Laurent Dresse, Chief Evangelist, DataGalaxy

Laurent Dresse, Chief Evangelist at DataGalaxy, leverages over 20 years of industry expertise and a graduate degree in SME Management. Starting as a Solution Engineer at Stefanini, he later managed European IT Support at Coca-Cola Enterprises, contributing to advanced support systems. Currently DataGalaxy’s top evangelist, Laurent is a thought leader in data governance, sharing insights from 80+ international projects with customers from various industries, sectors and geographies. With determined energy, he collaborates with teams, addresses concerns, and implements changes to ensure the success of Data Catalog initiatives, making him a valuable asset for solving company challenges.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Laurent shared his professional trajectory, insights on why data privacy and security is so fundamental in the GovTech space, personal sources of inspiration, significant career milestones, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Laurent. Please tell us about your background and areas of expertise.

Belgian citizen, living in France, my professional journey commenced three decades ago in the hospitality sector as a front office manager at a hotel. This role provided an invaluable opportunity to hone customer service skills by addressing issues directly with guests. Driven by a passion for computers and IT, I transitioned to a distinct career path, joining a company specializing in B2B IT support. This shift not only facilitated the enhancement of my technical proficiency but also instilled valuable people management skills within a demanding environment. Additionally, extensive travel broadened my experiences. Over the years, I diversified my expertise into continuous improvement methods, Master Data Management, and ultimately Data Management and governance. Today, my focus lies in applying a business value-oriented perspective to data and governance, a principle that guides every implementation I undertake for DataGalaxy.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities as Chief Evangelist at DataGalaxy. What do you enjoy the most about your current role?

Assuming the role of Chief Evangelist for a software editor encompasses multifaceted responsibilities spanning Management, Sales & Marketing, and Product domains.

Primarily, it involves serving as the public face of the company, participating in numerous events, and delivering keynotes to disseminate expertise and insights on market trends. This engagement facilitates valuable connections, providing firsthand insights from the field.

Additionally, maintaining a constant interface with the Marketing team ensures the sharing of market feedback and collaborative content creation, including articles, blogs, and white papers.

Collaborating closely with the product team becomes imperative for anticipating trends and aligning our tool with market expectations.

Concluding the loop involves communicating our vision and roadmap to clients and the market, ensuring market fit and supporting customers to maximize solution benefits and achieve tangible ROI.

In essence, the role of Chief Evangelist is multifaceted, and I find fulfillment in its diverse challenges, allowing me to traverse the globe, interact with individuals from various cultures, and, as we say in my native Belgium, “Travel shapes the youth,” fostering a perpetual sense of youthful curiosity and learning.

In your opinion, why is data privacy and security so fundamental in the GovTech space?

In the Governance and Tech (GovTech) space, safeguarding sensitive information is paramount. GovTech handles vast amounts of data, including citizens’ personal details and financial operations information and many more.

Robust data privacy and security measures are crucial to protect against unauthorized access, breaches, or malicious activities.

Additionally, legal and regulatory compliance is imperative for many organizations. Adhering to laws like GDPR, HIPAA, or local regulations is essential to avoid legal consequences, fines, and reputational damage.

GovTech often deals with data related to national security, defense, finance and critical infrastructure. Stringent measures are necessary to protect against data breaches, given the severe implications for security.

The GovTech sector is a prime target for cyber threats. Ensuring data security is essential to protect against cyberattacks, ransomware, and disruptions to government operations.

The paradox of individuals seeking data privacy while sharing personal details on social networks can be explained by various factors. Social benefits, such as maintaining connections and a sense of community, often outweigh privacy concerns for users. Some may lack awareness of the extent to which their information is collected and shared, while others normalize the culture of sharing prevalent on social media. The convenience and customization offered by personalized experiences on these platforms can lead users to willingly trade personal information. Trust in the platforms’ commitment to security, a desire for social validation, and a belief in having some control over privacy settings contribute to the willingness to share. Users might also be compelled to use social networks for personal or professional reasons, despite acknowledging privacy risks. Ignorance or incomplete understanding of privacy policies further complicates the landscape. The intricate interplay of perceived benefits, social norms, trust, and a nuanced understanding of privacy implications shapes users’ decisions in navigating the delicate balance between sharing personal details and seeking data privacy on social networks.

