Collibra rides the waves of a changing data ocean

Felix van de Maele wants Collibra to lead the way in extracting data for meaning, maximal opportunity and minimal risk.

"In 2008, nobody cared about data or data governance, but the financial crisis meant that everyone had to report to the regulator and operate differently," recalls Collibra CEO Felix Van de Maele. "[The big question became] ‘how do you make sure you can trust the number and recalculate really quickly?'"

It's timely then that the young Belgian entrepreneur was launching the company in exactly that year and in that space: a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. Fast-forward to a few years later where every conference speaker was regaling us with the announcement that "data is the new oil" and to today where it is understood that data is (or can be) a hugely valuable asset.

"Today, every company understands how important data is, and today the company's biggest challenge is not about technology or operations, it's really people and processes," Van de Maele says.

That join between data and how it is handled is a fair description of the environment where Collibra plays. There is a tension between using data for competitive edge and the need to be responsible in data use to comply with GDPR and all the other rules and regulations that apply to data use, misuse and abuse. You can't manage that balancing act with just software tools and frameworks, but they surely help. Add in a people who understand the importance of culture, education, communication and safeguarding and you have a pretty good chance of staying on the right side of the rules and capitalising on your information assets.

Van de Maele says a large part of the solution is "how you help people to understand what data means and build a shared language". Fair enough, but how far have we come?

"I think we're still getting started," he says. "Many organisations are quite mature in how they process and store data, but the biggest challenge is about people and process."

That ‘soft' factor is always a challenge of course but some companies are taking formal steps to address it, such as the creation of chief data officers and chief digital officers. For Van de Maele, however, it's more about fostering cultures where people show people how to act.

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