Interview with Steve Adler – IBM Info Governance

Robert S. Seiner (RSS): Hi Steve. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you for the pages of It has been a long time coming. We have known each other for many years … way before we both got so heavily involved in the data governance and information governance space. Perhaps you can share with my readers a bit about your background and how you got to be involved in the governance industry.

Steven B. (Steve) Adler (SA): I guess I’ve always been interested in governance. I studied history in college, at George Washington University, spent a year working as an intern for my congressman, and ran part of his re-election campaign. I learned a lot about governance that year, about how congressmen and their staffs work to research policy issues and make decisions. The year after, I moved back to NY and began working in the insurance industry as a professional liability underwriter. I worked on re-insurance contracts and learned about risk calculation and loss history. A few years later, I moved to Germany and then Denmark and started my career in IBM working for IBM Denmark. In 1996, I used my insurance background to invent Internet insurance, which was an early program designed with customers to underwrite Internet exposures and design insurance programs.  Back then it was an innovative idea for a small niche. Today it is a $5 billion industry.In 1999, I moved back to the States and worked for a small information security consulting firm and designed their Information Privacy Practice. A year later, that firm folded in the dot-com meltdown, and I returned to IBM to run the privacy consulting practice in Global Services. Drawing on some things I had learned in Denmark, I organized a 6-week project in Zurich to create IBM’s Enterprise Privacy Architecture, a patented program that embedded privacy policies in business processes. That led to a job in Software Group, doing some product marketing for Tivoli Privacy Manager, and that’s where I created my first customer council – The IBM Privacy Management Council. We had about 30 customers who met three times a year and discussed privacy issues. Along the way, I realized that many organizations were thinking about data handling policies more than privacy issues. They were being confronted with new IT regulatory requirements, and I thought maybe there was room and need to look at issues with a broader lens. 

In 2004, I organized the first meeting of what would become the IBM Data Governance Council. Since then, the Council has grown to 55 companies, met in over 30 locations and developed the Data Governance Maturity Model. 

RSS: You have been working on developing and growing an Information Governance Community, and my understanding is that the community is doing very well and growing by leaps and bounds. What can you share with the readers of about the community?  Can you tell us why you decided to call it an Information Governance Community rather than the more common data governance?

SA: The Information Governance Community has evolved out of the Data Governance Council. Of course, I’m really proud of what the Council has achieved, but membership agreements make participation cumbersome. I wanted to build a larger community that could enhance the Maturity Model and involve by capturing global insights and ideas. I first explored this idea three years ago when I contacted Canonical, which makes the Ubuntu Linux distribution, to see if we could use their Launchpad environment to publish the Maturity Model and work on it like an open source development project. Canonical was keen on it, but the Council couldn’t imagine how it would work; and, in general, I think the industry itself wasn’t mature enough. But I kept the idea in the back of my head as I went around the world and hosted workshops on data governance with many firms outside the Council. In a way, I was building a global community through face-to-face meetings.

Last year, I became fascinated with social networking, and I got introduced to some fantastic firms working in that space – Brainpark and Chaordix. They became Council members, and I began to think again about an open source project. Maturity models are great, but they have a half-life of relevance if they don’t continue to evolve. The Council Model is nearly four years old, and it needs to evolve to continue to show value. I felt strongly that now is an important time to expand the Model and help provide greater value to the market.

So, late last year, I began working with Chaordix to build the Community. We began coding in March, and started a beta test with Council members in June. We launched the site in August, and today it has nearly 600 individual members who are working together on updating the Maturity Model. The population is incredibly diverse, representing every industry and every geography. We are adding about 100 new members each month, and I expect we will reach 1,000 by year’s end.

RSS: How can readers of become involved in the Community?

SA: Just go to and register. It’s free to join and your contributions are rewarded with points that get compared to others and recognized on the Leadership Board. You can self-assess with the current maturity model, vote on current topics, comment on member Peer Reviews, and catch up on the blogs written by experts… like Bob Seiner.

