DAMA Days Toronto 2023

Discover the highlights of the 2nd Annual DAMA Days Toronto Conference! Explore unique session formats, invaluable insights on data value measurement, data governance, cultural shifts, and cost containment. Uncover expert strategies from industry leaders like Joe Reis, Nicole Janeway Bills, Raj Debnath, EY Park, Etai Mizrahi, and more.
Last updated
May 2, 2024

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the 2nd Annual DAMA Days, hosted in Toronto by the DAMA Toronto IRMAC (Information Resource Management Association of Canada)–a non-profit, vendor-independent association of information management and business professionals. The conference also hosted attendees and sessions in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, and attendees would watch sessions live from other locations as they were all broadcast online.

This was my first time attending the conference, and admittedly, first I had heard about DAMA Canada! I’ll share a big thank you to Joe Reis for giving me a heads up about the conference and getting me in touch with Bob Pennefather about becoming a speaker.

About the conference

DAMA Days Toronto was hosted at the Deloitte office, and when I arrived on Thursday for day one, I was a little surprised by the difference in setting from what I traditionally think of when I hear “conference”. The first day was hosted in an executive-style meeting room where all attendees were seated around a very large round table. This was immediately engaging, and I think it lent itself well to drive deeper conversation and questions around the room. Between sessions, this format also made for easier networking, as folks were already in conversational mode. At the end of day one, there was a reception with food and beverages to continue conversations from the day. Overall, I enjoyed this different format and felt I had more opportunities to meet other Toronto leaders in the industry and make valuable connections.

Highlights and Recaps

Methods for measuring data’s value

As mentioned, the conference was split into two full days of sessions, networking, and panels. I arrived a bit later on the first day so missed the opening session, but was able to hop into Nicole Janeway Bills’ (CEO and Founder of Data Strategy Professionals) session titled “Turning Data into Value: Strategies and Assessments”. This session was a great deep dive into methods for applying tangible value to data, a notoriously difficult exercise (and one I have personally faced challenges while leading data teams at fast-moving startups). Going through this exercise, while difficult and potentially resource intensive, can help data professionals effectively communicate with senior executives about how data can drive value for the business (and subsequently help them secure the necessary budget to grow a data practice). Nicole recommended a few books that I’m excited to check out: Data Juice, and Infonomics, and had some great recommendations for how to move towards building out your data program with value in mind. I highly recommend checking out the recording of her talk here.

Following the fundamentals of data governance can help scale data quality programs

The next session was by Raj Debnath (Data Strategy & Governance Manager at Deloitte) titled “Solving Retailer’s Product Data Quality Challenges with Data Governance”, where Raj dove into the building blocks of data governance and how this can support more modern data quality programs. Raj shared how Deloitte leverages a data quality rules framework and the associated data model, that helps with the scaling challenges of maintaining a data quality program.

Raj shared how this approach delivers value in various ways by reducing the time, cost, and difficulty of maintaining a data quality program. It is also compatible with different tech stacks (all SQL-based) and provides organizations with a centralized repo of data quality and profiling rules (acting as a single source of truth). You can watch the recording of his session here.

Driving adoption among data laggards is possible!

The next session of the day was with EY Park (Senior Director, Data and Analytics) and Shannon Skelton (Data Governance Lead) of the University Pension Plan. I loved this session, as it was a true testament to how driving a cultural shift around data in an organization can lead to a significant impact, even when the organization is undergoing rapid scaling (EY mentioned that UPP has grown from 40 to over 240 people in 2 years 🤯). Shannon and EY shared details about their data onboarding process and the importance of maintaining foundational elements of data governance. They also shared how significant focus was put on the human aspects–connecting with stakeholders to better understand them. Some other key takeaways I appreciated were: putting a key focus on the correct messaging about data governance processes (to improve the value of data at the organization, rather than control the data or individuals working with it), building resiliency and persistence (and having patience–as hard as this can be!), and demonstrating the realistic benefits to stakeholders of engaging in data governance processes (using metrics and KPIs here is helpful, and having frank conversations with stakeholders who push back on the risk implications of working to of process). You can watch EY and Shannon’s session here.

Containing data team operating costs is critical

Finally, we wrapped up day 1 with a session from me titled “Cost Containment: A Critical Piece of Your Data Monetization Strategy”. In this session, I shared how the costs of a cloud-based data stack can quickly spiral out of control as you start to scale your data function, and provided some insights into how to control this (my session recording is available here–unfortunately the audio was cut until a few minutes into the session). I'll be writing a follow up piece shortly - stay tuned.

Leveraging metadata to overcome data sprawl

We started day 2 with a talk from Etai Mizrahi (CEO of Secoda), where he shared an overview of how metadata monitoring can help data teams optimize their functions, and overcome the challenges of a sprawling data stack that causes data team productivity drain and spiral costs. This is something we’re super excited about at Secoda, and we're working on building some features to help solve it. If your data team is dealing with the challenges of rapidly scaling data stack costs, the growing complexity of pipelines, and difficulty managing data sprawl, I recommend checking out Etai’s session here.

Data modelling is on life support–but let’s rescue it!

Next up was Joe Reis’ session titled “Data Modelling is Dead…Long Live Data Modelling”, where Joe gave us a preview of his upcoming book about data modelling (yet to be named!), and dove into a pretty big problem: most data teams aren’t focused on the practice of data modelling anymore. My favourite takeaway from this talk was that “not modelling your data is still a data model…it’s just a bad one”. Joe shared some insights into how this lack of data modelling, driven in large part by the growth of the modern data stack and the speed with which data teams are now moving, can lead to many of the issues data teams are feeling today (scaling costs, overly complex pipelines, cruft and unused data assets, and data quality issues). Given how much I enjoyed The Fundamentals of Data Engineering, I can’t wait for this new book focused on data modelling–if you want to get the preview as well, you can watch Joe’s session here.

Scaling data security and privacy (at TELUS)

The final session I caught of DAMA days was Rohin Bansal’s (Director, Enterprise Data Governance) session titled “The Future of Data Security and Privacy Reviews”. This session was a very impressive overview of how Rohin’s team at TELUS has scaled their new approach to data governance that grew data stewards at TELUS from 10 to over 400, who all help ensure customer data is protected. My favourite takeaways from this talk were: “For a data revolution you need an army” and “See data stewards not as a support function but as leaders to create a community of data-centric thinkers”. If your team is facing challenges with rolling out a data governance program, I highly recommend watching Rohin’s talk here.

Thank you DAMA Toronto!

To wrap this up, my experience at the 2nd Annual DAMA Days in Toronto was top-notch, and I’m excited to be looped into this community here in Toronto (while travelling for conferences can be fun, it’s great to be able to able to do this kind of networking in my city!). I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to speak at this unique conference and wanted to send a huge thank you to the organizers and Board of Directors at DAMA Toronto IRMAC (and a special thanks to Joe Reis for introducing me to DAMA Canada). Here’s to DAMA Days 2024!

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