How to Build a Data Quality Platform
The Kathy Hunter Interview
Kathy Hunter had to wait nearly two years for the right opportunity to propel data quality onto the centre stage but when the time came, she was fully prepared.
In this interview, seasoned data quality expert Kathy explains the platform building tactics she used to get data quality moving in her organisation.
She also provides career tips for data quality professionals looking to follow in her path.
Data Quality Pro: What route did you take prior to becoming a data quality consultant – how did you get started?
Kathy Hunter: When I was Service Delivery Manager at One2One (now T-Mobile), I found that most of the problems experienced by the different systems under my control were due to serious issues with the quality of information within those systems. I attended a workshop where I learned everything I needed to know to solve my problems.
Unfortunately, the business didn’t have the inclination to deal with their problems effectively so I had to wait to really get started. I spent nearly two years telling every senior manager I knew about the importance of information quality and the ways that poor quality information could be improved.
It took a very public embarrassment to focus senior management’s minds. When the problem occurred, the months of gentle persuasion paid off and all those senior managers were ready to fund my IQ initiatives, called Project High IQ. Within two days I had a two-year budget of £2.5 million and three months later we had already found £10 million in lost revenue that was easy to recover. We’d paid for ourselves four times over!
Data Quality Pro: What skills have been most beneficial for developing your data quality career?
Kathy Hunter: I would have to say that strong problem-solving and communication skills have been the most beneficial to me in my career. Being able to systematically analyse problems, potential solutions and then communicate the improvement strategies required to overcome issues is a big part of being successful in IQ (and so many other things).
Of course, it also helps if you have a knack with data. I always say that you needs to listen to the voice of the data when dealing with problems. If you tune your hearing to what the business needs from data within their systems, the messages will begin to be clear. This is especially important when profiling the data. Just reeling off the stats about data will not tell you whether the information the business requires is compromised.
Only by understanding the costs the business are experiencing will you do that. Once you hear the voice of the data, you then can use your communication skills to present the findings of the data profile in a way that resonates with the business people with whom you will be working.
Data Quality Pro: Do you find that organisations struggle to understand the role of a data quality specialist?
Kathy Hunter: I have found that organisations cannot understand information quality full stop if their senior managers are not in some sort of pain that they can relate back to a data problem.
It may seem obvious to people at the coal face but that does not automatically translate to an understanding at executive level. Even after the pain exists, it is essential to be able to communicate the role of the IQ specialist in a way that works for business people who may not have technical expertise.
After all, IQ is about business success or failure, not about implementing technical solutions. Technology will assist the IQ specialist in their job but it’s overcoming business obstacles that will ensure continuing funding for IQ.
Data Quality Pro: Is it still important to have data quality technology skills or do you feel there are sufficient non-technical roles coming through now?
Kathy Hunter: To successfully implement IQ solutions, you will doubtless need some people with excellent technology skills. Some solutions will involve changes to systems and will need clever technical experts. However, many of the roles in IQ are not technology-based. Non-technical roles would include business analysts, project managers and process improvement experts. Even data analysts do not have to be terribly technical as many new analysis tools are geared towards non-technical individuals. In my experience there’s about a 50:50 split between technical and non-technical roles but that could even be 40:60.
Data Quality Pro: Are you finding any organisations creating a career path for data quality professionals or is there still a long way to go?
Kathy Hunter: There are some but these are often technical roles. Many in organisations that think that there is a magic bullet that will magically rectify their IQ problems. Very few organisations understand the level of organisational change required to implement truly long-lasting improvements. Only the most mature companies are looking at importance of non-technical roles in IQ. I think we still have a long way to go.
Data Quality Pro: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to get data quality off the ground within their organisation?
Kathy Hunter: My best advice would be to learn everything you can about the subject and then decide where and when to get started. Remember, it may not be the right time to start. However, if you think it is, start by gathering evidence to gain support and start building a business case.
You need input from the business to find out where problems occur. Here are some suggested ways of getting this - advertise on your intranet that you are looking for information quality problems and ask people to contact you to discuss their issues (stand back and wait for the onslaught!); conduct lunchtime forums in individual departments asking people to come and tell you about problems they are having; send out questionnaires to middle managers within the business asking them to answer questions about information quality problems and suggest they pass the questionnaires around to people that work for them.
When you discuss problems, find out whether there has been a specific senior manager that is feeling pain from all of this. This could be lost sales, customer churn, low profits, all the issues that were discussed in my business case presentation. Also, take this opportunity to get people to bring your evidence of the costs of poor quality. This will be invaluable in building a business case later.
Once you gathered the evidence, find out if one of the senior managers you’ve identified would be willing to sponsor your work. Make sure this senior manager understands that IQ is more than just IT implementing new tools or changes to existing systems. It will involve many areas of the organisation and will need more than just funding, it will involve real business change.
Data Quality Pro: What advice would you give someone starting out in the data quality profession?
Kathy Hunter: Someone who wants to join the profession might want to start off working as a data analyst to gain valuable background knowledge or perhaps work in process improvement areas so you understand the whole idea of making improvements in a structured way. The IAIDQ are introducing a certification course that will provide practical skills and methodologies. With the right building blocks and a good head for data, a fulfilling career in IQ can be yours.
Summary Advice for Other Data Quality Professionals
- Be patient, plant the seeds of data quality and sow when the right opportunity presents itself.
- Organisations always have spare budget for data quality initiatives, preventing future embarrassment is often a great business case driver.
- Strong problem-solving skills and great communication techniques are pivotal for the modern data quality practitioner.
- Focus on what the business needs from the data as opposed to just quoting stats and figures from your profiling apps.
- Communicate data quality in a way that resonates with the business.
- Senior management must be feeling the pain of data quality to fully appreciate its importance.
- IQ is about business success or failure, not about implementing technical solutions.
- Technology will assist the IQ specialist but overcoming business obstacles ensures continued funding for IQ.
- There is no longer a requirement for IQ/DQ specialists to be experts in data quality software and technology.
- Structured career roadmaps for data and information quality are still rare in most organisations.
- Be proactive internally, reach out to workers who may be witnessing data quality issues.
- Start to gather evidence to create a business case.
- Hold open forums at lunchtime to enable people to share their data quality issues.
- Distribute data quality questionnaires to middle management and ask them to complete and circulate.
- Find the senior manager who is connected to the issue and identify the pain involved.
- Explain how IT isn't the solution, whole business change may be required.
- The data quality analyst role is a good launchpad for the IQ profession, the IAIDQ will at some point launch a certification scheme to provide practical skills/methodologies that will benefit this role.
About Kathy Hunter
Kathy Hunter has over twenty years information systems experience and more than twelve years experience in Information Quality Improvement.
From information quality and data governance through to providing global data solutions and guidance she has attained a reputation for successful delivery in information management to her clients - some of the largest companies in the world.
A popular speaker at events, Kathy is known for her pragmatic approach to information management topics, providing helpful hints and practical examples in order to solve tough problems.
Kathy Hunter has over twenty years IS experience and has focused the last thirteen years on improving Information Quality.
At one major mobile telco, she instituted an enterprise-wide Information Quality division which delivered over £20 million in lost annual earnings and other costs, thus providing 2000% return on investment.
She has a reputation for delivering successful solutions and guidance in Information Quality and Data Governance to many companies who have wanted to improve their data management capabilities.
You can find Kathy Hunter on LinkedIn: