Telus chief data and trust officer: why organizational culture is critical for successful data governance

Today’s most successful executives lead differently. This requires a mindset that takes a holistic view of human nature and applies that thinking to corporate decision making – particularly in the context of the digital era.

What it means to have ‘customer trust’ goes deeper in today’s business world than it ever has in the past given how much of our life, finances, and identity are digitized. Each day, more data is created, collected and shared. And, each day, we have to make important choices about what we do with that data – not only from the perspective of our business interests, but with a view of how that will impact our customers and potentially society as a whole. Following that line of thinking, we each have a great responsibility to be mindful of our daily choices and decision making.

Having worked at Telus for many years, I was delighted to see that Telus created the role of chief data and trust officer this past fall and hired Pam Snively. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the table as she and her team set out to raise the bar for best practices and implement a leading-edge data governance program at Telus.

I recently spoke with Pam to understand what brought her to Telus and why organizational culture is so critically important to a successful data governance program.

Brian: What intrigued you about joining Telus as the chief data and trust officer?

Pam Snively, TELUS Chief Data and Trust Officer
Pam Snively, Telus chief data and trust officer

Pam: “The first thing that interested me about Telus was the organizational culture and the fact that the company puts customers first in everything it does. From my perspective, if you want to implement a cutting-edge data governance program, that is exactly the right culture to do it in. If a company looks at everything from the perspective of respecting customers first and foremost, then a lot of decisions around privacy and compliance become much easier because we already know the right thing to do. Approaching the collection, use and disclosure of customer data from the perspective of doing the right thing for customers makes Telus relatively unique, and Telus’ focus on the customer is coupled with a tremendously innovative culture. It’s a very exciting opportunity to try to balance a fast-moving innovative ‘let’s try new things’ culture with this culture of ‘respect for the customer.’ Many organizations see those two things as at odds, but from my perspective and Telus’, they can complement each other perfectly with the right approach.”

Brian: What do you see the role of the chief data and trust officer as?

Pam: “My role is completely focused on earning and maintaining our customers’ trust when it comes to their data, including personal information. Traditionally, my role would be close to that of a privacy officer, but we have expanded the purview because we think that almost all customer data can, at some point, become personal information in this world of Big Data. We want to apply the same rigor, rules and thoughtful processes around all data and not just things like personal details and credit card numbers. The role is designed to lead the organization in managing the customer data that we are entrusted with in a way that respects our customers, protects their privacy and is completely transparent.

Brian: What would you like Telus to be known for in Canada when it comes to customer privacy and data governance?

Pam: “I want the Telus name to be synonymous with customer trust. I want people to know that if they are going to use a Telus product or service, they can expect Telus to be respectful of their privacy, and that includes being transparent about how we will protect and use their data. I want it to be clear to our customers that we will always strive to do the right thing and to make complex data transactions simple – they can trust us to do that.”

Brian: What does a implementing a cutting-edge governance program entail?

Pam: “It entails paying attention to both traditional data management concerns, such as storage, access, security and retention, as well as to how we make decisions around the right and wrong things to do when it comes to data collection, use and disclosure. Because these issues come up on a daily basis, data governance is not about a single decision that we can make about how we treat data; it is about establishing the principles and processes that will govern the daily, complex decisions we must make about new data uses and purposes. One of the most important aspects of a data governance program is to enable an organization to manage this complexity in a way that is rigorous, but does not become bureaucratic, is respectful and fair, but doesn’t become too cumbersome, and that is completely transparent. Ultimately, establishing a governance process that can address all of those concerns can put organizations in a position where they can actually leverage data to drive innovation while maintaining customer trust.”

Brian: With greater awareness at the board level for governance, risk and compliance, how should IT leaders approach the topic of ‘Shadow IT’?

Pam: “I think in an innovative culture you don’t want to completely shut out the possibility for new and innovative data handling practices and it’s very difficult to put in place hardened controls that will prevent all Shadow IT from popping up. So rather than trying to control IT decisions entirely through rules and system controls, I think it’s critically important to educate employees about the reasons behind the controls we put in place and about the potential risks to our customers of circumventing those controls. We need to continuously remind employees that the small decisions matter and that the trust of customers is earned and maintained on a daily basis no matter where someone sits in the organization. When employees understand the risks out there, they become more thoughtful and mindful of how they handle the data that they’re entrusted with and will be better equipped to make judgement calls. If employees understand the potential impact of doing the wrong thing then we’ll see a lot fewer issues with Shadow IT. In fact, this is one of the reasons that I think that Telus is so well positioned to be a leader in data governance. We already have a culture where our team members consistently think about the impact of their decisions on our customers and will do so before they implement a new IT solution that could be potentially risky.”

Brian: Why is privacy and data governance so important for Telus?

Pam: “More and more we are seeing that there’s tremendous value in data, and that sometimes the right thing to do with it is to use it. Organizations that choose to do nothing with their data out of fear or risk aversion can miss opportunities to do things that are in the best interest of their customers or society as a whole. Telus Health is a perfect example of this concept of social interest. Information about the health of Canadians could help dramatically improve our healthcare system and potentially lead to better healthcare outcomes or even cures. One of the obligations that weighs heavily on us is to figure out a way to leverage that data in a manner that achieves the outcomes we want while maintaining customer trust. It’s an interesting challenge because there are clearly risks to not using the data l, often referred to as reticence risk. If we don’t have a data governance model in place that allows us to innovate while maintaining our customers’ trust, then we could potentially fail to do things that could be of huge benefit to Canadians.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Brian Clendenin
Brian Clendenin
"We are at one of the most exciting moments in history when it comes to innovation in IT driving innovation in business." Widely recognized as a powerful speaker intertwining storytelling and expertise, Clendenin writes and speaks on the topics of leadership, cloud, infrastructure, monitoring & analytics, DevOps, AI, machine learning, security, mobility, IT strategy, and digital transformation. Invests his time interviewing engaging thought leaders. (Connect with Brian Clendenin on LinkedIn)

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