Creating a mature data quality strategy and culture: Interview with Eric Callmann of DigitalGlobe

In this interview I speak with Eric Callmann, a highly experienced information quality and information management expert.

Eric is currently leading the Quality program at DigitalGlobe, Inc and took time out to share some of the novel approaches to data quality that his company have adopted as well as tactics for data governance and maturing a data quality culture.

Dylan Jones: DigitalGlobe is not what I consider a traditional data company. Can you provide our readers a brief description of DigitalGlobe’s business?

Eric Callmann: DigitalGlobe is a leading global provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery products and services.

Sourced from our own advanced satellite constellation, our imagery solutions support a wide variety of uses within defense and intelligence, civil agencies, mapping and analysis, environmental monitoring, oil and gas exploration, infrastructure management, Internet mapping portals and navigation technology.

For over 20 years we have invested in defining and then elevating quality standards in the commercial satellite industry.

Dylan Jones: As an introduction, can you give the readers some background about your role at DigitalGlobe and the services your company offers?

Eric Callmann: I am responsible for our Quality Program known as A3C, which was introduced in late 2013. A3C stands for Accuracy, Currency, Completeness and Consistency, and it was designed to drive improvements to our customer solutions as well as their experience with DigitalGlobe

Dylan Jones: Let’s talk now about your journey at DigitalGlobe. What was the very first objective you had upon arriving at the company?

Eric Callmann: The A3C framework was developed just before I arrived at DigitalGlobe and thus my first objective was to introduce A3C to all the team members of DigitalGlobe. As a result my role was really to be a change agent within the company. Thanks to support of senior management I was able to develop an education program that communicated how A3C would help us learn what quality issues our customers had and what they were most concerned about.

Dylan Jones: You have a track record of tackling large Information Quality and Data Governance projects at other companies. How did you have to adapt your approach to cope with the Big Data demands of DigitalGlobe?

Eric Callmann: In my previous roles I had the luxury of working at companies that had been providing information products to customers for many years, such as Dun & Bradstreet which has been in business for over 170 years. IHS is just over 50 years in business, and although each of their industry verticals had some form of data governance in place, my primary job was raising awareness of formalizing what was often an informal governance process.

At DigitalGlobe, because we are a relatively young company in a young industry, my primary job has been communicating the need to listen to customers as to how we can improve our data quality.

Satellite imagery does follow international standards in regard to very technical information that is provided from the satellite about the details of an image. As a result we can provide good information about the technical details of the image, but we do not append a lot of metadata information that describes the image, such as how much cloud cover, or the type and number of buildings. I have been working to collect information about what metadata our customers would like us to provide about an image in addition to the technical information. Thus I haven’t had to adapt my approach because of Big Data, because regardless of whether it is small or big, data needs to have its quality measured and improved to be useful.

Dylan Jones: How did DigitalGlobe come up with the concept of A3C?

Eric Callmann: Fortunately our CEO, Jeff Tarr, comes from the information industry, most recently serving as president of IHS. As he steers DigitalGlobe from providing just imagery data to providing imagery information and insight, he wants to be able to discuss with team members and customers how DigitalGlobe ensures the quality of our products. As you know, there are a number of standard information quality measures, however there are four primary items that are critical: Accuracy, Completeness, Timeliness and Consistency. DigitalGlobe adapted these four key quality measures as A3C, and their definitions in regards to products are as follows:

  • Accuracy - Supplying imagery, information and insight anchored to the surface of the earth
  • Currency - Delivering temporally relevant content to match a customer's requirements for timeliness
  • Completeness - Providing the required resolution, global coverage and spatial richness
  • Consistency - Presenting content that is uniform through time, location and appearance

Our framework also allows us to drive quality into other areas such as data governance and management of customer, product, and other critical data.

Dylan Jones: How have you approached data governance? What kind of framework and management structure have you put in place for example?

Eric Callmann: We are in the early stages of implementing the data governance framework. As I mentioned earlier there are certain standards we follow around the technical details of an image that are geospatial industry standards. In addition, because we are subject to U.S. licensing regulations, there is already a significant level of governance at the basic data level. However, there are many parts of the business that have not standardized certain metadata, and as anyone who has implemented data governance or any change in an organization, there will be resistance. To help us through this change I am using the Federated Data Governance model. It allows us to have certain aspects of the data governed centrally while allowing others to adopt the processes and methods to govern their specific data.

