Leveraging Lessons Learned: Establishing a Data Governance Foundation

Session Insights
Written by Amanda Baldwin

Susan Wilson

Group Vice President, Americas Solution Leader



Blake Andrews

Senior Vice President, Director of Data Governance

Independent Financial

JULY 2022

A robust data governance framework is essential to improving data-driven decision making and driving business value. However, it requires organizations to embrace a data-driven culture to see success. Many data and analytics leaders are struggling to bridge this gap, and it is holding them back from seeing optimal results. 

Chief Data Officers recently convened at Evanta’s Dallas CDO Executive Summit to discuss best practices for establishing a data governance foundation. Susan Wilson, Group Vice President, Americas Solution Leader at Informatica interviewed Blake Andrews, Senior Vice President, Director of Data Governance at Independent Financial about his lessons learned from building data-intelligent enterprises throughout his career.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion: 

Language Matters when Developing a Data Governance Framework

As data practices shift toward self-service models, language can either be a driver of collaboration or cause a rift with the rest of the organization. Andrews stated, “If business leaders aren’t taking ownership of the data, you’re going to have challenges.” 

To drive collaboration, it is critical to be mindful of the terminology being used outside of the data center. The verbiage must not be too technical, and it should convey how the data center can provide trusted information faster and drive business value. To emphasize this, Andrews shared that he does not use the term “data governance” in conversation, and he refers to it as “data enablement” instead. “We don’t talk about data governance. It’s not in our lexicon. They [non-data colleagues] have been burned by that term in the past,” he said.

Wilson agreed with this sentiment and stated, “Governance was an inhibitor, and we want to make it an enabler.”

Andrews shared another example of how terminology can be used to better engage business leaders. Within a prior organization, he formerly organized internal data “committees” to help with data efforts, but realized this nomenclature was limiting engagement within the group. 

He explained, “In that company, a committee steered an agenda. If we wanted engagement, we needed to call it a council. Something as simple as that name change helped increase the engagement of those leaders. Those council members felt empowered to actively solve problems presented to the council.” 

The First 100 Days as a CDO

This is a pivotal time to learn about the organization, meet with colleagues and truly understand the pain points across the business to set oneself up for success. Wilson expressed, “You need to be a consultant for the first 100 days. Talk to everyone from the C-level to those in the trenches.” 

Andrews mentioned that one of the most common pain points CDOs hear about is a lack of trust in data and inconsistencies with reporting. He shared how the first 100 days are essential for connecting with business leaders on their issues to set the initial foundational work for the data center. “Learn the organization and pain points, meet with business leaders and learn about the technology environment. Do the initial foundational work and get business leaders together to see how we’re going to measure these things,” he explained. 

Incorporate Data Democratization into Your Strategy

Increased demand for data resources and industry-wide talent shortages are paving the way for self-service data models. But for them to work, data democratization is key. Andrews shared how a lack of resources is not uncommon in this industry, and in a previous role he was challenged with only three or four data resources across 1800 employees. He expressed that CDOs must democratize knowledge to try to ease the burden on current resources during this time of high turnover.

Andrews shared a tip for achieving this: “Create processes that enable democratization by aligning it to personas.” If you create a robust experience — including customized glossaries and metrics — for each use case, you are more likely to have better alignment across the organization.

Wilson added that some CDOs find it difficult to balance the need for data democratization with privacy and security. Andrews responded, “Privacy, security and risk management are important. We balance it with alignment to business value and use cases. We have a CISO and product management team, and we collaborate heavily with them both.” 

Data Stewardship is Essential

Data stewards are necessary for upholding quality in a data governance framework, and it is important for CDOs to establish data-driven cultures, policies and processes that are collaborative and support data stewardship. 

Andrews advised that if a CDO is having a hard time gaining support or volunteers for stewardship to try to bring them under your purview instead. This is his approach: “I’m going to bring the stewards under my umbrella and push them out then embed them across the various departments and lines of business. In many mid-size organizations, Iit is hard finding part-time data stewards, and this also allows them [data stewards] to specialize. I want them to be the trusted advisor for their domain.”

To learn more best practices for the top priorities facing CDOs today, find your local Evanta CDO community and connect with like-minded C-level executives on these mission critical topics.


Content adapted from the Dallas CDO Executive Summit. Special thanks to all participating companies.

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