I've had some bad luck around the timing of our MDM conferences this year. In August I wound up in the hospital and missed our San Francisco show. Last week I felt the flu coming on two days before our New York conference, hunkered down to sleep for 48 hours and recovered sufficiently to get there (while refusing to shake hands and keeping my distance from attendees).

I was glad I made it since the show was all about the convergence of data governance and master data management, enough by itself to make me feel at least a little bit better. Tackling governance is a sign of maturity in an industry, and really, the codification of policy and data quality into something real and ongoing. Tough as it can be, there's a palpable understanding now that governance is unavoidable business and it's almost a relief to people once they get off the fence and start working together.

Governance also reminds me of the flu. You see it going around, you're fearful you might get it, but you definitely know once you're coming down with it, which changes your whole frame of mind. You don't know how long it will last and you hope it doesn't turn into an extended ordeal. Once you start to come out of it, you figure you're immune from getting sick again for a while, but you wash your hands a lot and pay attention to taking your vitamins every day.

It sure seemed like more attendees at our conference were on a governance regimen before they ever took in a single admonition from our speakers. Besides working the tracks and panels, I always compare notes with our conference chairman Aaron Zornes of the MDM Institute, and he seemed to feel the same way.

"When you're talking about making multiple parts of a group to work together, that's how you make policy," Zornes told me. "Getting people to agree on what a customer is, what will be the trusted source of the customer view, how we will share that data and with whom are all political constructs that sound simple but are pretty huge."

I think this means more and more of us can defend data governance as a sign of organizational maturity we want and need to be a part of. It's simply becoming a less attractive place to resist progress on a partisan basis, and those who continue to do so will be marginalized going forward.

If that's correct, it's time for vendors to step up and deliver the proactive governance tools that will help us end our habit of treating data quality as a problem only after things have gone wrong. This is about getting ahead of the game with business rules and form-based entry that fends off a number of problems that have to be dealt with later.

To Zornes, it's about planning for use cases, for who can see what data kinds of data and the boundaries around its value. It's about workflow, Web forms, decision rights and voting to come up with the who, how and what of data governance. With that in place, companies can let a MDM hub enforce those rules against a customer or product or other view.

Proactive upstream data governance is the ideal that doesn't exist in the software today Zornes says. "Instead, organizations are reduced to pencil and paper to create that and manually enter it into the hub software. That's wrong, and the next generation of software is still around the corner. If you want active integrated data governance today, you will end up paying a SI or consultancy to build that for you."

In the meantime, he says, organizations can take advantage of wiki-type databases to build consensus and honestly grapple with the idea of decision rights as something that can be formally agreed upon. "Once you walk your way through what a customer is, you might even let the customer look at their own data. It would be a great thing if the customer could take care of their own data and tell you the right restrictions as to when their name or address changes or other final information about them like their phone number. Allowing the customer to go online and change that stuff sounds basic but it's powerful stuff."

I'd have to agree, and while MDM and data quality vendors are properly focused on collaborative tools that will allow business and IT to look synchronously at project data -- instead of throwing it over the wall for weeks at a time -- this is one case where governance can make strides on consensus alone.

Also be sure to check out Robert Abate's review of the show and how he plants governance squarely in the context of enterprise information management.