About the Author
Nicola Askham, also known as "The Data Governance Coach," has spent over a decade helping global organizations successfully implement data governance initiatives. In addition to coaching and consulting, she leads training courses to help people utilize data for solving problems and improving decision-making.
Data governance initiatives are often led by IT departments, which makes them more about tools and less about building trust and collaboration. To truly succeed at data governance, it is important to involve business users and focus on improving the way data is captured, handled, and used in the organization.
A good data governance strategy should benefit all users of your organization’s data—not just those with technical responsibility for it. Recent years have seen the increasing importance of data as a strategic asset, as several companies have used it to unlock and create value. Increasingly, companies are turning to data governance programs as a foundational pillar of their data strategy (like data mesh) to improve their data sets’ quality, consistency, usability, and security.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought data governance to the forefront, whether it be from a security and privacy perspective or as an enabler to deliver greater value. Organizations are now increasingly dependent on data to adjust to changing circumstances and make informed decisions rapidly.2022 Data Governance Survey, Nephos Technologies
Even though the demand for better business efficiency and high-quality data analytics is giving data governance initiatives a larger spotlight, yet, in many companies, IT still drives data governance initiatives. If you work for a company that sees IT as the owner of the data, it may make sense to have IT lead your data governance initiative.
However, hiving off the responsibility of managing data governance to IT while backpedaling business users is a recipe for disaster. By doing this, you are removing the very people from the equation who need to consume data as flexibly and frictionlessly as possible.
IT departments are often evaluated based on inputs such as budget, uptime, and project timelines, rather than the impact they have on business outcomes. This can lead to a disconnect between the goals of IT and the needs of the business.
To better align these two groups and ensure that technology is contributing to business success, it’s important to prioritize data governance initiatives from the business side. That way, you can make sure everything from your systems to your data processes are working together to help your business succeed.
Think Beyond Regulatory Compliance
For many years, data governance initiatives were driven by a need to comply with regulatory requirements—something that IT possessed the responsibility for. In my time coaching organizations on data governance, I’ve seen many clients try to skimp on improving the usability, availability, and consistency of their data, focusing only on meeting the bare minimum requirements.
But let me tell you this: You can’t have a fancy feast with stale bread and wilted lettuce. Sure, you might technically be able to call it a feast, but it ain’t going to be a good one.
If you don’t put effort into making your data top-notch, you might technically meet the requirements, but you won’t get the full potential out of your data.
As businesses face growing uncertainty in the market and rely more on data to drive insights, they are beginning to recognize that properly managed data can be a valuable asset. When data is well managed, it has the potential to generate significant value, like becoming more competitive, cost-efficient, and agile.
Governing data today means ensuring that it is clean, consistent, and useful. This includes managing data quality, ensuring data security and compliance, and establishing clear roles and responsibilities for your data management.
A strong data governance initiative should not only ensure regulatory compliance but also proactively manage data in a way that supports the goals and objectives of your organization. Additionally, your data governance initiative should address ethical and social considerations such as privacy and confidentiality.
By taking a comprehensive approach to data governance, you can ensure that your data is used in a responsible and strategic way benefitting all.
Remember That Data Governance Initiative Is a Team Effort
One of the most important aspects of a successful data governance initiative is that it is owned by everyone within the organization. Not IT, not the business, but both.
Data governance is more than just about improving data quality; it’s about establishing a culture of trust and collaboration, creating a common language and shared understanding, and making sure that everyone is working toward the same goals.
Entrusting the IT department—one that is usually disconnected from the core business—with the decisions and activities of a data governance initiative won’t do any good to either the business or IT. If you plan to integrate your business users into your data governance initiative, keep in mind that they should be involved from day one.
Business users are typically best equipped to understand the specific data processes and the way the data is used within your organization. They are often responsible for ensuring that these processes are consistently followed across all departments or divisions. This puts them in a unique position to help drive the success of a data governance initiative.
