Affiliated with:

Danette McGilvray

Danette McGilvray

President and Principal, Granite Falls Consulting, Inc. | Specializing in Data Quality and Governance Business Solutions

An internationally respected expert, Danette McGilvray is known for her Ten Steps™ approach, used by multiple industries as a proven method for increasing the value of data through quality and governance. It applies to operational processes and also to focused initiatives such as security, analytics, digital transformation, artificial intelligence, data science, and compliance. Danette guides leaders and staff as they connect business strategy to practical steps for implementation. As president and principal of Granite Falls Consulting, Inc., Danette is committed to the appropriate and effective use of technology and also to addressing the human aspect of data management through communication, change management, and engaging with people.

Danette is the author of Executing Data Quality Projects: Ten Steps to Quality Data and Trusted Information™, 2nd Ed. (Elsevier/Academic Press, 2021). The first edition (2008) is often described as a “classic” or noted as one of the “top ten” data management books.

What attracted you to data management or IT, and why did you choose to pursue this career?

I was priming myself for data management before I was even familiar with the term. I was hired by a global high-tech manufacturer to be the liaison with their top 10 resellers to implement a new sales and inventory tracking system using the new technology on which it was based: EDI (Electronic Data Interchange).  Yes, I just dated myself! 😊 However, none of the programmers wanted to interact with the resellers.  It was my job to lead the implementations.

I quickly realized that a successful implementation required more than just pushing through the technology. It needed a broader view. I recognized that new methods of information exchange resulted in changes to both reseller and manufacturing business processes and roles.

Because of this holistic approach, our implementations were solid and sustainable.  Other manufacturers implemented EDI with the same resellers but treated it strictly as a technology implementation. Some of their implementations were slightly faster, but the impacts to the business after going live wiped out any savings in time. A costly result indeed! This brought home to me how a successful implementation was really all about ensuring business continuity and efficiency. It was much more than the technology and yet the technology was so important.

Shortly after the implementations were completed, I joined a team that was responsible for customer information at the same high-tech company. My manager headed up a global council of all the managers responsible for customer information that supported other business areas. All were having problems with data quality. They hired Larry English, who is known as the father of information quality. I was asked to work with him so the knowledge would not leave the company when his time with us was over.  I learned about the importance of high-quality data and how to improve and manage that quality.

My eyes were opened to data management and data quality in a way that I had never seen before. I saw that the elements I had managed in the EDI implementations were integral to successful data management and high-quality data. This was a turning point in my career.  That was about 28 years ago and I have been working on data quality, data management, and data governance since that time. I consider myself a “tweener” because data is the bridge between business and technology. It has been a great fit for my personality, interests, skills, and passion.

What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far, and why has it been important to your career?

Many people know me for my Ten Steps™ data quality methodology. I outlined this in my book Executing Data Quality Projects: Ten Steps to Quality Data and Trusted Information. The first edition came out in 2008. The Chinese translation was the first book on data quality ever available in that language. It was also, to my knowledge, the first data-related methodology to include the human aspects of data quality work.  Of course, I am not the first to talk about communication, change management, etc. but The Ten Steps methodology was the first to clearly include them in data quality work.

It is gratifying both personally and professionally when people refer to the 2008 edition as a “classic” or “seminal” work on data quality and when it is mentioned as one of the top 10 data management books in social media conversations. The second edition came out in 2021 and I hope the expanded instructions and templates continue to help.  A popular feature called Ten Steps in Action highlights experiences of real clients and users from various countries and industries.

I call myself a second-generation pioneer in data quality because I learned from the three men in the US who first brought visibility to the impact of poor-quality data and how to address these issues:  Larry English, Tom Redman, and Rich Wang. I have also learned from many, many others. While I help clients in ways I haven’t written books about, The Ten Steps is a contribution I am proud of.

What are the two or three biggest challenges you face as a data management professional / CDO and how can we address them?

