Best of 2013 – Interview with Pablo Riboldi – 2013 Data Governance Best Practice Award Winner

InterviewRobert S. Seiner: Pablo, Let me start by saying congratulations on winning the 2013 Data Governance Best Practice Award, co-sponsored by DEBTECH International, DATAVERSITY and I can honestly say, as the Chairman of our illustrious Judging Panel, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is extremely deserving of this prestigious award. We have always welcomed your submissions over the years, and I want you to know that I was thrilled to have the responsibility for presenting this award to you and your team (and your son) at the DGIQ Conference this past June in San Diego.My first question is about your persistence in submitting for this award. You have been a finalist several times, and I felt like we sort of put you through the wringer before. You said some very novel things to me at the conference about how being a runner up helped your program and actually assisted you in becoming the winner this year. Can you share those thoughts with the readers?

Pablo Riboldi: Absolutely, but first let me thank you on behalf of the Church for the award. Personally and professionally I want to thank you and the judges for your efforts at putting the Data Governance Best Practice Award together. It’s a great way to help the whole industry mature.About the value of submitting entries for the award during the previous years, let me share with you how it has helped me and my team perform better. The process itself of documenting a thorough description of our Data Governance program was extremely useful to clarify for me, for my team, for our Data Stewards, and for management what our program really was. I could see in answering the questions for the award the areas we needed to improve, what the real impact of our program was on the organization. This yearly exercise was invaluable to me. Preparing the submission for the award was like reviewing my “elevator speech” on steroids.The next most valuable part of participating in the competition was the feedback I would get from the other competitors, especially the yearly winners. Wow! Their programs were inspiring and really helped me to see what I was missing. Every year I learned more from the winners and the finalists to improve our program.

Robert S. Seiner: Thank you. Can you quickly tell us about the progression of your program over the years and the ways that value has been demonstrated to LDS Church?

Pablo Riboldi: Well, that story is told in detailed in the presentation itself. We started by finding what was the most valuable governance service we could offer in our organization. For us, it was the Data Sharing Agreements service. Implementing this service helped us to designate data stewards, define data domains, and improve the sharing of information at the Church. Then we added other valuable services: Information Quality Consulting, Address Standardization, and Information Security.

Robert S. Seiner: We (you and I) have had several conversations about the different types of data sharing agreements that you have put in place. Can you explain to my readers how your idea of data sharing as a backbone to your Data Governance program came into being?

Pablo Riboldi: The Church is a very large organization with departments that run very independent from each other (similar to many governmental, healthcare, educational organizations). We had a very bad case of data “myning.” When the Data Stewardship policy got approved, it designated a high-level executive committee as “the owners of the data assets of the Church.” Data Stewards were accountable to this committee to ensuring “proper use and access to the data.” We translated that into the practice of formally requesting access to data through Data Sharing Agreements.

Over the years our library of agreements has grown over 700 strong. We do agreements for internal and external sharing of data.

Robert S. Seiner: Do these sharing agreements exist for structured and unstructured data or do you focus primarily on structured data?  Who are the targets of the agreements and how do you govern the agreements?

Pablo Riboldi: Most of the agreements focus on structured enterprise data. Most of the unstructured data is departmental, so it is not often requested. The template we initially created for these agreements is flexible to allow a great variety of data sharing.

Most of the requestors of these enterprise data sets are other Church applications. However, we have some external organizations also requesting and receiving data through these agreements.

So far, these agreements are more like contracts. We are now at the point where we are going to start gathering the data to actually govern these agreements and monitor that actual data sharing corresponds to the agreed-upon sharing.

Robert S. Seiner: During your presentation where you accepted the award you mentioned the members of your team and their involvement in the delivery and expansion of your program.  I get asked a lot of questions about what the makeup of a Data Governance Team should look like and what the team does on a day-to-day basis.  Can you share some of that information about your team members with us?

Pablo Riboldi: Sure. Our team has now 7 engineers (including me). Two of them, Brent and Jason, are dedicated to managing the Data Sharing Agreement process. They have deep understanding of the data landscape, each of the data stewards (their domains, preferences, working processes), and best practices on how data should move throughout the organization. They also have great diplomatic skills because they have to work as brokers between the requestors and the data stewards and the Privacy Office crafting the agreements.

John and Craig are our main information quality engineers. They are experts on using the data quality tools and processes to find the root causes of quality problems. Not only are they technically skilled but, I’ve found, that to really solve information quality problems, the engineers have to have the stick-with-it-ness necessary to dig into the data until they really understand the problems from the business perspective and to find solutions that fit the business processes and culture.

