Richard P. Kessler, CEO of Classifi and member of the InfoGovANZ International Council, is a pioneer in the fields of information governance, data governance, legal operations, eDiscovery and infonomics. As the CEO of Classifi, Richard leads with a vison focused on bringing innovative solutions to complex data challenges.
Prior to taking the leadership role at Classifi, Richard was a Director at KPMG in Cyber Security Strategy and Governance as part of the U.S. Information Governance and Privacy practice. In this role, Richard created the Data Value Model innovation comprising the ideation, design, development, expansion, and integration across multiple data and information disciplines. Richard was pivotal in orchestrating integration of governance across pillars leading to a new way of thinking about data.
Richard fostered a great many of his ideas as an innovator and inventor during his 25+ years of experience in the global financial services industry with Citigroup and UBS, as a Vice President and Executive Director, respectively. He developed and implemented frameworks to address information lifecycle governance, eDiscovery, cyber security and privacy requirements to address highly complex and dynamic regulatory and business environments. Richard assumed senior leadership roles in Architecture and Technology Engineering; Group Information Security; IT, Contracting and Shared Services Legal; and Legal & Compliance Systems and Strategic Planning.
You can read more of Richard's articles here.
Tell us about yourself?
A driving force in my life is to make a noticeable, positive impact on society - one person at a time, in any way I can. It's what drives me personally and professionally. My business role aligns well: I'm currently serving as the CEO and co-founder of Classifi, a startup based in Omaha, Nebraska, in the United States. Together with my team, we’re building Classifi into a new type of technology company, which moves fast 'enough,' is mindful of 'breaking things,' and keeps the individual and their rights front and center.
What led you into the world of Information Governance (IG)?
In 2001, I became responsible for leading the technology infrastructure recovery of 7 World Trade Center for a particular Citigroup business, where we necessarily had to develop a new and holistic view of enterprise data requirements spanning multiple perspectives effectively overnight. Building on that experience, I held roles in records management, eDiscovery, data architecture, ESI consulting, and other complementary fields over the next 5-10 years. These roles prepared me well for a global position leading Information Governance at UBS, followed by a role in Cyber Security, Privacy, and IG at KPMG and, ultimately, for my current role in developing Classifi. I accelerated my learning by participating in numerous IG conferences, forums, and events over the last 20 years. I found that I assimilate new information much faster by working with industry experts in their specific fields – by speaking with them or presenting with them to teach others, for example – and I've been privileged throughout my career to be surrounded by some very accomplished subject matter experts.
Tell us about your current role in IG?
We're currently working on a new platform that will enable business leaders and business developers to identify hidden, new sources of revenue from their own data and - more importantly - what's available to them in other places, such as publicly available data streams and data available to them through their supply chain. This platform will facilitate unprecedented data transparency and collaboration and provide a holistic view of risk and value scoring of enterprise data assets at scale in near real-time. Among other perspectives, it requires an IG-type approach that considers the business needs of all data users, coupled to accelerate digital transformation.
What pressures are organizations facing to ensure IG best practices?
In addition to data volume problems, organizations have massive data quality problems; in particular, obtaining data that is accurate, trustworthy, and timely seems to be getting more complex instead of more straightforward. Organizations continue to needlessly stockpile data without understanding its meaning, context, value, risk, and level of trust, hoping that "someday it will be valuable." Would you purposely fill up your pantry with old, half-eaten food that is past its shelf life? Of course not, but that is what organizations are doing with their data. The tragedy is that identifying and getting access to clean and reliable data is exacerbated by poor data management and information governance practices coupled with the more hands-off approach of data in the cloud and places other than in their directly controlled systems. Unfortunately, this is nothing new; however, this problem extends far beyond a particular organization's data swamps to the sum of all data they may rely on, regardless of where it resides. For example, if the organization makes growth decisions based on outdated information, they create unnecessary expenditures, leading to wasteful, misdirected investment and opportunity costs.
What are the biggest developments you have seen in the IG?
Current IG and data management innovations are being propelled by the realization that value-driven insights require curated data assets from the data supply chain at scale. If organizations want to stay competitive, they must act quickly to level up their data management, IG, and digital transformation capabilities or risk becoming irrelevant.
How have you adapted your career and/or since COVID-19?
Our firm is a work-from-anywhere organization. We've built it from the ground up during Covid (founded in September 2020!) to cultivate, appreciate, and reward individuals regardless of their location and role.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I'm a certified PADI scuba diver and have dived off the coast of Florida and Mexico. Although I can't wait to go scuba diving again, given the challenges with international travel, and sharing equipment during Covid, I've decided to learn how to fly planes. It's a skill set that is computer simulation-friendly, so I can do it from home and "virtually" see new places and can help obtain a pilot's license in the future.
Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting your career now?
I'd be conscious of mentoring more people, and especially many more women, to drive more diversity in our industry. I'd want to have 3-5 years in a role as a data scientist and, separately, 3-5 years as a data engineer. There is nothing like working in a particular role to glean the necessary experiences and insights to have an in-depth understanding! I have deep appreciation and admiration for those skill sets, amongst many others.
9. Do you have any tips for someone starting in IG?
Focus on one discipline at a time and immerse yourself fully in it. Listen to the experts. Build an extensive checklist for yourself that summarizes everything you've learned. Do this five times over five years with five IG fields. This approach will significantly expand your vision and breadth of knowledge. Try to find a single employer that will give you such freedom (Citigroup was very kind to me – every two to three years, I changed roles but remained at the same company). Listen more than you speak. There is almost always something to learn from everyone around you. Always try to be kind and patient with folks, and they will be happy to teach you continually. Pay forward the kindness and mentorship you receive.
With the rapidly evolving technologies and digital disruption, where do you see IG heading in the next few years?
IG must evolve beyond a risk-focused lens to stay relevant and shift to become a value-driven field that completely integrates risk but doesn't lead with it. IG may be assimilated into new digital transformation strategies that keep the individual human at the forefront of command and control, not the AI, and that truly minimizes the overcollection and retention of worthless data. IG practices need to counter the pure profit-driven handover of our futures to such AI.
Why is it essential to be a member of InfoGovANZ?
I find InfoGovANZ to be one of the best forums to become focused and knowledgeable about leading practices and collaborate on how to best approach global information governance innovation. It's also a great forum to learn from IG experts and insights spanning many industries and roles.