Stibo Systems honors women in master data management (MDM) and the great work by so many to achieve gender balance and equity. This series brings you interviews with remarkable women in our industry, and we hope their stories will inspire you to chase your passion for MDM and related fields.
As an experienced IT leader, Gwen Moilanen-Kollar has managed many large teams and complex, multi-year IT projects at some of the most well-known brands in the retail industry. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, Gwen began her retail IT career as a consultant programmer analyst at Kmart, where she had many projects involving the company’s item setup process. That was her first foray into what is now known as master data management (MDM). From there, Gwen started managing teams, overseeing a variety of merchandising and item systems and initiatives. Later she moved to Bed Bath & Beyond, where she modernized the product onboarding process and managed the company’s corporate systems, including MDM, digital merchandising, financial, human resources and workforce management applications.
Why did you pick a career in master data?
Master data is the lifeline, the central core, of retail. The retail industry is all about selling products and that requires a lot of information and a dependency on that information being accurate. That’s what makes MDM an exciting field. It allows you to have a wide span of influence, where MDM is at the center of it all. There are a lot of different aspects of MDM that can be challenging, but if MDM were easy, it wouldn’t be a career option.
What do you like most about your career?
The sense of accomplishment when you implement systems to improve a process that has a broader impact on the organization, or on other projects or areas – such as adding information to the data stores, which can be leveraged by other areas of the business.
I’ve found that most people – even those at the highest levels of the organization – understand the value of master data. When we implemented the roadmap to modernize the product onboarding process at Bed Bath & Beyond, the CEO, CIO and CFO were all engaged from day one. This type of executive support enables an organization to become more unified about getting the right information to support the sale of its products.
What do you see as the biggest barriers for more women in the master data field?
Personally, I haven’t encountered any barriers in the field of MDM, or even in IT, which is known to be predominantly male. I’ve been blessed to have a technology career where I’ve never felt limited by my gender.
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in master data?
It would depend on what side of MDM you’re interested in. For the business side of MDM, it’s a lot of data governance and cleansing, so you need to be detail-oriented and like analysis and data. That’s less so, in terms of skill sets, if you’re interested in the IT side of MDM.
As far as career advice, I recommend you pursue your passion and find something you enjoy, an area where you have a lot of interest. And if you enjoy master data management, it’s a great career to pursue.
Have the organizations you’ve worked for promoted gender equality? If so, how?
Yes, absolutely. I have been blessed throughout my career to work with many talented women.
What has been one of your most memorable projects, and what made it successful?
One of the coolest projects I’ve spearheaded was at Bed Bath & Beyond. It was a five-year, multimillion dollar project for modernizing the product onboarding process to support the company’s objectives for SKU growth, speed to market and improved data quality. It was a huge initiative, where the company evolved from a legacy environment to implementing Stibo Systems state-of-the-art Product MDM solution. As part of the implementation, we incorporated technologies like machine learning and natural language generation to make the product creation and maintenance process more efficient.
The key was to break the project into components, so we could gain immediate short-term wins from a tactical standpoint, while still making progress on the long-term strategy. By breaking it down into smaller components, we were able to minimize the impact of change management, roll it out to departments, and train our vendors and buyers. Then we layered in additional functionality, workflows and digital merchandising. This approach enabled us to continue to execute against our strategic plan – all while minimizing risk and realizing value sooner. Having executive support was an important factor in the project’s success.
Share a fun fact about yourself.
I enjoy cooking and love to try new and exciting cuisines and dishes. When I am not experimenting in the kitchen (or enjoying my creations), I also appreciate a good sci-fi or fantasy movie, book, TV series or computer game.