What surprised you the most in your journey so far and what did you learn from it?

The essence of my life has always revolved around the human side, and my journey is inseparable from a focus on people. I find profound amazement in the reciprocal nature of empathy and respect—investing these qualities often yields returns of 10 or even 100-fold. When these principles become core values, they not only forge robust business partnerships with clients but also cultivate a profound sense of friendship within the community.

In reflection, if I were to distill a key learning from my experiences, it would undoubtedly be humility. Regardless of achieving excellence in our respective fields, humility stands as the highest testament to intelligence. It is a reminder that despite expertise, there is always room for growth and understanding.

Having traversed the globe, I’ve cultivated friendships across diverse regions. The key to this lies in investing time in people. One universal method that transcends cultural differences is sharing good food and a glass of wine. This simple yet profound act serves as a common denominator, laying the foundation for strong and enduring friendships.

In summary, my life journey is anchored in a deep appreciation for the human aspect. The reciprocal dynamics of empathy and respect form the cornerstone for building lasting partnerships and friendships. Humility, as a key learning, underscores the ongoing quest for knowledge and understanding. Across global travels, the investment of time in others, often over shared meals and drinks, has been the catalyst for forging strong and meaningful connections.

The meaning of leadership can change from one era to the other, how would you define the meaning of leadership today?

Contemporary leaders grapple with an array of intricate challenges, shaped by the rapid evolution of technology, shifts in societal dynamics, and a complex global landscape. A fundamental challenge involves adapting to the relentless pace of technological change. Leaders must navigate the integration of innovations like artificial intelligence, automation, and data analytics into organizational structures. This demands not only a deep understanding of technological trends but also an ability to address potential job displacement and ethical considerations associated with these advancements.

Globalization has transformed the business landscape, creating a need for leaders to navigate intricate geopolitical dynamics and uncertainties. Operating in an interconnected world requires astute decision-making to mitigate risks and maintain stability amid fluctuating trade relations and geopolitical tensions.

The nature of the workforce is undergoing a profound transformation, demanding leaders’ attention to various aspects of talent management. The rise of remote work, evolving skill requirements, and the imperative of diversity and inclusion pose formidable challenges. Leaders must grapple with talent retention, devise strategies for upskilling, and cultivate inclusive workplace cultures to foster innovation and resilience. Remote work has become a prominent feature of the contemporary work environment, necessitating leaders to adapt their leadership styles. Maintaining team cohesion, fostering a positive work culture, and ensuring effective communication in a remote setting are nuanced challenges that demand leaders’ attention.

Environmental and social responsibility have emerged as central considerations for leaders. Balancing profit motives with ethical and environmentally conscious practices requires a delicate approach. Organizations are increasingly expected to contribute positively to society and the environment, challenging leaders to align their strategies with sustainable and socially responsible practices.

The digital age brings with it a growing threat: cybersecurity challenges. Leaders are tasked with safeguarding sensitive information, ensuring data privacy, and fortifying organizational cybersecurity measures to protect against an escalating wave of cyber threats.

Ethical leadership has assumed greater importance as expectations for transparency and accountability rise. Leaders face ongoing challenges in navigating moral dilemmas and upholding ethical standards in decision-making and organizational practices.

In essence, contemporary leaders operate in a multifaceted environment that demands a holistic approach to leadership. Adapting to technological shifts, navigating global complexities, managing a diverse and remote workforce, addressing mental health concerns, and upholding ethical standards are interconnected challenges that define the leadership landscape of today. Successfully navigating these challenges requires a blend of strategic vision, adaptability, empathy, and a commitment to ethical and socially responsible leadership.

Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?

Throughout my professional journey, I have had the privilege of interacting with numerous individuals, and I wish to express gratitude to selecting a few for their impactful mentorship and the opportunities afforded to me.

Foremost among them is Rudi Degreve, the Chief Operating Officer of Atradius Collections, who served as my manager for an extended period and emerged as a genuine mentor. Rudi’s adept listening skills and transparent feedback have significantly contributed to my professional development. Beyond his mentorship, his genuine appreciation for the finer aspects of life is noteworthy, reflecting a true epicurean spirit.

