Carol Newcomb, consultant with Baseline Consulting

How is data governance emerging specifically in health care?

It's happening because challenges are emerging from all angles. The sheer amount of data available from existing and emerging specialized applications keeps increasing for both the clinical and administrative sides of the organization. You have all these scientific and technological developments coming in, and now, an overriding need to share information between providers, regulators and insurer networks. It has put data management issues high on the radar of health care executives.

It seems there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid in transforming and integrating information.

Yes, I'd say the tactical problem of integration is really at the forefront of people's minds. My lab system doesn't talk to my pharmacy system or my admissions office. I can't tell you if someone who was admitted for a heart attack was administered drugs at the right time. It's hard for people to tell that simple story. As hard as you are trying to integrate platforms, without overarching governance to make those disparate platforms work together, integration will fail. You can integrate pharmacy and lab, but it doesn't mean they are really speaking the same language.

How do you make a business case for data governance?

I think the business case has become self-evident, but you also want to remember that governance isn't that mature anywhere in business and we've seen that it is hard to sustain even after you get it off the ground. I don't think the problem in health care or anywhere else is so much about toolsets as it is about politics. Most people don't want to talk about data ownership or invest time in governance; they 're saying, "just give me the data I want." But given the tight payer environment for cost control and increased competitive pressure to demonstrate quality while also maintaining privacy, the need for data governance in health care organizations has become acute.

How do health care organizations begin to implement data governance?

You begin with executive-level commitment that says initiating a data governance program will support multiple strategic objectives. You look at it as a long-term investment and a strategic activity in which gaining control of data integrity becomes a fundamental enterprise asset. Then you roll it out by identifying a relatively small, well-defined project that has limited scope and real data. You identify key business users of the data, subject matter experts in both business and IT, and at least one strong executive sponsor.

How do you leverage this structure to start improving the use of data?

You establish goals for the data governance program and initial key performance indicators that the project will be judged by. You assess current data policies and practices and the desired future state. You share the results of this assessment with members of the governance team and draft a structure for a business advisory group, which will set standards and policies, and a data governance committee, which will include high-level decision-makers and be accountable for enforcing enterprise policies and change management. Other steps deal with resolving issues, communication and eventually the creation of a data model that reflects relationships between data entities and allows for new projects as the program grows.

It sounds like a huge time and change management commitment.

Yes, and there's really no way to dumb this down and imagine you're going to end up with data governance. You need to acknowledge that these activities are new to the enterprise, and will usually require additional work and training for committee members and staff. But once you see the scope of the problem, there's really no turning back.