Records and Information Management (RIM) Month - Celebrating Magdalena Gis
April is celebrated as the Records and Information Management (RIM) month to spread awareness and exchange different thoughts and opinions within the IG and IM community. In honor of this year’s RIM month, Meru Data would like to showcase a few renowned IG professionals, especially women in IG, and share their professional journey.
This week, we would like to highlight Magdalena Gis, the Senior Data Governance Analyst at Midcontinent Independent System Operator. Magdalena comes with years of experience in data and analytics. Her expertise is to identify actionable information from raw data, facilitate data-driven decision-making to gain vital, actionable insights from data.
What drew you into the information/data governance profession? What do you love about what you do?
My experience of working in analytics and in consulting gave me an insight into the power of leverage which can be created with data and, at the same time, it made me realize that the reverse is just as true; inability to take advantage of data can become a source of weakness that severely debilitates a business.
This work has been truly rewarding in terms of the variety of initiatives I’ve collaborated on and the success they have generated. I recall a situation when a sizeable advertising contract was up for renewal with a company where the leadership had changed. The new marketing director had been revising decisions made by his predecessor; the first meeting with him did not go as planned, and the contract was in jeopardy. We used data to illustrate the benefits of the strategic partnership between our businesses and walked him through the prospects of future cooperation. I firmly believe that data saved this six-figure contract and helped the marketing director reevaluate his stance when he was offered an unbiased, data-backed perspective.
The work itself can be extremely gratifying. My team worked on a new pricing algorithm, which would address indicators of customer churn as well as changing B2B and B2C demand. It was my responsibility to then translate complex equations into scripts to automate the mundane process of lengthy calculation. Well-executed data and analytics projects tend to open doors to other opportunities, and, in this case, we gained new, deep understandings through this analysis, which started conversations about creating new revenue streams.
On the other side of the coin, it can be truly frustrating when such opportunities are missed for no other reason than limited access and understanding of data assets, lack of trust in data, and low data literacy. This was the reason why I took an interest in data governance; I wanted to continue helping businesses fully realize their potential, which is hard, if not impossible when data and information are not properly managed.
How has this profession evolved in the last 2-3 years? Why is governance essential for most organizations?
I find the shift that occurred in the perception of the role of data in businesses very interesting. Data is not treated as an after-thought or a prop to occasionally advance the business; companies recognize an increasing dependence on data to run their core operations. A simple way to think about it is to challenge yourself to come up with an area in a given company that does not depend directly or indirectly on data.
This dependence is intensified by the sheer volume of data produced by businesses and data democratization. While these factors are positive developments, without proper governance, they can act as a double edge sword and lead to data anarchy and costly misinformation within an organization.
Another perspective on this concerns the approach to defining what a data governance program is and how it works. The volume and diversity of data provisioned to users and various tech debt that companies deal with highlight the fact that a data governance program must be uniquely tailored to specific business circumstances and goals. There is no one size fits all solution to data governance, and the best practices need to be custom fit to data governance maturity within a company.
The influence of the agile methodology on data governance also comes to mind as more businesses adopt practices that advocate for flexible, fast, and incremental steps in delivering business outcomes. Meru Data sums it up brilliantly in the ‘Simplify for Success’ podcast, which I appreciate and recommend for a practical approach to information governance.
What I wish would change more drastically is the perception of value that a data governance program can bring, especially in the long-term is the fact that establishing trust with the business depends on the delicate balance between the incremental and long-run value delivery. This can be hard when changes to data culture and adoption are involved – especially as these only happen over time. It is, however, comforting to see that the commonly heard objection that “investing time and money on governance is of lesser importance compared to the task of running the business” is fading. The increasing dependence of modern businesses on data goes well beyond the core operation, and it simply invalidates this commonly heard objection.
What skills are essential to run a successful governance program?
It takes a village to create a sustainable data governance program, and, in my mind, the ability to communicate and collaborate cross-functionally is the key. This is especially important now that we are often limited to virtual communication, and we don’t have as many organic interactions as we would have at the office. From the execution perspective, it helps to understand strategic planning and, at the same time, have the ability to translate goals into bite-size tactical pieces that can be standardized and scaled.
It may be a truism, but the hands-on experience can hardly be substituted by degrees or certifications because, sometimes, the resistance governance initiatives face can be overwhelming. It requires patience, flexibility, and a toolbox of well-tested approaches rather than academic proficiency. If there is no experience, I will place a lot of importance on a passion for technology and data because, ultimately, this is a hard and sometimes undervalued effort, so passion or experience helps create a buffer against that.
I personally value the ability to lead and provide direction as, ultimately, the success of such initiatives depends heavily on how well we are able to enable and sustain the change and whether the proverbial village sees it as valuable and joins us in these efforts.
If you go back to the starting of your career, what advice would you give your younger self?
I think what has worked so well for me was to always choose the harder, less-traveled road because that is an area where one can make an impact and feel rewarded for it. Never shy away from a challenge. Women often face unique challenges at work and in society, and I wish we do not discourage young women from taking on challenges.
I’d like to share a story that is now amusing to me. I attended a large meeting with representatives from across the company, and I was the only woman in the room. One of the engineers asked me if I was there to take notes. I replied that I was there because we were to discuss the implementation of code that executes a new revenue stream, the code that I wrote.