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Data governance evangelism at heart of Premier Farnell's global strategy

Brian McKenna, News and Site Editor

Premier Farnell, an electronics components distributor, is putting data governance at the heart of its corporate strategy  as part of a bigger effort to globalise its business. Michelle Teufel, head of global planning and governance at the company, said education and communication is crucial to successful data management.

“You can have all the structure you want,” she said. “But if people don’t care they won’t participate in the structure; they will just pay it lip service.”

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Delegates at an upcoming IRM UK data governance conference in London will hear from Teufel about Premier Farnell’s programme to embed data governance across its organisation, which made an operating profit of £113.1m on revenue of £907.8m in 2011.

The company buys electronics components in large volumes from 3,500-plus manufacturers and sells these globally to more than two million purchasing professionals and maintenance, repair, operations and electronic design engineers.

The company was founded in Britain in 1939 as AC Farnell. In 1996 it bought US company Premier Industrial Corporation and changed its name to Premier Farnell. In those days “the print catalogue was the bible,” but the Web eventually changed all of that, said Teufel. The company now has 48 websites in 33 languages.

Teufel reports to the company’s chief operating officer and is responsible for governance and management of a multi-year, £55m-plus global systems investment portfolio, comprised of seven systems replacements, and their alignment to the company’s business strategy, she said.

Since 2006 the organization’s chief executive, Harriet Green, has led a business transformation with the aim to take, said Teufel, a “regionalized business to a global brand with regional presence, and transform it into a truly Web-centric company.”

High-quality data and customer data is central to that, she said. “Premier Farnell puts the icing on the cake, as the middleman between suppliers and customers providing consolidation and enhanced information related to electronics products.” Data governance is important because of the technical nature of the products, which, as electronic components, bear high compliance requirements. And the company has the same privacy issues as anyone else in respect to customer data, Teufel said.

There is a “conundrum,” she continued, around being a “global company that wants to share data but can’t always do that [for national compliance reasons].”

The data the company publishes has to be accurate. Engineers building prototypes using electronics components need that, and Premier Farnell also wants to “service the whole design process,” with its Eagle design tool, acquired with CadSoft in 2009, and its electronics engineers community website Element14.com, launched in June 2009. That adds data complexity beyond delivering physical product and relates back to customer data.

Teufel said the data the company gathers and classifies is “broader and deeper than, say, retail. It is more like the grocery industry where there has to be so much information about food and health. There is similar complexity there, but more standards established than our industry.”

Teufel joined the company in 2001 to unify its US and European product management, and the company is now looking to do the same globally with customer data management.

We can’t just sit in an ivory tower throwing out white papers like confetti

Michelle Teufel, head of global planning and governance, Premier Farnell

“That is more about process, assurance, and security,” Teufel said. “The focus is now on education. In the last eight months we’ve got senior management to understand how much is involved in correcting and protecting customer data.” While the firm has put a clear data governance structure in place, with a head of data and supporting roles in governance, security and compliance, “it will be of limited impact unless we are able to evangelize the importance of a discipline across the business that protects brand reputation by ensuring compliance.”

“Most people find the topic of data to be boring, but it is critically important. We can’t just sit in an ivory tower throwing out white papers like confetti. People have to feel [the importance]. This is a critical component of effective governance.”


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