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    Best-in-Class Data Governance Takes a Community, with Lindsay Savage, Sr. Director, Business Platforms & Data Governance at Georgia-Pacific

    Accurate, complete, reliable data is the enabler of all business operations, and particularly so in commerce. The trick is to create a set of people, processes, and technology that is set up for for success every day, month, and year. After spending more than a decade at the center of the data governance process at Georgia Pacific, Lindsay Savage, their Sr. Director, Business Platforms & Data Governance, graciously agreed to join the podcast to share the organization, process, and community that she has helped build to make a value-driven data governance process a critical part of her company’s success.


    Our transcripts are generated by AI. Please excuse any typos and if you have any specific questions please email info@digitalshelfinstitute.org.

    Welcome to Unpacking the Digital Shelf, where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age.

    Hey everyone, Peter Crosby here from the Digital Shelf Institute.

    Accurate, complete, reliable data is the enabler of all business operations, and particularly so in commerce.

    The trick is to create a set of people, processes and technology that is set up for success every day, month and year.

    After spending more than a decade at the Center of the Data Governance Processes at Georgia-Pacific, Lindsay Savage, their Senior Director of Business Platforms and Data Governance, graciously agreed to join Lauren Levak-Gilbert and me to share the organization process and really community that she has helped build to make a value-driven data governance process a critical part of her company's success.

    Lindsay, welcome to the podcast.

    We are so excited to have you here.

    I am excited to be here.

    Thanks for having me.

    Oh gosh, you have been on a data governance journey for more than 10 years of your, I think almost 16 years at Georgia Pacific, and you've seen a lot over that time.

    The start of understanding the data needs for an omni-channel business, building out cross-functional teams to prioritize projects.

    I mean, all of that, the whole sort of way we make money has evolved and the business requirements and what data can do and how to get it, it all must be so different than when you first started on the journey.

    So we want to know what you've learned, what you do differently.

    If you want to save our listeners from making the same mistakes so they can make new ones and then what's working well for you.

    But first of all, tell us about the start of your journey, how you got into this role.


    And Peter, it has been a journey for sure.

    That is the first thing I tell other organizations or other teams that I'm talking to.

    We started on our, what I'll call data governance journey somewhere around I would say 2011, 2012.

    And it was a very focused approach.

    At that time, we were very much focused around just the reporting and making sure that our measures and our terms were appropriately defined.

    So that our business leaders, when they would pull a report on volume or net revenue, they were all looking at the same number, right?

    And so there was a huge focus on getting a lot of that documented and aligned to.

    And from there, it just started, right?

    We started very small.

    At Georgia-Pacific within the Consumer Products Division, at that time, we had four divisions.

    We had our Communication Papers Division, Nonwovens Retail and GP Pro, or what we call Away From Home.

    And so there were roles embedded within each of those organizations that supported master data or data governance.

    And it was very focused around maintaining product data and maintaining customer data, which are two important domains for your organization, because that information trickles down to so many different process areas.

    And then obviously, over time, as e-commerce has evolved, it is an important aspect for our partners and our retailers in their e-commerce journey.

    So we started very small, and back in, I would say 2016, is when we took the first step to just centralize a few of those data roles across those four divisions.

    Again, focus was really small, right?

    Because we didn't know what we didn't know.

    We needed to go dig in and figure it out.

    And about that time, a year after, is when we actually embarked on our ERP transformation project, where we were upgrading our SAP ERP system.

    And so that was about a five-year-long project.

    And we knew, going into something that big, that we needed to have a pretty good handle on our master data before we go in and transform our ERP.

    So we had a focus, we brought in a couple more people, and we focused really around cleansing our product information and our customer information to support that ERP transformation project.

    And then really over the course of the next several years, as we evolved our processes and as we tried to integrate our processes directly within the system, we wanted to get rid of the homegrown systems, get rid of the manual processes.

    There was a big reliance on data.

    Data is going to be your enabler to really set these processes up for success and streamline and get those efficiencies that you would hope to see in an ERP type investment.

