I’m always interested in how current concepts and trends tend to define themselves among more mature concepts, often sacrificing shared goals and methods on the altar of differentiation. Rather than drawing parallels as a means of accelerating understanding and adoption of the newer concept, it seems as if comparative analysis to tried and true concepts is an undesired crutch until the newer concept is vetted and accepted within the industry of its own right.

Such is the case with the newer concept of data governance and established principles and methods of business process management (BPM). We are left to break down the terminology to the core concepts and figure out what in fact is complementary versus unique. Considering the definitions of each is a good starting point:

BPM: A method of efficiently aligning an organization with the needs of its customers, often using technology to help create flexible, integrated and continuously improving processes. It is often idealized as the bridge between the business functions and IT systems, striving to bring the power of IT to the users.

Data governance: The specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the authoring, storage, enrichment, publishing, consumption and maintenance of master data.1

There has been much buzz around data governance recently, but many people have difficulty envisioning what it means to their business organization. Can leveraging some more mature concepts and methods help to create a breakthrough?

Despite all that has been written, printed, presented and theorized regarding data governance, it is still a concept best understood after its implementation. Like many other concepts, its definition is somewhat relative from one environment to another, and there are plenty of opinions trying to convince you that you’re doing it wrong. This doesn’t promote a lot of confidence in the intrepid data governance sponsor trying to win support from his or her peers.

Four basic challenges have dominated my experience with data governance projects:

  • Inability to envision the data governance processes and how they fit into the existing business processes and organization,
  • Uncertainty regarding the amount of change and impact to existing personnel roles and responsibilities,
  • Governing a data governance design that is dependent upon human and system processes that span technology and business functional silos, managed by good intention, and
  • Inability to consistently and accurately measure the process metrics as proof of payback.

These challenges can be addressed conceptually with data governance program stakeholders as the business case is built, but this selling process requires a lot of time from the sponsor group as well as flexible imaginations from the stakeholder audience to envision the solutions. Time and changing interactions with needed stakeholders are the enemy of any fledgling data governance initiative. There must be a more effective way to show data governance in action and address the four key challenges quickly and in unison to compel stakeholders to share the vision, understand what’s to be invested and gained, and get on board.
This could be an opportunity for horizontal expansion of functionality by some key application vendors of data governance and stewardship functionality. However, it seems that the data governance application vendor space is presently busy expanding depth of dimensionality more so than expanding horizontally, with regards to cross-functional and cross-technology integration. Those that are application-centric are rather process-myopic toward only the stewardship processes needed within their domain, while those that favor the mind-set of a data governance and integration toolkit don’t provide enough out of the box to address the four key challenges effectively.

The key may be to look at your BPM solution. Chances are your company already has one. Working on a project with several colleagues, I realized that a quick review of the functions and features that BPM solutions offer read like a checklist of the common challenges facing data governance:

  • Process visualization features to understand flow, roles, systems interactions, decision points, business rules and remediation steps.
  • “You-are-here” process context for users unfamiliar with the systems used for enterprise data quality, standardization and storage, with ability to see into process events without having technical user skills.
  • Scenario modeling to predict system and human workload as well as points of process constraint.
  • Data governance process automation, workflow and exception alerting across a heterogeneous systems and functional data governance landscape.
  • Ability to measure and process key performance indicators (KPIs).

Figure 1 illustrates a simple example of a standard data matching and review process, one of many possible flows within the scope of an enterprise data governance program. As you can see from this process example, a number of actors are involved, spanning multiple systems. Even in this simple example, you can see the relative complexity of system behaviors, human-to-system commands, and human-to-human interactions and responses. It is within this landscape that the following challenges may occur:

  • The function and scope of applications are often misunderstood,
  • Process lifecycle context is lost and performance measurement is very compartmentalized, if it exists at all and
  • Business rules configured in systems are invisible to interested parties and therefore no longer understood.

I see compelling value in creating a portal to provide context to different data governance processes and subprocesses as well as simulating systems and human performance thresholds while concurrently enabling a capabilty for habit automation and measurement.
So what’s holding you back? Well, the issue is commonly one of content. The BPM suite contains all the functionality needed once the process content is there. However, BPM vendors aren’t in the process of defining enterprise data governance process content for their solutions. Also, there are no accepted industry models from which to work backward. Until the data governance space matures and more industry standard process material is available, the choices are to build the content yourself as a preliminary program discovery exercise or engage a data governance specialist who can provide a solid nucleus of processes to kick-start your program.

What if you don’t already have a BPM solution? My experience tells me that this may actually be two opportunities rolled into one. An internal opportunity exists in that there are likely other peers in your company who have sized up BPM suites for their own purposes in the past but simply couldn’t define the breadth of value proposition to get the commitment from the corner office. Data governance use may be the chance to revitalize that enterprise value assessment. You may also find data governance specialists that have brokered agreements with vendors as a means of bringing a total solution to the market, minus the up-front site license fees.

An external opportunity exists for the BPM vendors. Enterprise data governance applications may be the targeted value proposition that will thaw accounts previously frozen from consideration. Further, it may deepen the relevance of the BPM solution in accounts where maintenance is waning due to the solution having been married to a mature program initiative.

Often it seems that calculation of the opportunity for failure precedes calculation of the opportunity for early adoption of a new concept. Leveraging proven technology enablers in your pursuit of more effective enterprise data governance will accelerate your program and increase its support and effectiveness. I await the expansion of data governance process management ability across the vendor landscape.

Reference:

  1. “Data Governance Strategic Panel.” Gartner Group, September 2007.

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