I'm really pleased that Nick Keen agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I met him at a recent joint DAMA UK, BCS DMSG event. After hearing him present passionately on data governance, I just had to ask him to do this interview!
Nick is the data governance lead at the Environment Agency working internally across the entire organisation covering anything from flooding, fisheries environmental crime to facilities management. Nick assesses how well the Environment Agency looks after its data and helps put in place actions to improve and reduce the risk from poor data governance. Without this strong foundation, open data would be incredibly difficult.
Q. How long have you been working in Data Governance?
Nick Keen: Since December 2011 so coming on for 5 years.
Q. How did you start working in data governance?
Keen: I saw a job advertisement in a team headed up a former colleague (now my boss) in the environmental crime world (investigating it, not causing it!). Knowing how enthusiastic she was about the work she was doing, and having had similar career paths I thought it sounded like an ideal move. I went for the job, managed to persuade the interviewers I was the right person and here I am.
Q. What where your initial thoughts when you first fully understood what you had got into?
Keen: Have I made the right move? Am I doing the right thing? What do all these technical terms mean? How am I supposed to do this?
Luckily there were a lot of the relationships and tools in place thanks to the work Lisa had done.
Q. Are there any particular resources that you found useful support when you were starting out?
Keen: Without sounding like I want a pay increase – my boss and the team around me. They are always there to guide me, offer advice and importantly suggest different ways to tackle a problem. Many of the teams we work with have tremendous data knowledge – working with them, and listening to their knowledge and experience has helped loads.
There is a lot of well-intentioned advice out there, but in particular the DAMA resources are really useful.
Q. What is the biggest data governance challenge you have faced so far?
Keen: The biggest challenge is also the biggest positive aspect – People. It can be difficult to engage with some when you mention the word data – let alone governance. But once you can talk in the right language and they see the value of data, the job becomes so much easier.
Q. What have you implemented or solved so far that you are particularly proud of?
Keen: Helping develop and work with the business to complete data maturity assessments. These are accepted as part of business as usual to help identify areas we can work on together to improve our data.
The results are used by the Board to help reduce and manage corporate risk.
Q. What single piece of advice would you give someone just starting out in data governance?
Keen: Don’t force your opinions on people – work with them and show them the value of data but do it in their language. (Ok that’s two but we’re not doing a data quality check…are we?)
Q. Finally, what do you wish you had known or done differently when you were just starting out in data governance?
Keen: Not tried to use the big stick! It’s so much easier to use the carrot and take people along on the journey with you. If you can talk in their language (don’t always use the G word!) it becomes real and they can see the benefit. I remember one senior manager said to me that I don’t understand what you mean. Three things helped me turn that around
(i) I mentioned a spreadsheet I knew his team managed. It helped prove the work they do and what they achieve. Oh – and that they use data
(ii) I then said how important it was to have the right data. Oh – that’s data quality
(iii) Lastly, I said how someone else wanted to take it away from them. The reply was but that’s mine…And there we have it, I had an owner!
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