    That's where we started to pick up new areas of opportunity for further governance.

    For us, we look at each piece in its own way.

    Because not all of the data can be centralized and governed.

    We may not have the best knowledge or the best expertise to be able to efficiently govern that information.

    You want to avoid inserting yourself as becoming a bottleneck in the process.

    It's a fine balance of what is critical data that we can apply appropriate controls and standards to without impacting the end-to-end process.

    And then what data needs to stay within the process area, but maybe we can help just implement some more controls.

    So that's definitely where our journey has continued to evolve.

    We have pulled in supply chain master data into our realm of responsibility, and we've also have further centralized a lot of the roles.

    So as we kind of get into more of the e-commerce data, our digital assets and our marketing copy, a couple of years ago, we decided to pull those teams into our organization.

    And now what we have is an organization that touches the product from development all the way through syndication to our retail partners.

    And so what you're starting to see is there's a lot more collaboration just within our team.

    When our brand teams are talking about doing product transitions, or product changes, or packaging changes, my team is collaborating a whole lot more around these potential changes.

    And we're talking about, okay, what needs to happen to ensure that we're not impacting anything negatively downstream?

    Let's like handhold the process through so we can meet the needs of our brand partners, but also meet the needs of our customers as well, so that we can push the data appropriately to them without a lot of downstream impact.

    So it's really cool to see the collaboration that has improved and grown over the last several years.

    And Lindsay, where does your organization report up into?

    Is this like sort of almost a center of excellence for data governance?

    Is that?

    Yeah, so we view ourselves, we call it a business capability model, and we reside on the business side.

    So we work in coordination with our brand and category teams, but we also work in coordination with other business capability models that we have as well, like marketing, as an example, or supply chain, as another example.

    We are on the business side, and we work hand-in-hand with our IT organization as well.

    So we are a team that is pretty much working with every process area out there, technical or not, which I find very fulfilling, because that's really how you kind of see the big picture and how everything works together.

    And so the e-commerce journey part is, because when you were talking about the earlier data, where you started, it's data, and you tell me if this is true, I'm going to sort of lay out a scenario, that data that's relatively stable, and if you're going to change it, you want to know you're changing it for a reason.

    But then the e-commerce world sort of flies into town, and all of a sudden it's like, it changes every hour sometimes, like don't hold me back.

    Like I was wondering as you're sort of from your seat, how did you adjust and respond to the different, I don't know, sort of the wild west of e-commerce, while still knowing how important is that data be approved and compliant and all of that other stuff?

    Yeah, it definitely has evolved as, you know, we've gotten more sophisticated in this space, and honestly the demand from our customers has grown, right?

    They want to know more about our products.

    And so part of it is we're starting to capture more information than we captured before at a lower level.

    And so that just enables us to be able to provide that information to our consumers that maybe help improve the sale, right?

    Enabling the consumer with more information about the product might entice them to buy it, right?

    Versus seeing something that they don't really know much about.

    As far as kind of the ever-evolving standards that come along with e-commerce, it's really the key point in my mind is the collaboration with the key partners in your organization, as well as your customer partner.

    So really just trying to understand what will help our organization sell the product, but also still meeting the needs of the customer.

    So not that we were changing that standard every other month, but I would say over the course of the last several years, we've gotten smarter about what works, what doesn't work.

    And the key thing is not to just go change it, you know, behind the curtain and not let anyone know.

    It's really bringing everyone to the table and talking through what is the problem we're trying to solve for.

    We obviously want to grow our share, but also meet the needs of our customer.

    How can we do that with evolving our standard?

    And we all align on what that standard should be.

    And I think for the most part, they understand that while these attributes or these descriptions or assets are really put in place for our customers, there's also a lot of internal processes that rely on them as well.

    So we can't just focus on the customer, even though they are very much important.

    We also have to take into consideration our internal processes to make sure we're not going to negatively impact something there.

    Your team is the dream of cross-functional collaboration.

