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Flexible Data Governance

With volumes rising at a record rate and government regulation on security and privacy growing, data has become an increasingly important corporate asset. Imagine it as the water in the growing desert of competition in today’s modern business. Without data, businesses would fail to be able to survive and would have little to no chance to thrive in such a competitive marketplace.


The Growing Role of Data Governance

These days, data governance feels a lot like Rodney Dangerfield. It seems to get little to no respect. A lot of this “disrespect” seems to stem from the origins of data governance. In its beginnings, data governance was primarily an IT function used to inventory data and had very little interaction with business functions. This disconnect led to technology solutions that didn’t fully support the need for data literacy and discovery within the business. As data began to grow with the onset of Big Data, business and IT needed the ability to better share, collaborate and use data as an advantage in an ever-growing competitive market.

Organizations were seeking more and more data from their customers as a way to increase understanding of the customer base and improve the effectiveness of marketing. Along with this dramatic increase in capture and use of data within organizations, there came a growing concern around the security and privacy of this information. This concern was validated when massive data breaches emerged in organizations like Yahoo and Marriott, where billions of account names, contacts, and passwords were compromised. In response to these data breaches, Europe and the U.S. increased regulations to help protect an individual’s privacy and data. Legislation like GDPR and CCPA forced organizations to take data governance and security more seriously and to begin enterprise-level governance programs in earnest. Unfortunately, data governance’s foundation of risk mitigation, compliance, regulatory, and security concerns caused it to be equated with government bureaucracy. It was also viewed as a burden and bottleneck in the business’s ability to access and use data.

As business needs for more customer insights demanded more data, a “tug of war” began to form. On one side you have IT, who is managing, maintaining, and securing data and platforms for the organization. On the other side you have business stakeholders, who want to democratize data and remove all barriers to accessing and sharing information, thus improving analytics and increasing the speed from data collection to real insight. Pair this with the business’s general mistrust of the data, and this becomes a real problem for most organizations. Enter: data governance. It is at this crossroads where governance can become a true enabler for companies.

Not all Data Governance is the same

When leveraged correctly, data governance can transform an organization’s understanding, quality, oversight, and security of their data. To do this, it must first overcome barriers that tend to derail these types of initiatives. Since data governance is an enterprise capability, it involves people, processes, and technologies across the entire organization. Due to the complexity of so many factors coming together in a unique way, there are no universal approaches for data governance. Each organization needs to be assessed in depth in order to determine what data governance structure and methods work best.

With the implementation of data governance comes a shift in the general culture of the organization and its use of its information. Successfully managing this culture shift is not easy, and there are no magic bullets. It requires a concentrated and coordinated effort between business and IT, with the support of executive leadership. It also demands that the organization be open to change. Companies can easily get stuck in the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” or “this is how we have always done it” mentality. As a best practice, the discipline of organizational change management (OCM) should be included in most, if not all, efforts to implement data governance. The guidance of OCM will help to align the organization and provide consistent communication across all departments and functions.

Another important factor in the organizational change and alignment for data governance is the people. A pre-implementation assessment of the organization is needed to ensure “the right people are in the right seats” to make data governance successful. This assessment includes evaluating individuals’ roles, responsibilities, capacity, and willingness to embrace the change and responsibilities that governance brings. It also includes determining the current overall maturity level and the target state maturity for data governance in the organization. This initial assessment and evaluation will help to shape the overall data strategy and fill in any gaps in training or roles necessary to ensure the success of your data governance program.

What is Flexible Data Governance?

With all these pieces in place, effective data governance is still a delicate balancing act between an offensive and defensive approach. Flexible data governance is governance that is fully understood, practiced, and provides business value for each business unit while still integrating into the overall enterprise data and data governance strategies of the organization. This approach to data governance and management works to marry the flexibility and empowerment of sharing and accessing data with coordinated control from both business and IT. FDG also works to strike a balance between business needs, operational efficiency, regulatory demands, and security requirements.

The success of flexible data governance is dependent on the culture of the organization. FDG leverages large numbers of people in various roles across the organization to perform specific aspects of data governance that are relevant to them. The “it takes a village” approach to data governance requires specifically-defined roles and responsibilities to ensure every player understands their level of accountability for data, thus reducing friction within the program. Like the people, the systems and processes within data governance must be aligned and designed to support the functionality and capabilities of the many, not just a few.

If successfully implemented, flexible data governance can provide a wealth of benefits for an organization. It can increase engagement by widening the scope of people involved in governing the data. This expansion of responsibility drives an overall organizational mindset in which the entire data community holds their peers responsible for their role in governing data. It also increases awareness and familiarity of the data assets under management, improves data literacy, and increases the general effectiveness of your data governance activities. Flexible data governance will also empower your data community to solve specific data-related problems in a business context, increasing accountability within the community while enabling trust, discoverability, and innovation using data. Finally, FDG provides transparency into usage goals for the company’s data and a path to reaching those goals.

Where do I start?

If you’re feeling energized and ready to implement a flexible data governance program, you may be wondering how to get started. There are many factors that can impact your starting point and timeline, such as your organization’s structure and maturity level. Existing or planned enterprise initiatives and specific business use cases with clearly defined business value can also impact your starting point. With these factors in mind, there are five main areas you can focus on when beginning your journey into flexible data governance.

Your data governance policy is the first factor to be considered when creating flexible data governance. The policy needs to proactively set the guardrails and guidelines to be followed by the organization, while remaining flexible enough to allow some level of autonomy and self-service in the data community. The second area of focus should be the data community itself, which includes both business and technology functions. A definition and understanding of the roles the data community plays needs to be clearly outlined, as well as their levels of accountability and participation. This requires a partnership between business and IT and an understanding that certain aspects of control must be owned and managed by IT, but IT should share that responsibility to instill a sense of ownership with the business.

Another area of focus at the forefront of an FDG program is infrastructure. Effective platforms and tools must be put in place to support the policy and the new roles within the data community. Tools to manage the enterprise data catalog and business glossary, provide data discoverability, improve the transparency of sourcing and data lineage, and improve the quality of the data are essential in assisting in the adoption and continued practice of data governance activities. With the creation of a business glossary comes the improvement of the data community’s overall data literacy and knowledge of data governance principles and practices. The alignment of the vernacular and taxonomy of the data is the foundation for all current and future use of the information.

The final area of focus is organizational change management. OCM should be engaged in all large-scale initiatives within your business, but especially when creating flexible data governance. The coordination and communication of an organization-wide change are crucial for success but often overlooked. A plan for organizational change management is essential in coordinating the many changes and the impact of their reach.

The areas of focus outlined above are all excellent starting points in creating the foundation for flexible data governance. The transition will not happen overnight, but will take time, coordination, and focused work. Along the journey, remember that flexibility is required. Data governance is a program, not a project, and business needs and industry demands are continuously changing. Remember to continue to develop and evolve your data governance program regularly to align with these changes and create long-term success.

For more information on implementing or improving a Flexible Data Governance program within your organization, contact us.

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