Data governance – the backbone of successful data management
Dave Pullin and Jay Zhu, Vice President Operations and Data Quality Manager
We are now living in a new transformational era driven by big data, cloud services and AI. Even in the maritime industry, trillions of data points are being generated from ships, ports, and many other stakeholders on a daily basis, and the scale of digital connectedness is growing exponentially. Accurate, consistent, and up-to-date data is essential for improving operational efficiency, decision-making, and business insight.
"Data governance is the backbone of overall data management, which embraces the entire data journey from harvesting and processing to storage and security. By implementing data governance, companies can fully exploit the potential of their data to drive growth and innovation," says Dave Pullin, Vice President Operations.
Data governance objectives and benefits
Data governance in the maritime sphere has two main objectives. Firstly, it ensures accessible, high-quality data to drive optimal operations and regulatory compliance. Secondly, it generates a positive financial impact, improves customer satisfaction, and opens new business opportunities.
"In layman's terms, data governance allows companies to get clarity from the mass of data they collect and process, so that it can be used constructively to produce everything from reliable reporting to spotting business trends," explains Data Quality Manager Jay Zhu.
Robust data handling has always been a top priority for Wilhelmsen Port Services, and we have taken measures to work towards ensuring data accuracy. "Without consistent, accurate data any company would struggle to provide true value, let alone glean the deeper knowledge required to fuel continuous improvement," Zhu adds.
Other key benefits include a shared understanding of data within companies ensuring consistent standards. Data governance also safeguards against data breaches and misuse, while providing solid ground for advanced analytics.
Specific data governance challenges
Shipping like all other global industries faces numerous challenges related to data governance. Investing in the right expertise and tools to ensure data is accurate and up-to-date is crucial. Other hurdles include multiple disparate data sources, manual data entry processes, lack of data format standardization (inconsistent definitions) and data duplication. Lack of accessibility can also lead to concentration of data in silos within organizations. The best data is shared data, and anything that hinders the seamless flow of information can lead to inefficiencies and potential errors.
"In our experience, ports and terminals, as well as ship operators, retrieve data from many different channels and systems – from hand-written notes to emails to Excel spreadsheets and enterprise management systems (EMS) – that use widely varying data naming conventions. Lack of formatting consistency is compounded by different time stamp and currency protocols. All this needs to be worked out to ensure smooth integrations," says Zhu.
Consequences of poor data
The consequences of poor data can be far-reaching. Inaccurate or incomplete data can lead to miscommunication, delays, non-compliance with regulations, and missed opportunities for new business. It can hamper decision-making, affect customer satisfaction, and even cause economic losses.
Pullin highlights that, in the agency business, incomplete data in Statements of Facts (the running sheets covering everything that happens when a vessel is at berth) may hamper timely settlement of bills while bottlenecks in disbursement accounting can lead to cargo payment issues, as well as settlement of demurrage and dispatch claims.
Implementing an effective data governance framework
With the data quality stakes so high, ensuring robust data governance practices as part of an overall data management strategy is imperative for sustained success. Companies need to create policies and guidelines that clearly define data assets, data ownership and responsibilities, as well as data standards. These will take time to improve but the key is to take the first steps in implementing measures and taking action.
Investing in appropriate data management systems enables efficient data processing and analysis, while in terms of education – data governance is still a new concept for many people – fostering a culture of data literacy and accountability among employees will ensure adoption and adherence to best practices at all levels.
"An effective framework supported by investment in the right skills will improve data quality, eliminate data silos and ensure security," says Zhu.
'Meticulous' approach promotes trust and transparency
"We are proud of our meticulous approach to data governance. Jay's position as Data Quality Manager is not the norm in shipping, but early on we recognized the need to bring in new talent to put in place an effective strategy and data benchmarking," says Pullin.
As the company's internal data champions, Jay's team developed e-learning training programmes and held regular workshops and review sessions to promote data literacy. This contributes to a shared understanding of data use and ensures that every member of the organization is committed to maintaining data integrity.
"We continuously monitor, assess, and improve our data management practices. Regular audits, data quality checks, analysis of data glitches, and remedial action enable us to maintain a high level of data integrity. We also introduced a data quality scoreboard that includes monthly ranking of our global offices, which has sparked healthy competition as each office strives to be the top performer," says Zhu.
The team also makes regular adjustments to the company's operational system to simplify data entry and remove inconsistencies. Operators only have to enter data once into customer systems. "Having 'one single source of truth' ensures integrity of all data we transfer. On customer dashboards they see exactly what we see. Standardized data entry allows customers to track exactly how their money is being spent and make better decisions based on that information. This promotes both transparency and trust," Pullin says.
Wilhelmsen Port Services will continue to invest in data management and leverage best practices to enhance customers' overall experience. "This has enabled us to successfully integrate with more customers' systems, and the launch of our new HUB solution, HIVE, allows them to share that data with all their stakeholders. Customer satisfaction underpins our business, and data governance is key to that mission," Zhu concludes.