As organizations continue to look at data as an enterprise asset, the need to  put formal structure, policies, processes and people in place to protect and properly manage data assets becomes critical. One unique aspect of a data governance program is that it not only needs to be understood by those directly affected, but by the entire organization. This seems like an apparent statement, but there are a lot of pieces --  in addition to the data itself -- that need to be in place for a data governance program to be successful. 

Formal Structure

A successful data governance program has a number of characteristics. One of the most important is that the program must be strongly endorsed and supported by senior executives, which will encourage enterprise-wide commitment to the program. With leadership buy-in, an investment can be agreed upon for monetary, technology and staff resources. The organization must also have a clear understanding of the direction of the data governance program into the future. 

It is important to have a strong decision-making body in place that is empowered and accountable for the activities within the data governance organization. Decision rights and accountabilities should be assigned at multiple levels across an organization. This could consist of a data governance council, data governance program office and a stewardship community to facilitate the management of people, processes and tools for the administration of a data governance program that emphasizes transparency, reporting, presentation of metadata and accountability. These levels could look like a “house” representing different areas of oversight across the organization, as shown in Figure 1.

A data governance council can be a cross-functional, executive-level group, representing all business and technical stakeholders that prioritize initiatives, align resources, make policy decisions and define the data management strategy for the organization.

The data governance office is a team dedicated to defining, deploying and managing the program. The office can be considered the working infrastructure and administrative arm of the program.

Information owners fill a crucial role, having the ultimate accountability for a particular type or class of information. The stewardship community is granted decision rights and accountabilities for applications, data domains and analytic solutions.

When an organization establishes its data governance program and the different tiers or levels of responsibility, this does not mean that other important “players” in the organization are not heard. Interviewing a number of experienced individuals across different roles regarding their views on data governance can give a unique perspective on the direction and possible initiatives where value can be added to your organization. You may find that there are similar, smaller initiatives occurring that can be leveraged.

When addressing initiatives or projects through the data governance program, it can also be beneficial to establish workgroups that include the stewardship community as well as subject matter experts, operational/ business colleagues and IT. The purpose for establishing these workgroups is to gather appropriate individuals that can guide, inform or provide feedback regarding systems, data, policies, regulations, etc. to help achieve your goals. Creating a partnership where the business drives decisions and IT acts as an enabler is instrumental in having a successful program.

Communication

An effective data governance program that promotes participation throughout the organization can be attributed to a well-thought out and continuous communication plan. It is very important to engage the business early and often. These are the people entrusted with data decisions, and they need to be on board quickly to support your initiatives. Channels of communication can vary, and each can have its own unique niche in the communication process (e.g., social media, an Intranet site, SharePoint, group work sessions, email, newsletters, etc.).  Coordinating group “launch” sessions  with each member of your stewardship community that outline the roles, responsibilities and benefits of the program can have a positive impact in getting everyone to believe in your objectives. The overall goal of communication, as it relates to a data governance program, is to keep everyone up to date on projects/ initiatives and to keep everyone engaged.

As important as it is for successful internal communication to keep your program prospering on the inside, external communication can be important as well. Sharing your journey and efforts toward accomplishing the goals of your data governance program will reflect well on your organization and can provide guidance to other organizations starting a data governance program. Numerous benefits and strong relationships can be obtained by joining organizations, attending webinars, and networking with others involved in successful data governance programs.

Policies and Documentation

Having formal policies and/ or standards in place that support the efforts of your data governance program is paramount for ensuring that the enterprise data assets are protected. Also, establishing formal policies around your data governance program can provide guidance for those directly impacted by your program, hold individuals or parties accountable where accountability may not have existed in the past, and it lets the entire organization know that this program and its initiatives are serious and committed to adding value to the organization. It is important to have policy buy-in and feedback from executive leadership, the council and the stewardship community prior to formally approving any policy. 

Once a policy or policies are created, it is important to not only maintain the policy, but it is also vital to measure policy compliance. It can be easy to write a policy, but the policy is useless if it is not being adhered to.  A policy should be crafted in a way that includes items that can be easily measured. If an internal audit function exists in your organization, it can play a key role in helping to measure compliance.

The following are examples of policies that govern the creation, collection, storage, movement and consumption of enterprise data assets:

  • Information ownership roles and responsibilities
  • Data retention
  • Data release
  • Documentation and metadata

As a former Information Technology Auditor, it is no secret that we love documentation -- the more the better. Taking the time to document processes, strategies and the overall mission or objectives of your data governance program is critical; however, documenting processes and business decisions that are taking place across your organization is just as important. This is especially true in the early stages of a data governance program. Tracking and understanding the needs of the business and what keeps executives up at night will allow you to engage leaders in listening to the program’s initiatives and how it can benefit them.
When your program starts to take shape and grow, most likely this will create some level of change across your organization as far as how people understand, manage and use data. It is at this point that maintaining documentation of these changes, noting “how” and “why” they were made, are very important in case questions are asked later.

Measuring Success

When undertaking a large corporate initiative, such as data governance, the ability to measure the success of the program against best practices from similar organizations can help to validate and highlight the importance of your efforts. Establishing the current level of data governance maturity is a critical first step in developing a specific plan that is appropriate and achievable.

There are numerous ways to help measure the success of your program: free online maturity assessment tools, reaching out to similar organizations for best practices and lessons learned, networking through professional organizations or vendors. A maturity assessment could benefit your program in a number of ways, including the following outcomes:

  • Identify new initiatives or additional activities.
  • An annual assessment will show the progress of your program.
  • Validate and highlight the efforts of your program.
  • Gain valuable relationships with different organizations that are trying to accomplish similar goals.
  • Establish best practices.

Key Takeaways

Organizations today face many challenges and critical decisions when starting a data governance program, and there is no one method or strategy to follow. An organization should, however, have a clear, supported and flexible plan that can be put in place so reasonable progress can be made in a timely manner. Having the following key pieces in place as a foundation of your program will make things easier once you actually start to gather, analyze and govern data:

  • Form executive support structure early on.
  • Educate and engage business leaders, information owners, and stewards early and often.
  • The business should own the data decisions and IT should enable.
  • Communicate early and often to maintain momentum.
  • Put metrics in place to measure the success of your program.

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