Additionally, I extend my appreciation to my current management, namely Sebastien Thomas and Lazhar Sellami. Over the past four years, they have afforded me the latitude to mold my professional role and represent DataGalaxy on a global scale. Their support has been instrumental in shaping my career trajectory and contributing to the broader objectives of our organization.

Where do your passions lie? What do you think defines you as a person?

I appreciate the inquiry! Allow me to provide insights into myself. Frequently acknowledged for possessing strong social intelligence, I am known for my proclivity to share experiences and expertise with others. Additionally, my pragmatic approach to business can be attributed to my Belgian roots, underscoring a results-oriented mindset.

Turning to my passions, cooking stands out as a significant interest. I firmly believe in the intrinsic value of culinary endeavors, emphasizing the act of preparing meals not solely for oneself but for others. Reflecting this commitment, I am the proprietor of a cooking club where I actively share techniques, tips, and tricks for crafting gourmet dishes with participants who share a similar passion for culinary excellence.

In line with this culinary enthusiasm, I have conceptualized the “Data Governance Kitchen” as a strategic business concept. This metaphorical kitchen serves as a symbolic space where I extend my commitment to sharing knowledge and expertise, drawing parallels between the precision of gourmet cooking and the intricacies of data governance in the business realm.

What are you particularly proud of in your career?

In contrast to many peers, I opted to leave formal education prematurely and did not obtain a degree. My inclination has always leaned towards practical work rather than academic pursuits. As a self-made professional, I commenced my career from the grassroots, navigating through a journey marked by various challenges.

Throughout my trajectory, I encountered setbacks and moments of disillusionment, but my enduring resilience and commitment to learning on the job propelled my advancement. Today, I take pride in being acknowledged as a distinguished expert in data governance and a thought leader in the field.

My career trajectory underscores the value of hands-on experience, showcasing that professional success can be achieved through dedication, resilience, and continuous skill development.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I find questions like these quite challenging, but when I reflect on my personal journey filled with opportunistic choices, predicting where I’ll be in five years seems like an intricate task. The future is inherently unpredictable, and the best I can do is make educated guesses about potential outcomes.

My approach to life revolves around doing things that bring me joy and fulfillment. As long as I find enjoyment in my pursuits, I’ll likely continue down a similar path. It’s the passion and satisfaction derived from my endeavors that fuel my motivation.

In the dynamic landscape of startups, change is constant. Fast-paced shifts in the market are a given. Considering this, I prefer to envision a future where, in five years, I’ve successfully navigated and adapted to the challenges the market presents. My goal is to contribute significantly to DataGalaxy’s growth, propelling it to a leadership position in its market.

Life’s journey is a series of adventures, and my commitment lies in embracing the opportunities that come my way. While the specific destination might be uncertain, the excitement of the journey itself is what propels me forward. So, in five years, I hope to look back with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I’ve played a pivotal role in steering DataGalaxy towards success amidst the ever-evolving landscape of the startup world.

What is the most significant piece of advice you would want to give to Data Governance leaders?

The most significant piece of advice for Data Governance leaders is to prioritize collaboration and communication across all levels of the organization. Effective data governance is not just about implementing policies and procedures; it’s about creating a culture that values and respects data as a critical organizational asset.

Encourage open communication channels between data teams, business units, and leadership. Ensure that everyone understands the importance of data governance and how it aligns with the overall business strategy. This involves breaking down silos and fostering a collaborative environment where stakeholders can easily share insights, challenges, and solutions related to data management.

Another crucial aspect is to establish clear and transparent policies. Develop comprehensive and accessible documentation outlining data governance principles, guidelines, and standards. This clarity helps in setting expectations and ensures that everyone in the organization is on the same page regarding data handling practices.

Moreover, invest in continuous education and training programs for both technical and non-technical staff. Enhancing the data literacy of the entire workforce promotes a shared understanding of data governance principles and empowers employees to make informed decisions based on accurate and reliable data.

Regularly assess and update data governance policies to adapt to the evolving needs of the organization and changes in the regulatory landscape. Flexibility and agility are key in maintaining a robust data governance framework that can withstand the challenges of a dynamic business environment.

Lastly, lead by example. Demonstrate a commitment to data governance principles through your actions and decisions. By embodying the importance of data integrity, security, and quality, you set the tone for the entire organization, reinforcing a culture where everyone plays an active role in upholding and improving data governance practices.

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