Q&A with Data Officers: Chris Selland

Chris Selland, VP of Strategic Growth for Unifi Software.
Chris Selland recently joined Unifi Software as Vice President of Strategic Growth. Unifi Software provides a comprehensive suite of self-service data integration tools, and combines an intuitive interface with the widest range of native data connectors on the market to facilitate all aspects of data integration, including: discovery, cleansing, enriching, normalization, transformation and native connection to industry-leading BI Tools.
Prior to joining Unifi, Chris was VP of Business Development for Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Big Data business as well as VP of Marketing for HP Vertica, where he led HPE’s Big Data partner Ecosystem as well as drove the launches of key initiatives such as the HP Haven platform and the HPE Big Data Conference.

Q1. How do you define the term Data Governance?

Well of course there’s the standard well-established definition – Wikipedia defines Data Governance as a “control” which defines business rules & standards for data – in other words, Data Governance is how organizations insure integrity, security and compliance around their data.

But going beyond the standard definitions, I’d also argue that today’s organizations need to define – and think about – the term more broadly. Because data is increasingly becoming the grounds on which our organizations compete in today’s market. I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal just yesterday about how the retail industry is changing, for instance, and the very first heading was “Data Is King”. I’d argue that’s true in essentially every industry these days.

So if Data is King, I’d suggest Data Governance is part – but not all – of how organizations need to strategically think about their data. I’d call Data Governance, at least in a traditional sense, more of a “defensive” term – it’s what keeps the organization out of trouble. And that’s important, but it needs to be part of a broader Data Strategy which needs to be offensively focused as well.

Q2. So how do you get started in building such a “Data Strategy” for your organization?

It starts with getting the IT and business stakeholders to the table – together – and unifying them on what the organizational goals are, and how data plays a role in taking it there. That is a simple idea that can be surprisingly difficult in practice, but it’s absolutely necessary.

There needs to be alignment on the goals of the organization – whether it’s about increasing profitability, enhancing customer loyalty, more closely integrating our business partners and suppliers into our business – or all of the above – how do we break those goals down to a set of criteria that the business and IT organizations can agree on? And what role does data play in making those strategies real?

Q3. What are the main current challenges in data governance?

Well first of all, Data Governance can definitely be one of those thankless roles where if you’re really doing it well, you’re not being noticed! Which is definitely one of the reasons that incorporating it into a broader strategic framework has a great deal of value for both the organization and the people.

Too often when Data Governance becomes a singular focus it can actually become restrictive to the business – even though that’s almost never the intent, it can be perceived that way. Because while integrity, security, compliance, etc… are all obviously important things for IT to focus on, they can lead to a situation where business users are not able to get at the data they need to do their jobs. There’s a constant tension between IT-led governance initiatives and business requirements for more and more data to do their jobs which can lead to dissatisfied users, non-compliant “shadow-IT” projects – particularly with the advent of so many cloud-based services – and other issues.

Q4. So how do you deal with possible organizational conflicts from overlapping functions when dealing with Data?

Our approach at Unifi is to create a governed self-service environment for business analysts to get access to the data they need to do their jobs. It’s why – from the beginning – we combined our end-user friendly, IT-governed Data Catalog with our Data Preparation capabilities in a single platform. We call the result “Data as a Service” – our goal being to provide IT with powerful tools to govern their data yet also give business analysts an interface where they can search, locate and transform the data they need to do their jobs, and make sure the organization is operating under a “single version of the truth”. We’re still the only company who does that in a single integrated platform, and by getting buy-in from both the IT and business user & analyst communities it helps tremendously with organizational alignment around data strategy.

Q5. Data analytics and innovation management: what are the main issues?

That’s the “offense” part of the sports analogy I was making earlier – how does data play a role in helping the organization achieve its strategic goals? It’s about building consensus and agreement – as well as balance – between the needs of IT to keep our data secure and compliant while at the same time making it available and useful to the business organization.

Certainly senior leadership cares about things like maintaining compliance and preventing breaches – but they also care a great deal about being responsive to customers and the competition and achieving revenue and profitability targets. And data plays such an increasingly huge role in ALL of that.

Gartner and other IT analysts have been referring to “Data Preparation” for some time but only recently have they been adding “self-service” to that term. It’s such an important distinction because it is recognition that this really needs to be viewed from a business person’s perspective.

We focus so much of our time on helping our customers to shorten the learning curve for business analysts. The Unifi platform is built around a simple and unique 6-step workflow, guiding the user down the correct path, making recommendations for common keys, joins, and ultimately providing an elegant, simple, and consumer-like experience to data preparation.

Q6. How do you select the key Data tools and technologies?

There are so many tools and technologies to choose from these days – which makes it incredibly confusing for a buyer to decide which way to turn. The analyst reports can help – we particularly like the Gartner Market Guide for Self-Service Data Preparation report that’s downloadable from our website at www.unifisoftware.com. Bloor Research also did a very good report on the same topic that we’ve also made available.

But the bottom line is that there’s no better way than by trying them out firsthand– and doing so in such a way that both your business analysts and your IT organization has a chance to get hands-on.

We have a program called OnRamp we’ve launched in conjunction with our partners at Microsoft – it’s build on the Azure cloud so everything’s basically already set up – it allows your team to get hands-on with our platform. It can be found at www.unifisoftware.com/onramp.

Qx. Anything else you wish to add?

Only that I’d welcome any inquiries from your readers – I can be reached anytime at cselland @ unifisoftware.com – would love to hear from you!

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