In this featured member interview we speak with Garry Ure, a data quality consultant currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Garry has recently started his own blog and is keen to interact and share experiences with other members of the Data Quality Pro and wider data.
Data Quality Pro: What is your current role and involvement with data quality at the moment?
Garry Ure: I am currently based in Edinburgh working with a large Life and Pensions company as part of a team of information management consultants brought in to address the data requirements of Solvency II.
This has involved providing consultancy in all areas of data management; from the challenges of implementing data governance through to the intricacies of data quality and getting my hands dirty with data analysis. It has also meant getting to grips with the regulation itself and interpreting the, often subjective, imperatives.
Solvency II is quite unique in that it has specific guidance relating to data quality. This obviously indicates the increasing importance regulators are placing on data management and I believe further regulatory initiatives will place increasing importance on this fundamental aspect of business operations.
Data Quality Pro: How did you get started – can you describe your career path so far?
Garry Ure: When I left university (where I achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Photography) I joined a large banking group as an analyst within a newly formed data analysis team. Part of an organisational Basel II programme, this team was tasked with improving and maintaining the quality of data within a purpose built single customer view of corporate banking clients. It was within this team that I caught the data quality bug and started to research best practice and look for ways to redesign processes and utilise new tools and technology to reduce the largely manual aspects of daily operations. The result was a very successful and respected source of high quality customer data that was used across many business areas. The team also successfully achieved a BSI accreditation in recognition of the robust quality management processes.
During the rest of my time with the organisation I fulfilled a number of other data related roles, including a couple of years within the IT department as a Senior Business Analyst which included periods working in New York and Madrid. At the time being able to experience a number of diverse areas within a single organisation greatly helped my knowledge, proficiency and capability. Then after a fairly contemplative period and with the encouragement of some trusted friends I decided to make the somewhat scary leap into independent consultancy; which is how I found my current role.
Data Quality Pro: Are there any particular data quality skills that you draw on repeatedly?
Garry Ure: Often I find myself applying skills learned through data profiling and data analysis to other situations. I’ve always been a very analytical and inquisitive person; I like to know how things work so I can deconstruct them, with a view to making improvements. Over time you sort of develop a sense for where the issues are and what doesn’t look right. I’m also a big fan of simple techniques like the ‘5 whys’ method for uncovering root causes. The subsequent ability to recognise and separate symptoms from their underlying causes is also a useful skill to have. Having the experience of business analysis has also given me the ability to communicate between the technical and business disciplines of an organisation; something that always comes in handy!
Data Quality Pro: Can you share your longer-term career plans?
Garry Ure: As I have spent the entirety of my career within the financial services industry, it would be interesting to experience a data quality initiative elsewhere. In fact I have often thought about working in a more retail based organisation where the driver for data quality is not based primarily on a regulatory imperative.
For example I see a lot of retail firms looking at improving the overall “customer experience” and most proposals are heavily reliant on having trusted high quality data. I’d also consider undertaking a role outside of the UK in order to further my experience of operating in an international context.
Data Quality Pro: What lessons would you give to someone looking to break into the DQ profession?
Garry Ure: If you are just starting out, then you need to become a sponge. Read everything you can get your hands on and absorb the experiences of as many people as you can. Learn from the mistakes of others and don’t be afraid to make your own; just make sure you learn from those too. There is a lot of good information out there and I’m hoping to use my own website as a pointer for good material.
My one key piece of advice would be not to imagine that you can implement best practice in one big-bang. Look at data governance maturity models and try to put pieces in place that take you in the right direction from where you currently are.
Data Quality Pro: Are your skills marketable and in demand do you think? What type of companies typically approach you?
Garry Ure: Any skills are marketable; you just need to find the right market!
I believe the skills associated with any data management type role are always in demand and can easily be transferred. On the surface they are skills that seek out issues and strive to make things better; what company would pass up on those?
At the moment I don’t really have a high enough profile to be in the envious situation where companies approach me; it is more the other way round. However this is something I am looking to address and is part of the reason I started my blog and have begun to explore the marketing power of social media. Companies aren’t going to approach you if they don’t know that you exist or what you are capable of.
I am definitely convinced that there is a growing market for data management and data quality skills. Every organisation depends on information and many of their information systems have built up in a rather ad-hoc manner resulting in huge layers of complexity and legacy problems. There is a huge market for improving the current data management situation, perhaps the problem is that many people aren’t yet aware that this is a data problem at heart.
Data Quality Pro: How has social media and the internet helped you professionally?
Garry Ure: As I previously mentioned, I have very recently started a blog and have been investigating ways to harness the marketing potential of social media sites such as ‘LinkedIn’ and ‘Twitter’. I am still getting over the novelty of being able to use ‘Twitter’ to converse with some of the biggest names in the profession. Less than a week after my blog went ‘live’ I already started to see the benefits of having an online presence; landing this interview was an obvious high point!
I think that today, social media and the Internet in general, are necessary tools of the trade. If you don’t take advantage of them then you are seriously putting yourself at a disadvantage. I’m not just talking about the potential of self-promotion; I’m talking about having instant access to an incomprehensible amount of knowledge.
Of course there are downsides too; just as you can raise your profile almost instantaneously you can tarnish it just as quickly.
Data Quality Pro: What’s your biggest frustration when delivering data quality solutions and services?
Garry Ure: My biggest frustration is when people refuse to accept that something isn’t working as well as it could just because “that’s the way it’s always been done”. Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right!
I also find it incredibly frustrating when there is too much focus on the short-term costs of implementation and not on the long-term gains associated with improving the way we run organisations. Short mindedness really does impede innovation.
Data Quality Pro: How do you see the data quality profession evolving?
Garry Ure: Within the financial sector, I feel the precedent set by Solvency II will mean that new or revised regulations will similarly have more explicit data quality requirements. This will be no bad thing and should make the business case process that bit easier!
I see there being ever increasing demand for skilled practitioners as organisations begin to realise the true value of their data. Hopefully this will also mean that organisations start to take the initiative with regards to their own data quality initiatives rather than wait for it to be prescribed through regulation. Senior executives need to take more of an interest in the data their organisation operates on and treat it as they would any other vital asset.
I also hope to see more formal education and qualification paths developed for Data Quality. I think this is vital if we hope to have new talent making the choice to have a career in a data quality related role.
Data Quality Pro: What data quality training, publications or other educational resources have you leveraged to develop your skills? Which had the most impact?
Garry Ure: As I touched on earlier, I actually think that there is a lack of formal data quality educational resources and qualifications, especially in the UK and I am hopeful this is something that is addressed in future.
Perhaps due to this I haven’t actually had any formal ‘data quality training’ but I like to read any resources I can get my hands on.
This is where sites like DataQualityPro.com are invaluable because they bring a lot of good quality information together in one place as well as interviewing the people who wrote it. Likewise, tools like ‘Google Reader’ mean I can subscribe to any number of blogs or websites and build my own personalised newsfeed.
Then there are dedicated publications like the DAMA DMBOK. This is a great reference material because it is put together by a group of experts and provides a consensus view of best practice. I’d really like to see more of this type of publication covering various areas and in more detail.
It would be interesting to be involved in developing a methodology for improving data quality and data management that directed organisations towards good practices such as those from DAMA.
I think being able to back up your proposals with ‘real-world’ examples and evidence has the greatest impact. This is why it’s a good idea to absorb as much resource as you can. If you can give people the comfort that they are following best practice or that they have avoided a pitfall that another organisation fell into, then it helps your credibility greatly.