It’s your business users who are leading digital transformation, benefiting from AI and ML models, and analyzing data to identify trends, patterns, and relationships to improve your business. But they can’t do it if IT holds the fort. They can’t do it without good data. And to have good data, you need to have your data governed by all for all.
The Business Driver for Data Governance Is Ownership and Trust
To cultivate trust in data, your business side of the organization must actively contribute and take ownership in the creation and upkeep of accurate and valuable data.
Taking ownership and creating trust is critical because it provides clarity, predictability, and confidence that your data consumers can trust your data systems and processes to obtain trustworthy results. Business users and executives can be sure that since they have guided the data governance initiative, they no longer have to worry about the question, “Can I trust this data?”
Without trust, your organization will have difficulty tracking down who did what, to which data, and when. This lack of transparency can be problematic for internal compliance as well as external regulatory compliance requirements like SOX/PCI DSS.
Incorporating business teams into your data governance initiative involves weaving organizational objectives, such as boosting revenue, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing employee productivity, into the fabric of your governance program.
It is critical that this process be transparent so that all stakeholders understand their roles within it—and how their actions impact others’ access to information about them or their organization’s performance measures over time. If it’s too complicated, your business teams will end up feeling like they’re being excluded from the decision-making process, which means that they won’t feel empowered by what they’re doing (or why).
Give Business Users a Voice in Determining Who Is Responsible for What
Your business users should also be involved in the creation of roles and responsibilities for data gatekeepers (like data governance owners, data owners, and data stewards) or data governance councils within your organization (like analytics). This will help you ensure that everyone understands how each group interacts with one another and that all standards are met across all departments.
Here, your executives have a crucial role to play—they should become the helmsmen of your data governance initiative. By engaging with your business stakeholders and asking them important questions, such as those below, they can help advance your data governance initiative effectively.
- What is the level of confidence in the quality of the data reported?
- In what ways can we classify our data and what part of it is critical to the success of our business?
- What is the competitiveness of our company in terms of business intelligence and data governance? Where can we improve?
- How easy is it for everyone to access the data they need to do their jobs?
- How can we make our data governance initiative a business-as-usual practice?
Asking these questions also serves as the foundation for business teams to identify and elect data gatekeepers and functional data representatives who would be willing to take on important roles in leading the data governance initiative.
With a well-planned strategy that assigns supportive roles and tracks progress with key metrics, you can lay the groundwork for success. By clearly linking responsible individuals with the data systems and processes they maintain, you’ll reap the rewards for your company in the long term.
Ensure Data Governance Is a Lasting Practice, Not Just a One-Time Task
Up to this point, you’ve checked all the boxes—you’ve strategized, collaborated with business users, appointed data gatekeepers and functional data representatives, assigned ownership, and strengthened trust in data.
Yet one final challenge remains: turning data governance into a sustainable, everyday practice.
This can be a tough challenge for many organizations because it’s easy to make the mistake of treating data governance implementation like any other project. Any data governance initiative can’t be boiled down to a simple list of tasks. Even with stakeholder support, you’ll be faced with the even bigger challenge of changing attitudes, behaviors, and even the culture toward data management.
The solution, therefore, lies in our ability to recognize that data governance is a continuous process, not a one-time project that leads to long-term success. The data landscape and regulatory requirements will keep evolving; the way data is generated, collected, processed, and stored will keep changing, and so will the ways to govern it.
To move forward, I suggest you focus on two key drivers of sustainable growth: communication and influence. Because new habits don’t become routines unless you start seeing some positive changes.
It’s important for business teams to show the benefits of data governance in their daily operations and for executives to see the impact firsthand. When your business teams start with small goals and work towards achieving them, they can build momentum and drive the change. Change can have a domino effect, and positive results can motivate teams to bring about more change. It becomes a self-reinforcing cycle of improvement.
In the end, this becomes a win-win-win situation! Business teams get the data they need to make informed decisions, IT teams spend less time firefighting, and the organization as a whole benefits from better data quality and improved outcomes.
Everyone comes out on top when data governance proves to be a success. So don’t wait—start prioritizing business-led data governance and watch your business thrive.