    I absolutely love hearing how you work together across all these different functions and you're looking at the big picture.

    So bravo to you and your team because it really is the dream for organizations to have that kind of cross-functional alignment.

    And Lindsay, so question around your journey.

    So I'm sure as you went through this journey and you built this team, to your point about internal alignment, it probably took some internal aligning to understand why this was changing, how we were going to be working, explain to leadership why it's important.

    Can you tell us a little bit about that journey and how you helped get everyone on board to make this big change?

    Yeah, absolutely.

    I think we were pretty lucky because early on we had that leadership alignment from day one.

    And I think where it began was when you see a lot of senior executives sitting in a room looking at a P&L or a report, and they're all looking at different numbers, right?

    So they've got to waste 30 minutes trying to reconcile which report is right and then go make the business decision that they were there to make.

    And so from there, that really kind of set us off on our journey.

    And I think really trying to drive home to the organization and the leaders, the what if, right?

    Like if we don't have governance, right?

    And if this data is not set up efficiently or accurately, these are the things that could go wrong.

    And really put it in perspective of how this impacts their roles or their organization.

    I think there was a lot of light bulbs that went off that said, okay, I get it, right?

    Like, because if you don't have that, then you're spending a lot of people's time trying to troubleshoot, reconcile, where did it go wrong, rework things.

    And so there's definitely an efficiency play here where if you have the right controls up front, even though it may seem like it takes a little bit longer up front to get the process through, right?

    And get it set up, you get to mitigate all those downstream issues that you previously had to deal with.

    So not only do you gain trust within your organization, you gain trust with your retailers and your customer partners.

    And so for us, we just really tried to articulate it in a way of this is what could happen if we don't have it.

    And try to tie it as much to monetary elements as possible.

    That is sometimes hard to do.

    But I think we had enough use cases that our leadership really connected with, and they bought in early.

    And again, when we just started small, we were able to prove to them where this was adding value.

    So then they have the trust and the confidence that this is the right thing to do.

    And as we tried to evolve our team in the area of responsibility in which we governed, it was a much quicker, easier conversation.

    And did that also require internal education for different leaders and different functions?

    So for example, like maybe supply chain didn't fully understand how this connected into what they were doing.

    Did you run that type of education as well?

    Yes, absolutely.

    Back in 2016, when we made the first kind of initial push to centralize our teams, we went on kind of like a roadshow within the organization and really just do like a master data one-on-one because I feel like a lot of folks that previously had a responsibility around master data, they were thinking about it specifically for their role only.

    They didn't have a good enough understanding of how this impacted other teams within supply chain or our ability to deliver or order or whatever it may be.

    And so we definitely went in with a targeted conversation around these fields.

    While you touch them and you maintain them, these are all the other areas that need the same information.

    So if you're not following the standard, you could negatively impact teams A, B, and C, ultimately potentially delaying our delivery, delaying our customer order.

    It's a domino effect, right?

    So I think once we had those conversations, you start to see a shift in behavior.

    So now what happens is when our category or brand team is looking at potentially changing a product, they loop us in from day one and say, here's what we're thinking.

    What do we need to consider to make this an effective process?

    What information do we need to make better business decisions?

    They're looping us in much earlier versus in the past, they would just go down the path of making that decision without looping us in, and then something ultimately fell apart and we'd have to backtrack, and we ultimately fixed it and moved on, but it caused us an extra week's worth of work to go through that.

    So definitely seeing a shift in behavior and them pulling us in much sooner.

    And that really does is the result of the early wins, the doing smaller tests, improving values, and ultimately building trust, right?


    I know, I sometimes, you know, the way you talk about, I sometimes feel like you're a data referee in a lot of ways.

    And I remember you telling us a story about some differing opinions over the definition of net revenue.


    Is that something you feel comfortable, like sort of sketching out what that sort of referee job was?

    Yeah, well, I think that goes back to really one of the use cases that helped drive our, you know, start into data governance because people viewed net revenue with different definitions, right?

