Once upon a conference: Bringing lessons from San Diego to Dublin

By Dr Katherine O Keefe
October 1, 2014
23min read
Sunset from airplane

I joined Castlebridge from a background in academic research and teaching in the Liberal Arts. Entering a completely different field has been an interesting challenge. I’ve been learning a lot on the job and some things have been strikingly familiar under the surface jargon, but diving in and learning at a practical level can give you very detailed knowledge on some things without providing the overall understanding of the shape and scope of the subject that you really need to know what you’re doing. When my boss told me about The Data Governance and Information Quality Conference in San Diego, it sounded like a great opportunity – not just to learn a lot, but to find out where the gaps in my knowledge are and what I need to learn.

The size of DGIQ definitely gave me an idea of the scope of the subject . . . large. There were so many interesting and useful sounding sessions that it was very difficult to decide which to attend, even with the helpful color coding of the schedule to mark the level of knowledge and maturity the sessions were aimed at. I often had to choose between two or three competing sessions that all sounded great. Since there were two people from Castlebridge Associates attending, we strategically split up so we could compare notes. The sessions and tutorials were a very useful mix of principles, strategies, and practical application shown in case studies and lessons learned. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from other Data professionals. Listening to people, it became clear that the value of the conference comes not only from the wealth of knowledge provided in the sessions, but in the opportunity that Data professionals had here to gather and share not just solutions but the challenges we have in common. The ability to compare notes with people after sessions (and often inspired by them) was extremely helpful.

One of the most prominent threads I noticed running through that conference was the fundamental importance of using a common language and clear unambiguous definitions. It became more and more clear throughout the conference that this is one of the places that my supposedly separate fields have a lot in common. “Interdisciplinarity” is a popular buzzword in academia right now, pointing to the need to break down academic silos and learn from different disciplines. A few speakers at DGIQ had similar suggestions as to how understanding of Data Quality may be enriched, looking to other subject areas to find solutions – another matter of breaking down silos.

Since my background is in Literature and language teaching, I’m primed to watch for and analyze word usage and patterns in discourse. I was naturally drawn to the sessions on glossaries and vocabulary building. But I couldn’t help noticing that in general the definition of terms used by conference attendees could also be fuzzy and cause confusion, revealing a lack of communication and a Business/Tech divide in the room itself. This seemed to come down to basic questions of common definitions, suggesting that a root cause is perhaps that people don’t know how to define things, which could be a problem with data design. I mentioned this in discussion between panels with my boss and some of the new network of people I’d met. And as we talked about it, I kept thinking of a quote from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word . . . I do not think it means what you think it means”. I mentioned this to Daragh, my boss, and he congratulated me on passing the first step to being a true data consultant: putting a memorable label on a common cause root problem: The Princess Bride Effect.

Lack of clarity in definitions is a business problem fundamental to Information Quality and Data Governance that I’ve already seen in practice working with Castlebridge Associates. In working with one of our clients recently, the team discovered that rather than having one type of customer segmentation, they were actually referring to multiple types. It required getting down to basics and hammering out what “customer segment” refers to. Or, indeed, “customer”.

Speakers were very aware of the importance of speaking a common language and breaking down siloes. Data is the “glue” that holds business and IT together as a common language. However, we need a common language to be sure we’re talking about the same “glue” in the same way. One thing I’ve learned over the last year is that, just like there are different ways to interpret meaning in literature, very often the traditional silo perspectives of data management are just the same core problems described in different ways with different language. By breaking down barriers, as W. Edwards Deming advises in Quality Management, and looking at the commonalities we can begin to develop a shared understanding and apply common tools and principles to solving traditionally disparate problems.

Data Protection and Privacy have traditionally been seen as the role of a Legal function or Compliance function in an organisation. Data Governance has often been mistaken for an IT function, and Information Quality has often been left to the bottom of the list of priorities in software development. But if we step back and try to see things through a different lens, and apply the language of one domain to the challenges of another, there are massive opportunities for organisations to do more with less, improve their compliance capability, support innovation, and new uses of data and information. To paraphrase Stephen Hawking: when we start talking something magical happens that can unleash the power of our imagination. By developing a shared language for data “stuff” we can avoid the “Princess Bride” effect and get collaborating on the real challenges in the organisation and its information.

Having been to DGIQ in San Diego, I can understand why a core value of Castlebridge Associates is continuous learning and development – this field is broad and rapidly changing. I’m eager to get to another conference to develop my knowledge – and not one with just a dozen short presentations, but ones where I can sit and immerse myself in a topic for a few hours with a knowledgable expert (I am, after all, an academic by training).

IGQIE2014 brings that format to Ireland, albeit on a smaller scale. It is a great opportunity for people working with data and struggling with how to align with the requirements of the forthcoming Data Protection Regulation to get a chance to meet up again with some of the people I’ve learned from at DGIQ, and Castlebridge Associates works with on projects. I can honestly say I’m excited to be involved in putting the conference together and can’t wait to sit in on some of the sessions.

The DGIQ conference in June revealed to me a dynamic, vital and growing field. It was immensely valuable to me as a new practitioner, and to my observation it was also helpful to people with much greater knowledge and maturity in Data Governance and Information Quality. For me personally, it helped me to have a much stronger holistic understanding of a discipline I am new to. I observed others coming out of sessions with ideas for practical solutions they could apply to challenges they faced in their organizations. For the most experienced practitioners, it was clearly a chance to talk with people who understood their language and faced similar challenges.

IGQIE2014 is intended to bring those kinds of learning experiences to Dublin, but with a strong focus on practical and pragmatic approaches to applying Data Governance and Information Quality principles to Data Protection challenges. The conference aims to bring new entrants and experienced practitioners to a shared common understanding of how to “Connect the Dots” between domains and disciplines that have traditionally occupied their own distinct boxes on

At DGIQ, a lot of organisations sent more than one person to take full advantage of what that conference has to offer, and to compare notes and internalise how the principles and practices shared can be applied in their organisations. Based on that experience, I would heartily recommend that organisations take the opportunity to send two or more people to IGQIE2014. The return on investment will be worth it.

[IGQIE2014 – Information Governance & Quality Ireland 2014 takes place on the 7th of November in The Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Docklands. For more details about the event, check out the Conference website:]


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