professionals must become truly polylingual to succeed!

Day 3 wrapped up with the final Keynote Panel as Michele Koch (Navient),  David Loshin (Knowledge Integrity), Sunil Soares (Information Asset), and James Tyo (Nationwide) took the stage in front of a very packed audience to field questions about Emerging Trends and Future Considerations for Data Governance. Some of the intriguing topics raised included new applications for ML/AI, the role of data ethics, how to remove bias from data models, and the value of working with all levels and types of analysts and data scientists to leverage their insights.

Post-Conference Tutorials (Days 4-5)

Some attendees stayed for the remainder of the week to attend 1-day post-conference tutorials on Thursday (June 6) or 2-day seminars on spanning both Thursday and Friday (June 7), all facilitated by some of the leading experts in the DG space. These sessions are worthwhile for all levels of experience or program maturity levels, as they offer a deeper dive into specific concepts (e.g., program value, data quality, data stewardship, business glossaries, etc.) that are not feasible for the shorter conference sessions. All of them provide a workbook handout filled with detailed information, and audience participation during the session is encouraged as the focus is on helping participants expand their understanding and skills in the topics being covered.

I chose to attend the 1-day tutorial on Operationalizing Data Governance and Data Quality with David Loshin (Knowledge Integrity) to find insights I could leverage for the launch of our data quality workgroup over the next few months. David shared a wealth of knowledge and experience with data policies, standards and rules, data discovery, incident management, and more. He also answered numerous questions from the audience, some of which stimulated some good group conversations! I found his sections on Standards & Rules and Data Discovery to be the most helpful, especially with the clear definitions for concepts and terms he uses. I now feel armed with some great ideas for launching our data quality workstream and helping our stewards develop their skills.

My Key Takeaways

No matter where you are in your data governance journey, you can always learn something new and different at DGIQ. At minimum, you will get a sense of validation that you are not alone in your journey – we all face many of the same challenges, successes, failures, and lessons learned. Some of us are further ahead than others and others are winning awards for the value their programs are providing after years if not decades of effort, but no one has it all figured out – and we can learn from all of them, over and over again. Every time I attend this conference, I learn something new, even from colleagues I already know and workshops and tutorials I’ve already seen or attended.

Most of all though, the willingness of attendees to openly and honestly share experiences, insights, and lessons learned across a variety of industries, business models and platforms are what truly make this conference one of the most worthwhile educational experiences you’ll find. DGIQ is one of my favorites and if I am in the data governance space, I hope to continue experiencing the value it brings me in my role. Data will certainly keep growing, we all know we need good data, and until DG becomes a discipline taught at universities and colleges across the world and embedded in business processes, all of us DG professionals are sorely needed!

I’d like to send a huge thanks to Debtech International and DATAVERSITY for coordinating the conference, all the wonderful sponsors who supported it, and all the tireless hotel employees who kept everything running so smoothly – their collective efforts helped make DGIQ19 a huge success!

I will close with a final thought – data governance truly is a journey, and the only way to fail is to give up… so never, EVER quit! I hope to see you again at DGIQ20, and I’ll do my best to bring the SoCal sunshine with me. Cheers!

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About Jimm Johnson

With over 20 years of experience in various areas of IT across multiple industries, Jimm Johnson serves as Data Governance Program Manager for Scripps Health, one of the largest healthcare providers in San Diego. Jimm launched the framework for an enterprise data governance program with the company's Epic electronic health record (EHR) and revenue cycle implementation, and is now evolving that DG program toward its next phase of operationalizing DG using a “data asset management” model to govern specific data assets (reports, metrics, extracts, data marts, glossary terms) and engage owners & stewards with the responsibilities & expectations for their official DG roles. Jimm received undergraduate degrees in business administration, finance and Spanish literature and psychology from Western Michigan University and a master’s in counseling psychology from San Diego State University.

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