Marcel and Colby are dedicated to information security (with high collaboration from John and Craig). They are very technical and focused with a passion on security and a “cold-war” mentality.

Robert S. Seiner: Can you share with us what some of your more difficult challenges were at the beginning of your program and compare them to what some of your biggest challenges are presently?

Pablo Riboldi: At the beginning the challenge was to find the focus strategy to implement Data Governance in our organization that would provide the most value and leverage the efforts of other teams. For example, at the same time we were starting to do the Data Sharing Agreements, I found another group that was implementing a MDM solution. We became the MDM biggest fans and promoted the MDM to the data stewards.

The present challenge is that now we are being audited. We’ve just had an audit on the Data Sharing Agreements and told us that we need to do better at monitoring that the agreements are being implemented correctly. (I told the auditor that that was our biggest problem.)

Robert S. Seiner: Who in your organization is feeling the impact of your Data Governance program and what impact are they feeling?

Pablo Riboldi: The development teams are probably the most impacted by our program. We work with them and facilitate their getting the enterprise data they need. We also tell them the thing they need to change to improve their security. So they are grateful to us when we get the data sharing agreements approved fast and when their databases get secured. Not everything goes well all the time, sometimes the agreements take a long time to approve and implement and sometimes securing the databases means some painful changes.

The data stewards are also impacted by the program. They all have other responsibilities so we work hard to assist them to fulfill their data stewardship work. The most difficult thing for most of our data stewards is to clearly define their data elements.

The business units that use our Information Quality consulting are very happy with our services and they learn to see the value of improving information quality in a systematic way.

The Chief Information Security Officer and his team are most impacted by our work with information security. We are making big gains in this area.

Robert S. Seiner: Are there any people in your physical location that still push back on the activities of your Data Governance program and why?

Pablo Riboldi: Yes. Data Governance is by nature a bureaucratic process, as such, many people resent having to ask permission to do this or that. Sometimes the governance decisions made are not what they expected so their first reaction is to blame the process.

We teach the process, the reasons for governance, and the alternative of no governance. Some change, some don’t. That’s life in the governance trenches!

Robert S. Seiner: Thank you for your honesty in answering these questions. I sometimes feel like an investigative reporter when I do these types of interviews.  Just a few more basic questions for you. If you could summarize your program in ten words or less, what would those words be?

Pablo Riboldi: We exist to help the Church data stewards ensure proper use and access to the data, improve the quality and security of the information under their stewardship.

Robert S. Seiner: Are there any secrets to your success that you care to share with the reading audience?  And what is next for the Data Governance program at LDS?

Pablo Riboldi: We have been very blessed, literally!

I don’t think this is a secret, but I would recommend patience, endurance, and flexibility. Each data governance program I’ve seen is different, the successful ones chose one or two specific strategies that are valuable to their organization and develop the governance around just those.

Our next big challenge is going to be monitoring all these agreements we have put in place at a reasonable cost.

Robert S. Seiner: Again, Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions.  Any final words of wisdom for the people out there in reader land?

Pablo Riboldi: I would like to encourage my peers to enter the contest for the Data Governance Best Practice Award. The learning I have gained from that experience over the years has been more valuable than winning the award; and winning the award this year was a tremendous boost to our team and to our entire organization.

Again, thank you Bob for the learning opportunities. The challenge for improvement and excellence goes on.

Robert S. Seiner: Pablo, It is always a pleasure to speak with you and I have truly enjoyed our friendship over the years. Best wishes to you and the LDS Church for sustained success over the years.  I look forward to having you participate as a judge on the award panel this coming year and also our continued friendship. Thank you very much.

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Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. Seiner

Robert (Bob) S. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services and the Publisher of The Data Administration Newsletter ( Seiner is a thought-leader in the fields of data governance and metadata management. KIK (which stands for “knowledge is king”) offers consulting, mentoring and educational services focused on Non-Invasive Data Governance, data stewardship, data management and metadata management solutions. Seiner is the author of the industry’s top selling book on data governance – Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success (Technics Publications 2014) and has hosted the popular monthly webinar series on data governance called Real-World Data Governance (w Dataversity) since 2012. Seiner recently accepted the position of an Adjunct Instructor for the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College CDataO post-graduate program. KIK Consulting is celebrating its 20th year in business while has been actively published for close to 25 years.

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