Innovation centered around data: Q&A with Peter Vennel, Equifax

We recently had the opportunity to interview Peter Vennel, Enterprise Information Architect at Equifax, about his experience with Collibra and where their data strategy is heading in 2021. 

It’s no surprise that in their final stage of a three-year, $1.5 billion cloud transformation, agility and global expansion are on the roadmap for 2021 supported by a move to GCP. That strategic effort, and a focus on leveraging Collibra’s Data Privacy solution to securely govern their data, will surely set Peter and the team up for success next year.

Read the full interview to learn more about their approach to letting data drive innovation and why moving to the cloud is so integral to their business.

Q: Welcome, Peter. Thank you so much for sitting down with our team to discuss your experience and data strategy at Equifax. To get us started, can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?

I am the Enterprise Information Architect, spearheading Collibra implementation across the globe for Equifax. I am working with our technology partners in integrating Collibra with our Data Fabric Cloud. I also work with the Business and Privacy Stewards in loading rich metadata content into Collibra. I have been with Equifax for over a year. I have more than 28 years of industry experience, working in technology and business. In leading a team of data warehouse and business intelligence professionals, I noticed Data Management issues that we had to handle. When it came to my team, it was too late in the game and expensive/inefficient to fix them. This is what motivated me toward focusing on Data Management and Governance more than a decade back. I set up the first Data Governance program at Safeguard Products International 4 years back. 

At Equifax, I am part of the Enterprise Data Office (EDO). This is a newly-created group that serves as liaison between Business and Technology. We provide advice and guidance on standards, best practices and procedures for the entire organization. This group rolls up under the Chief Data & Analytics and Innovation Officer – Prasanna Dhore, who is also a Board Member. So we get high visibility all the way to the top and get the required support on all our initiatives. 

Q: Tell us a bit more about Equifax and how your data strategy impacts the organization’s drive toward innovation.

Equifax is a global data, analytics, and technology company. Headquartered in Atlanta, Equifax operates or has investments in 24 countries in North America, Central America, South America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region. For Equifax, data is more than an asset. Data is not just a byproduct, but a “Product” and drives everything we do as a company.  We have been monetizing data since our inception in 1899. 

Our innovation is centered around data, whether we are building intelligent products or services that help our customers make smarter decisions. So having holistic awareness of all the data assets we have through a centralized Metadata Management Platform like Collibra helps speed up this process. With all the developments in the area of data privacy and compliance, it is equally important to have a single portal to support impact analysis and also audit needs. Equifax’s Data Privacy and Protection group is one of the key sponsors of Collibra. They are planning to leverage the CCPA and GDPR capabilities provided by Collibra. 

Q: It is always great to hear that you’re already seeing value with Collibra and that your team is leveraging it as a centralized system of record. When you first implemented Collibra, what were your initial use cases or what challenges were you aiming to solve?

We started using Collibra earlier this year. We started with Data Governance and Data Privacy, including CCPA and GDPR. We limited the scope of Phase 1 to just a few Data Assets of a US Business Unit with the goal of leveraging most of the capabilities Collibra has to offer.

One of our biggest challenges initially when onboarding Collibra was the vocabulary. There were conflicts in the terms that Collibra was referring and what Equifax Stewards have been familiar with for decades. So there were communication gaps initially in our meetings. We quickly recovered from this by laying some ground rules as to how to improve our communication with the stewards adding explicit terms to the vocabulary. Setting up the Operating Model was a very collaborative exercise engaging the Global Metadata Management Committee and the Enterprise Data Office. We are also working with Collibra experts in effectively leveraging AVRO structure, which represents most of our data format on GCP. 

Q: If someone was just getting started with Collibra, what advice would you give?

There are probably two tips that I would share when it comes to getting started with Collibra and excelling in its use:

Use Collibra University — Get yourself familiar with the tool by taking advantage of the short courses on Collibra University. As we started using Collibra, we started capturing the best practices and standards that needed to be followed. For better user experience, we created an Enterprise Community in Collibra to capture all this. 

Become a Collibra Ranger — Certification enables you to explore and understand the best practices or a tool or platform at a faster pace. Collibra Ranger certification is helping me to successfully leverage the maximum potential of Collibra and also guide the stewards in adopting Collibra the correct way. While we might not end up using all the features in the first year, knowing what’s possible and what’s not is extremely useful as you plan the roadmap for enterprise-wide rollout.

Q: Those are great, thank you, Peter. Shifting gears a bit, now that you’ve rolled out Collibra what are your strategies for getting people to use it? How are you driving adoption?  

Since data is a product for us, everyone has exposure to it in some shape or form. So our stewardship footprint is much bigger than any typical organization. We formed an Enterprise Metadata Management Committee represented by key stakeholders across the globe. The goal was to define unified standards and best practices that can be used by everyone. This committee has been an integral part of Collibra implementation and rollout. Engaging both business and technology has helped foster a better relationship between the teams, which has led to healthy adoption. We did not want to boil the ocean in phase 1, so we focused on a few schemas for a US Business Unit. It is then easy to replicate the successful model across the organization. Through the Enterprise Metadata Management committee, we ensured that the lines of communication were open and were transparent across the globe.

When I look at Collibra, I see two high stakeholder groups – producers and consumers. Producers are the folks who are responsible for adding content into Collibra and ensuring that the different quality metrics are met. Consumers are folks who use this content for various purposes like auditing, research and innovation of new products. To be successful, both these groups need to be effective. We plan on leveraging Collibra Insights to come up with key metrics to measure all of this.

Q: It sounds like this approach will continue to evolve as you assign metrics to those core stakeholder groups next year. What else is core to the evolution of your data program in 2021?

Equifax is in the final stage of a three-year, $1.5 billion cloud transformation — the largest investment in the company’s history. The cloud technology transformation is already delivering powerful new data insights and added security to customers at record speed. A key advantage of the Equifax cloud native transformation is that it removes technical barriers between data sets, allowing customers to combine data in new ways and unlock novel insights. Data silos that were previously disconnected are now all organized into a seamless, globally-distributed Data Fabric — with logical separation and governing rules ensuring airtight controls over privacy and compliance. 

Having completed phase 1, we are planning on rolling Collibra out to other business units in the US and across the globe. While there will be multiple Data Fabric Cloud (one for each region), we will be integrating all of them with the Enterprise Collibra Server on Equifax Cloud in the US. We are planning on leveraging CCPA and GDPR modules in 2021.

Q: Wow, it is clear the value that this cloud transformation initiative will have on the agility of the organization. This will definitely continue to fuel the innovation that is so core to Equifax’s business. 

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and share your strategy for 2021. Collibra is proud to partner with you and we look forward to helping support your continued growth and success in 2021.

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