RSS: Thanks Steve. 🙂 Recently you held an event that brought together industry specialists and practitioners to discuss information governance and to build on the IBM Information Governance Maturity Model. I have heard from colleagues of mine that the event was very successful. Can you tell us more about the event, why it was held, where it was held, and did it accomplish what you set out to accomplish?

SA: We had a Community meeting in Tamaya, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque.  About 35 people participated, and we spent a day brainstorming how to improve the Maturity Model. One result was the design of 5 new Maturity Maps. The maps recommend minimum levels of Information Governance Maturity to achieve five business outcomes the Community desires:

  1. We want semantic consistency to improve enterprise information understanding.
  2. Improve quality of reporting and analytics to promote organizational effectiveness.
  3. Single view of the truth to supply the right information to run the business.
  4. Transform data into valued business information to make smarter, faster decisions.
  5. Information that is secure and protected to reduce risk and improve compliance.

Practically, these are like new lenses on the existing Maturity Model. The recommendations are quite challenging because attaining these outcomes on a sustainable basis is hard. But right now, we are treating them as hypotheses – useful tools for examining our Information Governance Programs and Maturity Model itself.

Referenced from:

RSS: Are there plans for more events like that?

SA: Yes, I will be hosting more events like that all around the world in the next years to give Community members a chance to meet their peers, interact and contribute their ideas. Each meeting will be carried “live” on the site so that each conversation enhances the next. This is a kind of social networking that is both face to face and online, and I think both greatly enhance the experiences and value of each other.

RSS: Tell the readers your thoughts about the direction of the information governance industry and why it is heading that direction?

SA: The industry is growing very rapidly. The growth is mostly in breadth as more organizations realize that information governance or data governance isn’t an option. It is happening all over the world – in Asia and Africa, Latin America and Europe, North America and Australia. The financial crisis has been a major influence, as many firms have realized that the use of information drives our economies. New regulations will make data governance an organizational mandate, like corporate governance.

Our challenge is to match breadth with depth so that our industry matures and provides wisdom and value to both IT and business. I think we can do that, and I look forward to working with you and everyone in the Information Governance Community during this exciting evolution.

RSS: I know that you have heard at least bits and pieces of presentations I have made on Non-Invasive Data Governance in the past. Does the approach I use resonate well with you? What advice would you give newbie practitioners about how to get started and where to turn for information?

SA: Bob, you do great work, and I’ve always been impressed with the clarity of your thinking and presentations. I think non-invasive is a good approach for more mature organizations because to make data governance successful you need to build it into all the funded programs that are the lifeblood of IT departments. 

RSS: What role does data governance and information governance play in IBM’s overall data management strategy?

SA: Information governance is an important part of IBM’s overall data management strategy because its important to our customers. 

RSS: How do you see that role evolving over time? Where has it come from and where is it going?

SA: I see data and information governance becoming as important as corporate governance. Information is the lifeblood of our societies. There is no going back.

RSS: Your name is well recognized in the data management space. Is that by design? What is your goal as a visionary in the data management, data and information governance space?

SA: My goal is to establish data governance as an accepted business practice, taught in more universities as a core discipline, used by governments and NGOs as part of policy-making on a global scale.

RSS: I just asked this question to Davida Berger (DebTech International) about the data governance industry. Let me pose it to you this way. How is the data governance field changing and what has been the cause of the changes?

SA: The financial crisis is going to change the regulatory landscape across the world. All financial institutions will be required by law to have data governance programs and demonstrate the progress of their programs to regulators. This trend will naturally spread to other industries.

RSS: Any last words of wisdom for the readers of Anything else you would like to add?

SA: Make sure your governance program has a systemic process for decision making. Make sure someone is auditing your results. Be honest about your mistakes, and demand real solutions from vendors like IBM who should be providing technology to make all of this easier and more reliable.

RSS: Thank you again for taking the time to hold this interview. I am looking forward to seeing you and speaking with you again soon.

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