    Like, do I include X type of program or do I exclude it?

    So I think at the end of the day, because people were not aligned on that definition, they were making potentially some bad business decisions because they weren't looking at an accurate number.

    And so I think that's one of the reasons we said we need to have this governance built upfront.

    And so what we've done over the course of the several years is we have data stewards in place where when we are introducing a new calculation, new measure, new term, they put forth with what they think the definition or the calculation is, and we review that across a couple different process areas and data stewards to make sure we have alignment there.

    And then that's what we load.

    We have a data dictionary where we have all of these terms and calculations loaded in.

    And people can, you know, after 10 years, maybe someone wants to challenge that definition.

    Do it, but we still have to get the right buy-in, right?

    And make sure that that type of change is going to work within the organization.

    And we've definitely had some, not with net revenue, but we've had some scenarios where we have some reporting unit of measures which are owned by the finance team.

    Over the course of several years, they've made the decision, we want to change the way we define this.

    And they own that definition, but before we could all agree on moving forward with that new definition, we had to loop in warehouse, supply chain, IT, marketing, sales, pricing.

    We looped everyone in and said, okay, here's the opportunity, and here's the value of doing this opportunity.

    And then let's talk through all the things we need to include to make sure this type of change is seamless within the organization.

    So anytime there is a recommended change like that, we always start with what's the opportunity, what's the problem statement, and then what is the value associated with doing this type of change?

    Because if it's just to do it to do it, then it's not worth all of the effort and costs associated to execute something like that.

    So we don't do anything without that initial conversation.

    And then once we get through that, we start talking about, okay, from a systems perspective, process perspective, let's kind of run through everything to make sure we've captured everything we need to before we go pull the trigger on something like this.

    So with your referee caps still on, I have to ask about one of the most critical, and yet sometimes fraught relationships in any sort of certainly omni-channel business, but actually anywhere I've ever been, and that's business and IT.

    And they are so reliant on each other, but they individually are dealing with, they all want the same thing at the end of the day.

    They want the business to be successful.

    They want it to be as low risk as possible.

    There's a bunch of things they can align on, but the day-to-day demands of what they oversee are just different.

    And so that can sometimes lead to differences of opinion in terms of how things should work to prioritize projects, to define what the rules are, to define speed and choice and all of that.

    And I was wondering what your team's role is in helping maybe kind of bridge some of those gaps or drive some of those arguments.

    IT and the business, that is a relationship that can't go sideways.

    You really have to work hand in hand for you really to accomplish that vision that you set forth for yourself.

    So I feel like for the most part, that is something that has evolved with our data governance journey, is a tighter relationship and coordination with our IT partners.

    But I would say it really improved when we implemented what we call a community center of excellence with our business process and IT platform leads.

    So this was something that was a result of our ERP transformation project.

    We knew that we just invested five years, a lot of money.

    We wanted to make sure we continued to move this thing forward and not move backwards to where we were.

    So we wanted to implement roles within the organization that encouraged that partnership and that knowledge share across the organization.

    So we implemented two roles.

    Like I said, there's a business process lead, and then there's an IT platform lead.

    So you would have like for data, I am the business process lead for our organization, and then I have a counterpart in IT who is our IT platform lead.

    We are joined at the hip.

    We don't do anything without making sure the other is aligned.

    And so that for the most part has been, we had a lot of that implemented prior to our ERP transformation, but what changed is the community aspect of it.

    We are now connected as a community where we are working together to understand, you know, opportunities or lessons learned.

    And so as a community, we meet once a month, and we will talk about strategic opportunities.

    So if someone is doing something, let's say, with AI, and we want to understand, oh, how can I incorporate that?

    What can I learn from you that may have worked well or may not have worked well, that I can incorporate maybe in my process area?

    So we focus on strategic initiatives as well as operational initiatives.

    I think the key thing, especially with data, is that you don't always know the impacts, right, of where that data is going.

    And so that's where the collaboration comes in.

