What is Data Governance and How You Can Successfully Implement a Data Governance Strategy

If someone asked if you had a data governance strategy – would you be able to answer the question with confidence, if at all? Too often, it’s only the legal team who is concerned about data governance in an organization. That’s a problem.

Without data governance, you’re not only opening your organization up to risk that can be extremely expensive and time-consuming to mend, but you’re leaving your most valuable asset – your data – completely unused.

According to UBM’s State of Data Governance Report

  • 52% of organizations say data governance is critically important to their business and they have a formal strategy in place
  • 46% of organizations recognize the value of data governance, but don’t have a formal data governance strategy
  • 60% of organizations say regulatory compliance is driving their data governance initiative
  • 49% of organizations say customer trust/satisfaction is driving their data governance initiative

We’re here to help you understand data governance, how it fits into your organization, and the steps to successfully create and implement a data governance strategy.

What is data governance?

“Data needs to be governed as it has neither will nor intent of its own. Tools and people shape the data and tell it where to go. Therefore, data governance is the governance of people and technology” (Thomas G 2006. Alpha Males and Data Disaster. Published by Brass Cannon Press, USA.)

We all agree that data is valuable. But data governance means different things to different people. Here’s how people defined data governance in UBM’s Data Governance report:

Data Governance Defined

For the sake of consistency, we’ll use this definition from the Data Governance Institute:

“Data governance is a system of decision rights and accountabilities for information-related processes, executed according to agreed-upon models which describe who can take what actions with what information, and when, under what circumstances, using what methods.”

And keep in mind that when we refer to data governance, we’re including:

  • Organizational bodies
  • Rules (policies, standards, guidelines, business rules)
  • Decision rights (how we “decide how to decide”)
  • Accountability
  • Enforcement methods for people and information systems as they perform information-related processes

What are the critical success factors?

Data governance is a deep and complex issue. According to Domo, 90% of all data today was created in the last two years – that’s 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. Most organizations today want to find a way to monetize their data, and without the right governance in place, they spend most of their time just trying to organize and understand the data they have.

Data governance ensures your data is consistent, improves data quality, maximizes the use of data to make decisions, and ultimately, maximizes the profits of the company. Without governance, data just sits and collects dust.

For governance to be effective, you must consider these critical success factors.

Strategic Accountability and Standards

Who is responsible for data governance? Data governance is not something you can simply pass off to IT. The business must be fully invested in data governance or your strategy is never going to work. Many organizations will appoint someone to a high-level governor position such as Chief Data Steward or Chief Data Officer. This ensures one person is accountable for data governance, the business is protected, and risk is being mitigated at every turn.

Embracing Complexity

Did you start your organization with data governance in mind? Chances are, you didn’t even think about it. In the words of our own Rob Cochrane, “now you’re building this plane in flight…” and you must be prepared to embrace the challenges that will come with that complexity. Often, the current business rules and technologies aren’t in alignment with the data governance strategy, and you must find a way to make it all work together.

Cross-Divisional Collaboration and Strategic Points of Control

Where is your organization most vulnerable from a data governance perspective? Data breaches happen from lack of governance, and they’re typically a result of missteps across several departments. Blaming the IT department alone doesn’t cut it anymore. In order for governance to work, you must pick strategic points of control throughout the organization and hold them each accountable for following your new policies and procedures.

Compliance Monitoring

Are you auditing your organization for compliance? Once your data governance strategy is in place, you must review it regularly to make sure it’s actually happening throughout the organization. Effective data governance includes processes for continuous monitoring that ensures everyone is accountable for the strategy you so carefully put into place.

Training and Awareness

Do your people understand the importance of data governance? If you haven’t had a data governance strategy in the past, you’ll have to train people across the organization and create literacy around data and data governance. Training and awareness must remain an ongoing effort long after the strategy is put into place.

How do I get started?

1. Get a governor and the right people in place to govern

Having a passionate governor and the right people in place to govern will ensure that the organization’s best interests are top of mind.

2. Survey your situation – and be honest about it

Assess yourself – does your organization have the right people? The right technology? The right processes? What are your current policies and standards? How much quality do you have in your data?

3. Calculate the value of your data

All of us are in the data business. If you lost all your data, what happens to the value of your organization? That’s the value of your data.

4. Calculate the probability of risk

Think about all the ways you’re currently vulnerable from a data perspective. Do you have employees who travel with company equipment? Do you have unlocked filing cabinets? How do you keep track of visitors in your office?

5. Develop a data governance strategy

After completing steps 1-4, you’ll know if you have the capacity to develop this strategy in house or if you’ll need to work with a consulting firm like CSpring that specializes in data strategies.

6. Continuously monitor the efficiency of your controls

This process is never finished, and you must keep up with ever-changing laws and standards. Monitoring the efficiency of your controls will help you catch any discrepancies and stay up-to-date.

What does the future of data governance look like?

Data governance programs are still incredibly immature. If they do exist, they’re usually full of risks.It’s clear that leaders are thinking about data governance, so why aren’t more people acting? Today, the most common roadblocks to creating and/or implementing a data governance strategy include:

  • Minimal to no executive sponsorship
  • IT-driven efforts with limited to no business participation
  • General lack of understanding
  • Cost
  • The ever-present likelihood of “de-prioritization” when a more compelling or urgent initiative comes along

The good news is that there are a lot of people paying attention to data governance simply because the cost of doing nothing is so high.

Picture this: your organization keeps 15 years of records. One day, you get sued. You find out you only needed to keep seven years of records and should have purged the other eight. All of a sudden, you have a multi-million dollar settlement on your hands because you didn’t follow the right governance. This kind of thing happens every day…

Think of data governance like upkeep with a car. You have to spend money getting oil changes, rotating tires, servicing it every 10,000 miles… Sure, you can go without it – but the preventative maintenance along the way saves you loads of money in the long run.

A solid data governance strategy and an implementation plan to roll it out will help you avoid compliance issues, increase your customers’ trust and satisfaction, ensure better decision making, and much, much more.

Need help getting your data governance strategy started? Request a free consultation with one of our data experts today.