Enabling The People, Enabling The Data with Kulani Likotsi

My guest this week is Kulani Likotsi, the Head of Data Management and Data Governance at one of the four biggest banks in Africa. She’s had a rising career journey going from an analyst, to a Business Intelligence developer, to the data warehouse team, to the data governance team.

I was impressed with Kulani’s volunteer spirit. Whenever there was a need, she volunteered. For her, it’s a growth mindset where she looks, “every two, three years, what’s the new thing? What’s the new buzz?” She added, “It’s just the willingness to learn the open mindset and just wanting to bring value.”

In data governance, data privacy laws such as GDPR in Europe and POPIA in South Africa are of particular concern. Her team is tasked with adhering to these laws. “The passion has been data protection and data privacy, because as much as we have the data, the customer gives us that data with the respect that we will ensure that we secure the information […] and also the education thereof: do people do the right thing of sharing that data; where you would find a spreadsheet with all the customer information is being shared via an email while there could be other proper means of sharing information.”

Not every company has a data governance initiative, and I asked Kulani when she thinks data teams should start it. She thinks “when a customer gives you the data, they’re thinking, the organization will protect their information. So internally within the organization you need to know who they are, the right owners of that data.” She continued, “from a governance perspective, it’s just making sure that the bare basic principles – ownership, accountability, quality of that information, how it’s being protected – are always the key aspects that we then need to look at.”

Finding the right person for your organization’s data governance management is key. Personally, I’m not at all excited about running or managing a data governance team. Finding a passionate person like Kulani is key. Working with the business is key, too. As Kulani explained: “for me, the unlocking that happened was, don’t come and talk the jargon, walk with the business, understand where they currently are at and walk the journey with them. Because in walking the journey with them, for example, I might come in and say, we need to worry about data protection and data quality and data security. But if then the business is not at that right mindset, you’re just talking and it’s yet again an “us and them” problem. But the moment you partner with the business and say, make me understand what your current business problem is and in understanding that business problem, on my side, I can point to it and allocate it and say, this is a data quality issue, this is a data protection issue.”

Diversity in data teams is important to both of us. Kulani has spent a great deal of time helping underrepresented groups started in technology. Her observation is that “there will always be somebody that will come and question your credibility, whether you’re Black, you’re female, you’re tall, your age, your background, your history, all of those things, but it’s just always remaining true to the fact of, the moment you get to sit on the table, what value you then get to bring. In terms of what we need to do, us as leaders across the industry? We always need to hear different voices in the room, and cannot be the same. And these are different voices from different racial backgrounds, our upbringing, our history, our gender biases that are currently there, saying, can we all just give that opportunity to everyone because you might just find there’s a female that can do it better? But because they’ve never been granted that opportunity, these are some of the constraints that are currently sitting there.”

Check out the episode to hear even more of Kulani’s insights on data governance, data protection, and how we get more diversity in data teams. Listen to hear what her parents did to raise a child that’s pushing more in life. You’ll also hear how to change or start your data governance initiatives in your organization.