    I now have a point of contact in every business process area and every business platform that I can reach out to.

    And they can be my eyes and ears for that process area, right?

    And so I think that just further enables that collaboration and that communication across the organization.

    So it just keeps us more in sync, and it also keeps us informed when things are about, like, if a process area is working on an enhancement, whether it be a process enhancement or a system enhancement, maybe it's something that will impact my area.

    They just didn't know.

    So the fact that we're meeting on an ongoing basis to review those enhancements or opportunities in the system allows me to provide some challenge or ask some questions.

    How is that going to impact me before we pull the trigger?

    So it's just another way to further promote that collaboration.

    And it sounds like much more of a, to your point, like a collaborative approach versus a top-down, like, hey, this is what IT is deciding and the business doesn't align with it.

    And you're actually going in together to make the decisions, where I think that's sometimes where you see the rub between an IT and a business lead, where it's more of a top-down approach or submitting all of the efforts that we want and only getting to prioritize.

    So it seems like you're all marching towards the same goal ultimately as well.


    Yeah, and we've moved well beyond where, you know, certain capabilities may have historically gone directly to IT to get something done, whereas now we've pushed them to this business process lead.

    Like, it really should come from the business process lead with IT being your support capability, because we want to ensure we're having those conversations up front around value.

    What is the value in even doing something like this?

    And, you know, are we going to erode value because we're not talking with these other teams?

    And so that's really where it helps with that prioritization because, you know, we want to make sure we're working on the highest value opportunities.

    And so that's kind of the shift that we've made within our organization is really request it and just be going directly to IT.

    You know, if they want to get into a new marketing platform or implement a new PIM, we need to understand the business implications and the value that that brings to the organization first before we invest time and effort to go explore, like, how to execute something like that.

    And how does that work from a reporting structure?

    So having the business and IT working together, but are you reporting to different leaders?

    Like, how does that work internally?

    Yeah, so we have, we are definitely reporting into different leaders.

    So our IT organization is a corporate capability.

    It has a CPG kind of leader, per se, that they report into.

    And then the business process leads report into the kind of appropriate business capability lead.

    And from there, we've actually instituted what we call a steering committee or sponsor committee, which is something we had prior to our ERP transformation.

    We had during our ERP transformation, and we have post.

    And I do believe it's one of the things that was integral in us getting through an ERP transformation, is having that leadership.

    But we have capability leads that we call our sponsor group, along with the IT lead.

    And so they really are the steering committee that meets to review kind of big initiatives, or to be kind of that extra referee.

    When the business process leads our meeting on an initiative and say we can't get to an alignment, we bring that to the business, the CPG steering committee or the sponsors to help kind of talk through and gain that alignment.

    So it really just promotes that we have the right support and leadership.

    But they're there when they need to be there, right?

    They've really kind of pushed the leadership and the execution down to the business process leads and the IT platform leads.

    And really we're just kind of working with them on a quarterly cadence to make sure we have the right metrics and visibility into the work and the effort and making sure we're kind of following our business priorities and our vision.

    But it's good knowing that we have that leadership.

    Well, Lindsay, where you started was saying that this is in fact a journey that's been going on for 10 or 12 years.

    And it's really impressive and daunting to hear where you've come from and what you've created together with all of your business partners to create a process, an organization, a structure with people putting it all together that actually is very clear now.

    Maybe for some organizations who are listening today, the structure you're describing is too big for them or something like that, but the philosophy behind it, the questions that you need to ask, the answers that you need, who needs to work together, is the same whether there are, you know, I don't know, 100 people in your organization or however many these days are at Georgia-Pacific.

    So if you were talking with a peer at another organization who was kind of either rebuilding or building this function from scratch and wanted to save, I don't know, maybe five of the ten years that you spent figuring all this out, what are the top three things that you would tell them they ought to be sure about or thinking about to bring clarity to setting it up inside their organization?

    Yeah, it's a tough one, but I would first start with just spending some time on establishing your vision and what you want to accomplish with something like this.

