For a long time we've felt it’s a bad approach to segregate many of the practice areas of data and process and shuffle people off to different meetings and conferences that way. You know its true when the folks at the data and process shows are saying pretty much the same things. Sure, endeavors like security and master data call for close and undivided attention most of the time, but not to the extent that we can’t create and apply common policies and practices to multiple domains and the capital “E” enterprise.  

There is too much overlap in what information managers do to ignore this opportunity, even though we usually and still look at enterprise information management (EIM) as a series of related undertakings and not a mature or unified whole in most organizations.

Data governance is one place where EIM takes shape and lights up, and I got a real sense of this in multiple sessions at the very good Enterprise Data World 2012 conference in Atlanta last week. What I took away was that horizontal disciplines, especially data governance and business process management, can connect the dots of enterprise information management in ways that make its parts more real.

In one example, Mike Jennings and Janet Lichtenberger from the drugstore chain Walgreens made an excellent case for proactive and invested data governance you’ll hear more about soon. But to the point, they reflected how governance can illuminate the enterprise view even if dedicated EIM is mostly still on the drawing board.

At Walgreens, the enterprise architecture office is where data governance reports and any new tier 1 or 2 program at the company needs enterprise architecture and data governance approval to move forward. “We want to embed enterprise architecture and data governance in the software development lifecycle process at Walgreens, Jennings says.

Across EIM disciplines like unstructured data or data quality or metadata that are applied locally, standards are created at the architecture level that can be adjusted across the enterprise. 

The architecture team isn’t trying to govern the world and is smart enough not to be drawn into that. They don’t go after existing big platforms or demand adherence from the small ones. They make sure new opportunities that matter get into the governance office where architecture holds sway.

On the mid level data governance committee advisors from IT security, legal, policy and compliance and risk management help to guide in areas EA is not expert in.

There is more to the story, but the point here is that policies, standards and processes don’t need reinvention (by definition actually) for every undertaking. “Where standards already exist we could use them and move forward in an enterprise mindset,” Jennings said.

Different organizations might follow a deployment based more on process or data by degrees, and separately do both at the same time. Only now are we seeing more use of the enterprise approach in those architectures, and in the process we are making the components of EIM more real.

In another session Sheila Jeffries from Bank of America took an EIM approach to the same conclusion, saying that a benefit of EIM is its value in developing processes for governance. This is where the discipline will thrive she feels, in an approach that facilitates cross-organizational collaboration. Right now, Jeffries says, “data governance is probably the most unifying process that enterprise information management does.”

And we know governance is hard and takes evangelists like Jeffries, Lichtenberger and Jeffries to bake it into the shared managerial mindset as much as processes for finance or HR. We’re knocking on the door. “EIM organizations are the precursors of this state,” Jeffries feels. “Hence, the challenges and rewards of the work.”