I see the following challenges/main causes of failure for data management professionals / CDOs as:

  • Failing to understand the business and to put business needs first
  • Failing to realize that technology is a means to an end, not the end in itself, and therefore failing to invest in more than the technology
  • Failing to take a holistic approach to data quality
  • Failing to address the human aspects of the data work and the CDO responsibilities

The answer how to address these challenges is worth multiple articles alone.   Let me summarize by saying that everything we do around data is for the sake of meeting business needs. Be clear on the most important business needs and identify the data and information required to meet those most important business needs. Make better use of the technology by using a holistic view of data quality.  By that I mean that when we address the data, we also include the business processes, the people and organizations, and the technology that surround and impact the data. Realize that any aspect of data management (governance, metadata, modeling, etc.) is for the purpose of having high-quality data and trusted information that meets business needs and creates business value. Ensure that all data work includes communicating, managing, and engaging with people.  Focus on those areas most needed in your situation. You won’t be able to do everything, but you cannot skip the human factor either.

Bring in help as needed for consulting, training, and coaching to accelerate your efforts and improve the skills of your people.

How do you see data management / the role of the CDO / IT changing in the next 2 – 3 years?

We all, collectively, need to get better at the management side of data management.  We need strong executives and managers with a background in data to lead the way, show other executives and managers how the right investments in data bring value to the organization. We need people willing to face the politics of getting things done in an ethical way. Individual contributors need to continue to hone their data skills and improve their people skills. We have to meet the challenge of getting the attention required to prioritize, fund, and support this important data work. Because data is really all about the business and business value, we must be part of the conversation and solutions to make it happen.

Do you have any planned next steps for your career?

Of course, I want to continue to help clients solve big problems and make their organizations more effective and efficient.  I truly believe that data quality can save the world, and I will help wherever I can to make our world a better place through data quality, governance, and management.

I am also motivated to do my part to help the next generation take advantage of the body of knowledge that exists for all aspects of data management. They will never be able to do amazing things if they are not aware of the knowledge already available and if they keep reinventing the wheel.  I was thinking recently about what reinventing the wheel really means, imagine scientists over the years who keep “rediscovering the wheel”.  If that is how their time was spent, we would never have put a man on the moon.  Literally, we would not have moved ahead with amazing discoveries over the years. 

It begins with education, along with practical experience. We need to get the relevant messages regarding data management and data quality, at the appropriate to level, into professional programs, and older primary, secondary, and higher education institutions. We need something about data management and data quality included in every MBA program. We need teenagers who are learning to code to be aware of the data they are using and creating and passing on to others and what that means. I know many of my colleagues are teaching courses or including modules within courses. I am grateful for that and we need even more. 

We need all of this to be so widespread that when you are asked what you do at a dinner party, when you answer “I’m a data professional (or a data management professional or a data quality professional, etc.)” that people will nod knowingly and be impressed that you have a career that is so meaningful and impactful to this world.

What is the single best piece of advice you have received in your data management / IT career so far?  Why has it been so important to you?

Years ago, I was in a course taught by my friend and colleague Graeme Simsion.  Many know him from his career in data modeling and as an information systems consultant and business owner; others from his more recent life as a best-selling author. His wife, Annie Buist, is a psychiatrist and novelist. With her years of experience, he asked her what advice she would give to better work with people.  She said “Assume good intent unless proven otherwise.”  Graeme may argue with my exact words, but I believe the sentiment is right and it has been a very helpful piece of advice for myself and that I continue to share with others.

The other is a quote from Arthur Ashe, the famous US tennis player:

“Start where you are; use what you have; do what you can.”  There is a lot to do, but we should not be discouraged.  I think the wider the view, the better people will make good decisions about what to do now and what to do later. We can develop doable plans, get to work, and make big impacts on our world.  

Can you share something about yourself as a person that people wouldn’t know about you?

I play the piano and write music.  One of the most meaningful was the song I wrote as a wedding gift to my husband. With the help of my friend and his recording expertise, I played the piano, and sang both the soprano and alto tracks. It was an emotional surprise for my husband when it was played during the ceremony.

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