    And establishing some operating principles.

    Because to me, that is key to implement something and just stay aligned as an organization.

    It gives you a chance to pull something out and say, okay, these are our operating principles.

    Are we following that?

    And that's a perfect example, something we pulled together at the beginning of our ERP transformation.

    And I can't tell you how many times, as we were designing our business processes, that we had to pull out those governance principles to say, all right, we're going to always reference master data from SAP.

    No other system, something as basic as that.

    And so having those operating principles at the beginning or establishing them and communicating them, so everyone is clear, I think is key.

    I would say starting small, right?

    Because it is very daunting to, you know, build out a data governance organization.

    And you don't always know what is important, right?

    So you start small.

    Start with those handful of critical fields that you know drive a lot of your business process or drive your e-commerce process.

    Start there and establish ownership, right?

    Clear ownership for who is going to maintain those fields and make sure that is clear within the organization.

    And then over time, that will just organically grow as you learn more of how things are connected within your system.

    And then lastly, again, start small, but building out that framework of, you know, ownership within the different processes, right?

    And I think, you know, establishing that IT and the business work hand in hand, and that is key to success.

    So if you can just set those expectations up front, and where possible, try to drive ownership, I think that is going to be key, because I know I would not do anything without my IT counterpart, and I know she would say the same for me.

    And just making sure you establish, like, good working relationships, because that's how you're going to kind of gain trust, right?

    And then build upon that.

    Like, start small, start in one process area, see what works, see what doesn't work, and then once you've kind of fine-tuned that, then you can build upon that and expand into other process areas or other capabilities.

    Yeah, I love how you talked about you, by having a contact that you know, and you can trust, and you know how to reach them.

    I could almost hear the relief and joy in your voice.

    I almost felt like you were picturing them in your head at the time.

    These are the faces that I rely on to make all of this work.

    And, Peter, in all honesty, they may not know the answer, right?

    But they are my representative into that capability, and they will help me go find the answer.

    And I can't tell you in the past how daunting it was to just not even know who to reach out to, right?

    I'm just like randomly calling people, do you know anything about this?

    And so it is such a relief to know I at least have that one point of contact, and they will help me kind of guide through their capability to get whatever answer I need.

    So it definitely saves a lot of time and saves me a lot of stress as well.

    Lindsay, it's so funny that you say that because if I put my old brand hat on for a second when I was going through this transformation, they called me the Batphone.

    And just having someone to call made such a difference in any change.

    To your point, if you don't have the right answer, if you don't know where to go, it was still like a contact.

    So for any brand listening, whether it's data governance or e-commerce or anything, having one person and having the whole organization know who to go to for that just enables a more streamlined process so that people do feel heard and they feel like there's at least someone to go to to find a solution.

    So it just made me laugh because that was like when I first got in my role, they're like, okay, you're the Batphone.

    I was like, okay, I'm not sure what that means, but it worked out so well because it's just a source of truth to go to.

    Yep, absolutely.

    Well, speaking of Batphones, Lindsay has kindly volunteered her LinkedIn, at least, as being available for connections.

    And I'm sure your time is limited, Lindsay, but it's a very generous thing.

    Lindsay's on LinkedIn.

    I just want to make clear, Lindsay Savage, and Lindsay is L-I-N-D-S-A-Y, and you can find her on LinkedIn.

    And we are so grateful for you coming here and sharing your work at Georgia-Pacific and your perspective and experience here.

    It really does make a difference to our DSI community, and we really appreciate it.

    Happy to be here, and always love talking about how to further evolve and move this journey even further.

    I can't even imagine what's possible, but love to talk with anyone else within going through the same hurdles and exercises and implementations.

    Love to connect.

    Thank you so much, Lindsay.

    Thanks again to Lindsay for joining the podcast.

    She will be live in person at the Digital Shelf Summit, so be sure to book your tickets and track her down for more valuable nuggets.

    Info at digitalshelfsummit.com.

    Thanks for being part of our community.