Gretchen Burnham, a Certified Data Management Professional and Data Governance Business Analyst, has worked in the industry for nearly 15 years. Today, she spends her time in the field working with First San Francisco Partners’ clients focusing on Data Governance and Master Data Management (MDM) initiatives.
Gretchen describes her consulting role as one that includes a lot of education, as well providing strategic guidance to clients. “More and more today, companies realize they need to better manage their data,” Gretchen says, “and they need new strategies, skills and tools to become more effective. People have done enough research to know they must get governance in place, but they don’t know how to take the need from theory to reality.”
Affinity for Data Management
Gretchen describes herself as having an affinity for data and says this preference dates to when she worked for Target in a business analyst role. “A couple years into my time there,” Gretchen says, “I found myself starting to move, almost by accident, toward an internal consultant role focusing on data and metadata. I enjoyed finding new ways to tackle old problems, which Target valued.”
Gretchen also became adept at bringing the right people together to talk about data-related issues. “At every organization, you can find people with an affinity for data — and sometimes they’re isolated from one another,” Gretchen says. “At Target, there were people thinking about data in the way I was, but they were spread out across the organization. When we came together to talk about how we could improve things, that led to more formal initiatives recognizing data management as being needed.”
Bringing Process People and Data People Together
In the work Gretchen does for First San Francisco Partners (FSFP) clients, she sees a similar need to pull together and empower the right people to shape an organization’s data mindset. She notes that while there are many people focused on business processes, finding those who are more focused on the data itself is rare. “It’s important to make sure they’re not alone and are connected to others with the same mindset,” Gretchen says. “It’s also important for process-focused people to start thinking more about the data itself. And when you bring these two groups together, that’s when great things can happen.”
Gretchen cites a recent client project where the organization needed to replace a workflow tool. “Most of my client contacts were focused on dealing with processing customer applications, bringing in the information and then getting it sent on to other departments,” Gretchen says. “Process-focused people were thinking about the screens, check-boxes and information elements. A data person would think about the information being gathered and how it could be used to manage the business. Bringing groups and their concerns together to mitigate problems and move the business forward is part of my job as consultant.”
Women in Information Management
On this blog, we’ve talked about diversity in the data management industry — most notably here in Are Women Presenters (In)visible at Data Conferences? — but also in perspectives shared by our Founder and CEO Kelle O’Neal. When asked to think back on the teams she’s worked with and the general of topic of women in the industry, Gretchen remembers a fairly diverse environment — especially at Target where there were many women in Information Technology and in business analyst and management roles. “Today at conferences,” Gretchen says, “I’m seeing more women attend these events who identify themselves as data professionals.”
Gretchen has simple career advice for women entering the data management field, and it’s to focus on business needs. She says, “Take time to understand your own strengths and how to best apply those to the data issues at hand. Many people start in analytics and then move into data management. But wherever you start, remember that data needs to serve business goals!”
“Take time to understand your own strengths and how to best apply those to the data issues at hand.” Gretchen Burnham
Staying Current in an Evolving Industry
Gretchen cautions that this can be a demanding industry with the pace of change hard to keep up with in areas like advanced data science. “I focus on some specific areas,” she says, “such as governance, metadata and MDM. The tools you use can change and approaches may change some over time, but the fundamental needs don’t.”
To keep up to date, Gretchen follows industry publications like Information Management and Gartner research. She also attends webinars and conferences whenever she can find the time. “I find case studies to be particularly compelling and regularly talk with my FSFP peers about what they’re learning with our other clients,” Gretchen says.
Mentors and Managers Who Made a Difference
Gretchen reflects on people who have influenced her over the years and considers herself to be very fortunate. “There were a couple people at Target who influenced me, including one woman who had a particular skill for recognizing people’s strengths and leveraging them. The biggest thing I’ve learned from mentors and managers is that data is a representation of something in the real world. It’s not just ones and zeros — it’s really about the business and what the data represents. And that’s ultimately the reason to be in data management,” Gretchen says.
“It’s not just ones and zeros — it’s really about the business and what the data represents.” Gretchen Burnham
Life as an FSFP Consultant
When asked about the work she does for FSFP, Gretchen says she enjoys the variety in tackling new and different problems. “Analysis and problem-solving is what my job’s all about. My greatest satisfaction,” Gretchen says, “comes from figuring things out — helping people on their way and seeing them execute their plan.” Gretchen also enjoys the travel that she does for FSFP and says it’s interesting to get to see different areas of the country.
As for FSFP being a virtual organization where everyone works from home or a client’s location, Gretchen values the remote work lifestyle. She says that being based in the Midwest, as she is, is great because she can easily get to either coast. She also likes knowing that the FSFP team is based all over the country and, Gretchen says, “What matters is our skills, not our geography.”
“Knowing that I bring value to our company — vs. me sitting just at a desk for a certain number of hours a week — is rewarding. So is using my brain for my clients.”