Sustainable Data Governance

The usage of the term data governance might be only second to the amount of data we seem to generate in today’s digital world. Though widely used, the term means different things depending on the perspective one has. This is not unique to any one company or sector – I have seen this at almost all my clients across a range of sectors.

What are some of the common contexts in which you hear the word data governance?

Teams trying to build business intelligence and analytics capabilities within a company struggle with data quality. An example could be an E&P company trying to reconcile between well names from multiple sources – land administration, measurement, allocation, geology and production and revenue accounting. Many seemingly simple BI tasks become complex when you have to build analytics that can handle exception after exception. To people struggling with this or other master data challenges, governance is a way to ensure data quality.

From a compliance perspective, governance means making sure the company is not violating regulatory requirements and ensuring the burden to comply is reduced. Any company with dealing with PII and confidential information of its individual customers lives this every day. The situation becomes more complex when you add the regulatory requirements of multiple countries.

On the other hand, one of the foremost challenges that IT functions face is how to manage the exploding data volumes and disparate data sources. Which company has not seen an alphabet soup of content management solutions that seem to be always growing in size. Teams dealing with this would view governance as a way to manage data volumes and reduce data footprint. Other teams within IT might be focused on solutions to ensure master data is accurate.

From a IT security view point, governance might be all about ensuring data is secure. Are the company crown jewels not getting into the wrong hands? How secure are externally hosted data. What might be some of the processes in place to deal with malware and cyber security.

Governance is all of the above and more. This reminds me of the Indian parable of an elephant being described by different people by touch. While the description of the elephant’s trunk, tail, tusk or ears are correct, the total package is much more. The different perspectives people have on governance also impacts how governance gets rolled out in a company. It is done multiple times and many times even concurrently. I often see governance ending up implemented in a project centric manner without a larger strategic vision.

Companies are trying to unlock the potential of their data, but I think we are only scratching the surface. Governance is at the heart of this and done right, it can truly make a company’s data one of its most valuable assets. For this, data governance needs be a sustainable and company-wide. This requires a change in culture and a more strategic approach to managing data. Are organizations ready to embrace this change?

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