Dylan Jones: What else have you done to ensure customers understand the quality of their imagery?

Eric Callmann: Although DigitalGlobe did a great job developing the A3C framework to measure and standardize data quality, I realized rather quickly that DigitalGlobe also had a consistent process it followed to deliver data and also to add value to data to create information and insight. As a result, we developed what we are calling our Quality Promise, which describes the process we go through and has A3C quality at the foundation of every step. The steps are:

  • Source – The point of origin in the creation of critical information and relevant insight
  • Capture – The process of recording data in a lasting form
  • Enrich – The process of creating decision-ready information
  • Analyze – The process of creating activity-based intelligence and predictive insights

Dylan Jones: How do you continuously measure and assess that your data is meeting the Quality Promise? What type of techniques or controls are in place?

Eric Callmann: We have daily reports that measure our satellites collections and the quality of the imagery based upon numerous technical factors. This is highly automated and falls into the Source and Capture steps of the promise. We also use random sampling of products that have completed the Capture and Enrich stages. Our Analyze stage uses highly experienced SME’s to develop the deliverable, and, because they are experts in what they do, there is strong collaboration between our team and our customer in those instances to ensure we are meeting and exceeding their quality expectations. We have also formed a cross functional Product Quality Working Team that reviews, prioritizes and takes actions based upon customer feedback as well as our Quality Assurance teams findings of product issues within each of our transformation steps.

Dylan Jones: How are you demonstrating to the board the return on all the data quality work you’re delivering? Has there been any tangible gain in terms of revenue increase, cost reduction and other strategic drivers so far?

Eric Callmann: The goal of the quality program is to help reduce customer discounts, retain customers and improve customer satisfaction. We believe that we have made progress in these areas by raising awareness of the program with our team members and will be actively communicating the program to customers beginning in 2015. We also have an annual survey to customers known as Committed to Customers (C2C). We received benchmark quality ratings in 2013 and will be receiving our 2014 ratings in early 2015, and I’m confident we will see a measurable improvement even though we have only completed a soft launch of our quality program.

Dylan Jones: Finally, one thing that strikes me was is how open you are to sharing your data quality story. I often get interviews cancelled because the corporate communications officer sees data quality management as a negative.

It seems different with your organisation, I can sense there is a culture of data quality across DigitalGlobe, is that right? If so, what advice can you share with readers who are struggling to develop a data quality culture in their organisation?

Eric Callmann: Dylan you are correct, there is a culture of data quality within DigitalGlobe and even more so a culture of ensuring that we delight our customers. As an information company we need to communicate to our customers that we want to know what is important with regard to improving the quality of our products and their experience with us and also the unique process we go through to create the products they receive. I think some people feel satellite imagery is as simple as taking a picture with your smart phone because our products are images. However, it is not that simple when you are taking that picture a few hundred miles above earth.

Today and going forward, the need to have quality information is critical for organizations to thrive in the marketplace, and if you don’t have good data governance in place, the wrong decisions are almost guaranteed to take place. It is important that organizations understand the value of their data assets and for those who govern the data to be transparent and open to feedback as what needs to be improved around the data to help the business succeed.

About Eric Callmann

Eric Callmann brings over 20 years experience in the information services industry driving information quality and implementing data governance in critical business processes.

Eric is currently leading the Quality program at DigitalGlobe, Inc. Previously he led the IHS Information and Insight Operations teams that are responsible for transforming source data into critical information. He led the first company Data Governance Program at IHS that implemented key standards allowing disparate industry databases to easily link, allowing new product development and also increased ease of use by customers.

Prior to joining IHS, Eric held various leadership roles at Dun & Bradstreet. His accomplishments included the development of DUNSRight™ the information quality process Dun & Bradstreet uses to transform company data into information and insight their customers leverage for critical business decisions every day as well as numerous process reengineering projects within data and sales operations.
Eric has a BA in Economics from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and a MBA from Lehigh University.

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