In the past, we’ve looked at serious attention to data governance as a sign of data management maturity and success. And since it was on center stage with so much prioritized attention at our just-completed MDM & Data Governance Summit in New York, I have to ask the question:

Why isn’t data governance treated and budgeted as a cost of doing business?

In the past we’ve had to speak at length to counter IT holdouts dismissive of data governance as bureaucratic or a needless addendum to the topic of data management. “Why not just call it data management?” is a riposte I still hear occasionally from hardened data managers.

Back then, Rob Karel, who was still with Forrester Research at the time, generated one of the better quotes I’ve collected: “If you’re going to call governance data management, you might as well call it a blueberry muffin,” Rob said, because the two are plainly not the same thing.

And, it can be a large load. According to one of our experts at our show, on average it can take 30 percent of a day to support governance alongside your “regular job.”

Maybe because of this, I still hear grumbling over governance - but less than a couple of years ago. What I saw at our excellent and sold out MDM show (major kudos to conference chairman Aaron Zornes and our events team) was that the topic has the devoted attention of a lot of people to the point it has almost stolen the lead from MDM, data integration and related fields that plainly have whole series of line items in budgets.

I know this because I moderated the fully attended data governance track where a lot of familiar faces and even more new ones had been charged with making sure that the information they delivered was not only useful but especially valuable for its usefulness.

So why isn’t data governance given a line item like we have for data warehouses or hardware or security? Why does it fall to individuals as an added or unfunded task?

I have a few thoughts and I am sure you have your own. First, the people who necessarily maintain subject matter data expertise are the same people most likely to be charged as data stewards; one skill naturally supports the other.

Second, many or most organizations find themselves backing into data governance long after they’ve tackled data management. (Good ones like Walgreens now bake governance into early stages of every new major project.)

Next, governance is realized as a problem first in IT, even though it is or ought to be a business issue. The challenges of data quality and timeliness usually appear where studied and invalidated at a macro level in the department that issues it.

Michele Goetz, the Forrester Research analyst for data governance, also had a keynote at our conference and offered this explanation: “It [governance] starts in IT because IT is looking for a way to build better relationships with the business and the business sees it as IT saying how they need to do their job to work with IT. They see an IT benefit and not as a business benefit. It has to originate with the business coming to IT and saying ‘here’s how we have to work together.’”

Also, since companies are backing into data governance and have found a sponsor to enforce it, the rest of the heavy lifting has to fall to someone, supposedly everyone, hence no one. There’s no graduate degree in data governance, no two organizational challenges are quite alike and no technology merely automates governance in the way we automate transactions of data.

Yet it is getting done because – like a cost of business – it has to. Throughout two days of presentations I noticed that you can almost profile the people who make data governance happen; there’s a certain organizing and positive mindset; you don’t see grumpy old men making it happen. Speakers like Peg Farthing from BMI and Anwar Mirza from TNT Express brought a familiar infectious enthusiasm.  You really hope their companies understand how important they are.

In a long last-day closing session Tuesday afternoon in Times Square, well more than half still remained in my track to ask more fundamental questions. The speaker was Anne Marie Smith, the irrepressible consultant and advocate of all things governance. “Where can we learn more?” was a repeated question. Surprisingly few had even heard of DAMA or the DMBOK body of knowledge that contains so much of what they are looking for.

And on their behalf, Anne Marie said she’d only seen one organizational instance where governance had been budgeted in an organization and she didn’t really have a better answer to why this is the case.

Anne Marie, by the way, was the person who said that on average and across industries, a subject matter expert might devote about 30 percent of his or her time toward governance. That’s a lot of time you wouldn’t accept off the books for any other reason. You wouldn’t have authors also stacking their books in the warehouse without paying for it.

Governance isn’t the same kind of undocumented business productivity enabler like email or collaboration is; it’s hard tedious work that takes ongoing attention.  

What do you think? Is governance real enough to put it on the record?

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