There's a column in the new issue of The Economist talking about nothing less than a "revolution" of corporate governance through transparency and accountability in American boardrooms.
"Club ties and long lunches [have] been swept aside" to make room for reformers, says the editorial. As proof, the magazine cites a Booz & Company survey that shows less than 12 percent of incoming CEOs were also made chairmen in 2009, compared to 48 percent in 2002.
That leaves a lot of entrenched chairmen/CEOs in place, but I'm not here to accuse anyone of impropriety. The point of interest is to acknowledge that one part of good governance is to segregate conflicted constituencies that would otherwise undermine the process. That would still sound smart had SarbOx never happened.
Like corporate governance, data governance works in proportion to how well we deliver what we profess to embrace. Data governance has earned a lot of serious attention and real commitment, but being relatively new turf for a lot of companies, it will also run up, silently or loudly, against conflicted constituencies. And yes, we will learn that different pockets of the business have vested interests that come at the expense of literal facts.
We can start with sales and operations managers who won't rush to see their performance lowered by standardized or otherwise reformed numbers. Like the banks singled out by The Economist as "odd creatures" that haven't been curbed by external monitoring, the performance compensated side of business is going to protect its interests, even as they are asked to set, own and manage parts of the data governance process.
Internal credit and risk departments -- just for starters -- are sure to interpret the meaning of governance differently. Figuring out how to have all these parties addressing policy, data definitions, ownership, rights and access at the table with a proper vote of influence is very tricky.
What is scary is the thought that some organizations actually will deliver viable and even comprehensive data governance policies that don't help performance in the end. The editorial points out that some banks that held up best during the financial crisis were no paragons of corporate governance, while some others with visibly outside directorship were among the biggest losers. It also mentions research that found no correlation of fiscal safety to governance except an inverse relationship between the number of independent directors and stock returns.
The authors of this study explained that this was because institutional owners had pushed for more risks that would lead to higher returns. I wouldn't bet that kind of lack of foresight or risk indifference would fare well against the mundane but effective checks and balances in brick-and-mortar world. But you can stop to identify where the interests of these constituencies lie and then consider what role they play in data governance. It's good reason to look after policies and metrics that neither allow aggressive goals to subvert governance nor unfairly undercut the performance of core functions of the business.
If you have heard of a framework or set of policies for data governance that considers the politics of performance rewards and risk -- or any observation -- feel free to share it here.