Featured Member: Mark van der Linden, Oil and Gas Data Quality Specialist, Alberta, Canada

In this featured member interview we speak with Mark van der Linden, an oil and gas data quality specialist based in Calgary, Canada.

Mark has a wide experience of delivering data quality innovations and initiatives within the utilities industry having created products and delivered services. 

At present Mark is building a specialist data quality and MDM practice in Canada.

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Data Quality Pro: What is your current role and involvement with data quality at the moment?

Mark van der Linden: Currently, I am contracting with a Calgary-based Natural Gas Company to design and implement a long term enterprise-wide data quality (DQ) program. This initiative is still in its early stages, but through it, we have discovered the need to also roll-out a master data management (MDM) program across the organization. Both of these programs are gaining a lot of visibility and support from various stakeholders.

Data Quality Pro: Where are you based?

Mark van der Linden: Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Data Quality Pro: How did you get started – can you describe your data quality career path so far?

Mark van der Linden: 12 years ago, I worked for a seismic company that had a very reactive, firefighting approach to resolving data issues. A colleague and I were in a coffee shop discussing these frustrations and the dream of designing a better solution that could be scalable and repeatable.

Having spent most of my career in the energy sector, we thought it would be wise to stay with our roots and develop a solution targeted for this group. Our goal was simple – we wanted to create an automated data quality product for the oil and gas industry that could find and fix any data related issues (regardless of whether it was manual errors, data duplication, mismatched data, etc.).

After testing the waters and consulting with a few different energy companies using our new DQ approach, we decided to open an office full time and develop our own product. We presented our business plan and long term strategy to a number of private investors and were able to secure funding from them as well as from the government. These supporters helped us transform our small service company into a data quality organization with a dedicated product.

Coming from a technical background, my role in the company was to build the technology, while my business partner focused on marketing, selling, and client implementations. In the earliest days, very few companies had heard of data quality and many didn’t know of its impacts. This was probably one of our biggest challenges. However, as the years went on, data quality gained some focus and momentum in the industry. It became a priority item in energy companies and a specific agenda topic at various conferences and industry events. This momentum certainly helped promote our product and the opportunities started to flow in steadily. The industry’s understanding of improved data quality was the first step in establishing our company’s success. With the ongoing trends of master data management and others, we continued to adapt and created a very comprehensive product that served different DQ needs. Nine years after our meeting in the coffee shop, we felt it was time to expand internationally. A few months later, we had an acquisition offer from another oil and gas software firm who fit nicely with our corporate objectives. Shortly after that transaction, I decided to become an independent consultant and have continued my passion for data quality, with a major focus on master data management.

Data Quality Pro: Are there any particular data quality skills that you draw on repeatedly?

Mark van der Linden: Many companies I have worked with in the past 20 years still have a narrow understanding around the impacts of bad data and the requirements of rolling out a detailed data quality strategy. Different departments or business units create short term tactical solutions to solve their data quality and data integration needs. Due to this, my days often include everything from hands-on technical implementations (including coding) to executive presentations that describe past experiences on specific data quality methodologies and best practices.

Data Quality Pro: Can you share your longer-term career plans?

Mark van der Linden: My current plan is to build a consulting practice in Calgary focused on data quality and MDM in the oil and gas industry. The decision to stay as a lone consultant or expand into a larger firm is still in front of me. The market opportunities and trends will guide me.

Data Quality Pro: What lessons would you give to someone looking to break into the data quality profession?

Mark van der Linden: Always focus on the business impacts and business benefits of implementing a data quality solution. Many DQ and MDM solutions are driven from IT which are often less successful. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself how the DQ solution will help the business be more successful, make more money, attract more customers, improve customer service…

Data Quality Pro: Are your skills marketable and in demand do you think? What type of companies typically approach you?

Mark van der Linden: I have 20 years experience in oil and gas, so I have been most successful within this industry. As in all industries the ability to understand the terminology, corporate requirements, and business impacts of data quality go a long way to secure work. Oil and gas is a very application-centric world (e.g. best-of-breed), which in turn causes a tremendous amount of duplication and data quality issues. In addition, many oil and gas companies are currently undertaking or reviewing Master Data Management strategies to align all of their systems. This has also helped to make my skills very marketable.

Data Quality Pro: Have things like social media and the internet helped you professionally? If so, how have they helped?

Mark van der Linden: Yes, I find LinkedIn and Twitter very useful tools. Following what others are doing on Twitter is keeping me current and the obvious network abilities of LinkedIn are a huge asset. As a matter of fact, I can thank LinkedIn for helping to make the connection with Data Quality Pro.

Data Quality Pro: If you could start your data quality career again, what would you have done differently?

Mark van der Linden: I would put more emphasis on the business value of improved data quality and conduct more research around communicating the benefits of a focused solution. One of the biggest challenges we had as a data quality vendor was trying to sell the business value of quality information. Sure, we could clean and standardize every value in the application(s), but it was difficult to clearly communicate what the business benefits were and why companies should care. If I knew then what I know now, I could certainly educate companies better on the drastic consequences and business impact of not having reliable data, and the different methods to address it based on different organizational factors.

Data Quality Pro: What’s your biggest frustration when delivering data quality solutions and services?

Mark van der Linden: Probably the biggest frustration (and disappointment) has been that a majority of data quality projects have an end date. This means that once the project ends and the project group disbands, the quality of the information begins to decay since generally there isn’t an ongoing initiative to continuously monitor the data. With so many users touching the data and using it on a daily basis, there is always the risk of errors. It is important to note that data quality is not a one-time process, but an ongoing commitment to improvement. I am glad that my current employer is taking an enterprise approach and putting the right tools, processes, and people in place to continuously focus on quality.

Data Quality Pro: What data quality training, publications or other educational resources have you leveraged to develop your skills? Which had the most impact?

Mark van der Linden: Currently, I get most of my information online from Information Management, Data Quality Pro as well as specific Google searches. 

Linked in Groups are always an interesting read as you find out what others in the industry are doing. I have a number of publications from David Loshin of Knowledge Integrity Inc. on my iPad that get regular reads as well.

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