I just read a great blog post by Marty Moseley discussing the results of a data governance survey he and his team recently fielded. The feedback he collected matches recent data governance-related surveys and interviews I've done with my clients at Forrester - the general consensus being that most data governance programs - if they exist at all - remain extremely immature and fraught with risks. The most common roadblocks range from minimal to no executive sponsorship (as Marty also noted), IT-driven efforts with limited to no business participation, lack of business justification and the ever-present likelihood of "de-prioritization" when a more compelling initiative or fire drill comes along.

But there is a silver lining here. As I shared with the survey results in my Oct 2009 research "Trends 2009: Master Data Management," while only 4 percent of my 113 survey respondents felt they had a very high level of data governance maturity (represented by a cross-enterprise, cross-functional data governance organization spanning both business and IT roles with top-down executive sponsorship and measurable value-add), the vast majority of these organizations also recognized "trusted data technologies" like data quality and MDM as critical path to their organization's success. Most organizations admit there remain a number of inhibitors (mostly political, prioritization and ROI calculation-related) that make it difficult to support large investments in these technologies. But most also believe that data governance is the right approach to bridging this driver/inhibitor gap and are investing more time and resources to figure out how to operational data governance processes within their own organizational context and culture.

In my interactions with Forrester client, I get the sense that data governance is receiving the most senior management-level attention today than I've seen throughout my 18+ year data management career. One of the biggest turning points has been the growing recognition that data governance is not – and should never have been – about the data. High quality and trustworthy data sitting in some repository somewhere does not in fact increase revenue, reduce risk, improve operational efficiencies or strategically differentiate any organization from its competitors. It’s only when this trusted data can be delivered and consumed within the most critical business processes and decisions that run your business that these business outcomes can become reality. So what is data governance all about? It’s all about business process, of course.

My Forrester colleague Clay Richardson (who covers Business Process Management technologies and best practices) and I have been collaborating on a concept we call Process Data Management which recognizes that effective data management requires a focus on business processes – and vice versa. We kicked off our discussion on this topic in our research “Warning: Don’t Assume Your Business Processes Use Master Data” and will be publishing another piece later this quarter called “Align Process And Data Governance To Deliver Effective Process Data Management” which will focus on the need for data and process governance efforts to be more aligned to deliver real business value from either. Later this year I’ll also be publishing an update to my annual MDM trends piece “Trends 2010: Master Data Management” which will include new survey results reviewing data governance and MDM maturity.

I'm optimistic that we might finally see some real momentum building for data governance to be embraced as a legitimate competency within many large organizations – especially with a focus on business processes to help evangelize and secure business sponsorship. It will likely be a number of years before best practices outnumber worst practices, but any momentum in data governance adoption is good momentum!

Rob also blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/rob_karel/.