Why you need data governance
In this blog I’m going to look at why you really should do data governance. When I tell people what I do, I get a mixed response. Some people seem genuinely surprised that everyone isn’t already doing data governance, and an awful lot of people ask why would you need that?
Now I’m biased, as I believe that every organization would benefit from implementing data governance. It may not solve all problems, but it really does provide a framework which can be used to proactively manage your data.
A few years ago the main driver of data governance initiatives was regulatory compliance and while that is definitely still a factor, there is a move towards companies embracing data governance for the business value which it can enable. For example if your organization is starting a digital transformation or wants to become “data driven,” you are not going to be successful if your data is currently not well understood, managed and is of poor quality.
As you can see, it lists all the data management disciplines around the outside of the wheel. There in the middle, at the heart of it all, is data governance. Now it didn’t just get put in the middle because there were no more spaces on the outside of the wheel – it’s there for a reason. Data governance provides the foundation for all other data management disciplines.
Let’s look at a few of these disciplines to illustrate the point:
Without data governance all data quality efforts tend to be tactical at best. This means a company will be constantly cleaning or fixing data, perhaps adding default values when a key field has been left blank. With data governance in place, you will have processes, roles, and responsibilities to ensure that the root causes of poor data quality are identified and fixed so that data cleansing is not necessary on an on-going basis.
Reference and master data
Anyone who has been involved in any master data projects will have no doubt heard or read numerous dire warnings about the dangers of attempting these without having data governance in place. While I am not a fan of wholesale scaremongering to get people to embrace data governance, these warnings are genuine.
For master data projects to be successful, you need data owners identified and definitions of all the fields involved drafted and agreed, as well as processes for how suspect matches will be dealt with. Without these things (which of course data governance provides) you are likely to be faced with a mess of under, over or mismatching!
Of course data security is primarily an IT managed area, but it makes things a lot easier to manage consistently if there are agreed data owners in place to make decisions on who should and should not have access to a given set of data.
I hope you agree that these examples and explanations make sense, but don’t forget that is theory; and explaining this in data management terms to your senior stakeholders in order to get agreement to start a data governance initiative is unlikely to be successful. Instead, you are going to need to explain it in terms of the benefits it will bring.
The primary reason to do data governance is to improve the quality of data. So the benefits of data governance are those things that will improve, if the quality of your data improves. This can cover a whole myriad of areas including the following:
Have a look around your company. How many “work-arounds” exist because of issues with data? What costs could be reduced if all the manual cleansing and fixing of data were reduced or even eliminated?
We have to assume that the senior management in your organization intends to make the best decisions. But what happens if they make those decisions based on reports that contain poor quality data? Better quality data leads to more accurate reporting.
Very few organizations operate in an industry that does not have to comply with some regulation, and many regulations now require that you manage your data better. Indeed, GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) impacts everyone who holds data on EU Citizens (customers and employees), and having a solid data governance framework in place will enable you to manage your data better and meet regulatory requirements.
So, at this point you are probably thinking, “isn’t it just a generic best practice thing that everyone ought to do?” And the answer is, yes – I do believe that every organization could benefit from having a data governance framework that is appropriate for its needs.
What happens if you don't have data governance?
Well I’ll leave that to you have a look around you and decide what the likely consequences for your company could be, but it is usually the opposite of the benefits that can be achieved.
Remember data is used for dealing with your customers, making decisions, generating reports, understanding revenue and expenditures. Everyone from the customer service team to your senior executive team use data and rely on it being good enough to use.
Data governance provides the foundation so that everything else can work. This will include obvious “data” activities like master data management, business intelligence, big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. But don’t get stuck thinking only in terms of data. Lots of processes in your organization can go wrong if the data is wrong, leading to customer complaints, damaged stock, and halted production lines. Don’t limit your thinking to only data activities.
If your organization is using data (and to be honest, which companies aren’t?) you need data governance. Some people may not believe that data governance is sexy, but it is important for everyone. It need not (in fact it should not) be an overly complex burden that adds controls and obstacles to getting things done. Data governance should be a practical thing, designed to proactively manage the data that is important to your organization.
Just one final word of advice: I hope that this article has convinced you that your organization needs to embrace data governance; but if that is the case, please don’t just spout the generic benefits and examples I have shared here in your efforts to gain stakeholder buy in. It is very important to spend time working out the specific reasons your company should be doing data governance.
You can find more advice on that and how to engage your senior stakeholders here.
(This post originally appeared on Nicola Askham's blog, which can be viewed here).