Data Governance: How to Get Started

What You Need to Know Before You Begin a Data Governance Program

Nam TranJune 13, 2018

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British mathematician Clive Humby was the first to coin the phrase, “Data is the new oil.”  This quote is oft repeated for good reason – data can be an organization’s most valued resource, but it only gains that value after it is refined for use.  A key technique for that data refinement is data governance, yet companies often delay data governance initiatives due to competing priorities, lack of budget, or challenges in obtaining executive buy-in.  However, there is a growing recognition that data governance is a critical piece of an enterprise data strategy.  The question organizations are now asking is not why they need data governance, but how to get started.

In the second part of this three-blog series, we tackled why businesses cannot afford to postpone data governance.  This blog post will address practical steps for launching a data governance program, including tips to ensure success.  This blog post assumes that the reader (or their organization) has created a business case to secure sponsorship, funding, and resources to at least initiate a pilot program – perhaps even a fully formalized program.  If your organization is still in the discussion phase, come back in the near future for a blog on how to create a business case for data governance. Or start by reading the first blog in this series about the right time to start.

Dipping a Toe 

Just as each business is unique, so is each data governance program.  Once your organization has established leadership support and funding, the next step is to define a data governance methodology and select the tools needed to support the initiative.

An effective data governance methodology must be repeatable and must include drivers that benefit both the IT and business teams.  Seeing the value that data governance can bring to their day-to-day processes will motivate members of the joint team to participate and collaborate.

The methodology you employ depends on your business priorities.  Do you need improved data quality to make better business decisions?  Is a business glossary your most pressing need to increase enterprise-wide understanding of the data?  Do you have a hard time tracking data issues and their status?  Is there an urgent need to document lineage to create transparency? The answer may be yes to all of the above, but recognize that while all these goals are achievable, some will take more time than others.  Whatever the critical objectives, it’s important to take a value-based approach to build support and foster collaboration within the team to ensure your data governance approach is successful and sustainable. 

Bridging the Divide 

Data governance requires the business and IT to bridge a classic organizational divide.  Building a culture of collaboration can be a challenge.  Two approaches must work in parallel for IT, data owners, stakeholders, and consumers for all data to come together:  the directive and the value.

  • The directive refers to an executive leadership mandate that teams work together and produce specific deliverable(s) by a specific date. In some cases, tying the progress of the data governance program to team member performance reviews is a necessary motivator.
  • The value is more personal and speaks to benefits of data governance. In this approach, people are driven to join teams and solve their collective, daily pain points.  People are constantly being asked to do more with less so showing how data governance can help them become more efficient will capture their attention and ease the adoption of the program.

Moreover, a balance between these two approaches is necessary or the program will suffer from a lack of commitment or attention.  Similar to other large initiatives like implementing a new financial accounting system or building an enterprise data warehouse, clearly defined milestones and accountability for execution are necessary.  In addition to the directive, the people must understand that the ultimate purpose of the initiative is to help make their jobs easier.

Often, the best person to push the program and promote both the directive and the value is the data governance sponsor.  This champion understands the goals of the initiative as well as the organizational limitations or barriers.  This person can facilitate bridging the divide and can work to promote accountability, teamwork, and momentum.

Parting Advice

Data governance is a set of ongoing, iterative activities that must be continuously maintained and updated.  Don’t wait for the perfect methodology, the perfect team, or perfect tool before mobilizing around a data governance program.  Rather, roll out the program in increments. Use lessons learned from each roll out to refine the approach and roadmap.  Preview upcoming data governance releases to encourage broader participation across their enterprise.  Get employees excited and engaged in the new activities and capabilities.

Starting a data governance program need not be intimidating or challenging.  Identify how data governance can benefit your business, move it to the top of the priority list, and motivate your team to collaborate in a seamless manner.

To learn more about getting started with a data governance program, download the data sheet below.

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