The challenges of instituting data governance for master data management in a single enterprise are manifold, as anyone assigned to manage the task can relate. And, when policies and enterprise standards are expressed as goals, they inevitably run into existing ways of working at the departmental and line of business levels.

Governance takes negotiation and perseverance. Throw a corporate merger into the picture, as was the case not long ago for Express Scripts and MEDCO - companies that deal with pharmacy benefits and services for consumers through employers and plans – and it might seem that much harder. 

“The merger was announced about nine months before it was definitely going to happen, and while we were waiting for approvals we decided to put our heads down and keep going with our own programs,” says Eileen Koski, director of data governance at Express Scripts. “If the merger happened or didn’t we’d be in the best position we could be in. We’d have no regrets over what we could have done.”

The merger did happen and Express Scripts is now on a cultural and collaborative journey that will be discussed in detail at the upcoming 7th annual MDM and Data Governance Summit in New York October 14-16.

The merged governance program was built on the foundation of a strong data quality program that sprang from MEDCO and was combined and extended with analytic expertise at Express Scripts.

Elisa Pirylis is a senior manager and the enterprise data steward for patient data with a dozen years work in data quality. “Data, data quality and metrics have been my mantra. That’s my history, but the policy and process side of governance has been a great learning experience as I go along.”

Joe Federer, the senior director of pharmacoanalytics, went into the merger with seven years in with Express Scripts and an analytics background from SPSS and 19 years at Teradata.

“We have put the analytics and data governance teams side by side,” Federer says. “Elisa and I both report into the VP of Knowledge Solutions, in whose office analytics and data governance have been combined for reporting and analytic point of view.” If the underlying data has high integrity, “we know we can trust in the results in the analytics. If not then obviously our conclusions are compromised, so to me it’s a great fit.”

Matching analytics to reporting levels the playing field for moving forward with metrics related to data quality and robustness and makes sure default information doesn’t get into the system internally or externally. “We were able to build a preliminary data quality dashboard to show to stakeholders,” Pirylis says. “It lets us show value over time and our stakeholders can see where data governance is taking us.”

The demonstrated benefits thus far have been cost avoidance, increased revenue, reduced risk of inappropriate usage of data, and improved patient health that came from identified gaps in patient care. Koski says the trifecta of benefits at a company like Express Scripts comes from touching all three core constituencies: patients, clients and the Express Scripts data community.

As data continues to be mapped and migrated, Federer says one of the best results is to find that MDM and data quality teams want data governance out in front of the migration to make sure data is not being lost or compromised.

For MDM, governance was attached to the software development lifecycle in series of 90-day sprints that focused attention spans.

Pirylis also has a new view of team settings and cooperation. “One thing I definitely take away and build upon and evolve on is the whole communication aspect and how important it is to a data governance program. It’s not only the written things but the relationships and the way you communicate and interpret and react. You find that your stakeholders are your biggest advertisers and that has been key to me through the process.”

Pirylis and Federer will also discuss their training and certification of data stewards to create a true community of practice and the use of sponsor maps to help ensure ongoing executive support and presence in their presentation at the MDM Summit.