Characteristics of Governing Data

ART04x - image - EDData Governance means different things to different people. There are several definitions floating around the industry. Sometimes organizations use the terms Data Governance and Data Stewardship interchangeably. Sometimes they use the term “Non-Invasive” to describe the approach that they take to Data Governance. There is not an accepted standard definition for Data Governance.

My definition, “data governance is the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data” is a controversial definition (because of how strongly it is worded) but almost always raises the questions: “what does governed data look like?” – and – “what does execution and enforcement of authority really mean?”.

In this article, I will briefly explain what it means to “govern” something. Let’s start with the basic definition of the word “govern” found on FreeDictionary.com. I wrapped the words “to” and “data” around each identifying characteristic of the definition – that is – the part of the definition that tells you how that term is unique or different from other terms. This wrapper around the identifying characteristics of the word “govern” makes these characteristics easier to read and it puts the characteristic into the context of data.

The Definition of “Govern”

The following is the FreeDictionary.com definition of the word “govern” wrapped in data context:

[to] gov·ern [data] — gov·erned, gov·ern·ing, gov·erns

… identifying characteristics …

  1. [To] make and administer the public policy and affairs [of data]
  2. [To] exercise sovereign authority [in data]
  3. [To] control the speed or magnitude [of data]
  4. [To] regulate [data]
  5. [To] control the actions or behavior [of data]
  6. [To] keep under control [data]; to restrain [data]
  7. [To] exercise a deciding or determining influence [on data]
  8. [To] exercise political authority [over data]

FreeDictionary.com [wrapper by Bob Seiner]

For the balance of this article, I will walk through each of the eight identifying characteristics and I will share what it means to govern data as it relates to that specific characteristic.

Characteristics of Governing

1.  To make and administer the public policy and affairs of data

Governing data means that data policy takes the form of written and approved (this is a key point) corporate or organizational documents.

Governing data means that you have a data governance policy. This policy may be hidden under the name of information security policy, privacy policy, or data classification policy (e.g. highly confidential, confidential, sensitive, public data, or something else).

Governing data means that your organization leverages the effort invested in development and approval of the policy rather than allowing the policy to become shelf ware. As shelf ware, few people know how the policy is associated with the data they define, produce, and use daily.

2.  To exercise the sovereign authority of data

Governing data means that a way exists to resolve a difference of opinion on a cross-business data issue.

Governing data means that somebody or some group of individuals is the authority or has the authority to make decisions concerning the data.

Governing data means that an escalation path exists from the operational to the tactical to the strategic levels of the organization for decision-making. Rarely does governing data require escalation of data issues to the executive level.

3.  To control the speed or magnitude of data

Governing data means that data are shared according to the classification (confidential, sensitive, public) rules associated with that data.

Governing data means that the creation of new versions of the same data is scrutinized closely to manage and eliminate data redundancy.

Governing data means that people don’t place critical or confidential data in harm’s way by quickly, and without knowing the rules, making copies of data that fails to follow the same scrutiny and governance as data in native form.

4.  To regulate data

Governing data means that appropriate processes are put in place to regulate data and monitored to manage the definition, production, and usage of data at all levels of an organization.

Governing data means that proactive and reactive processes are defined, approved, and followed at all levels of the organization. Situations where these regulatory procedures aren’t followed can be identified, prevented, and resolved.

Governing data means that the appropriate regulatory behaviors around data are brought to the forefront of your staff members thought processes rather than being pushed to the back of their minds as an “inconvenience” or a “nice to have.”

5.  To control the actions or behaviors of data

Governing data means that appropriate behaviors and actions associated with controlling data are put in place and monitored to manage the definition, production, and usage of data at all levels of the organization.

Governing data means that proactive and reactive processes are defined, approved, and followed at all levels of the organization and that situations where these behaviors are not accepted and followed can be identified, prevented, and resolved.

Governing data means that the appropriate behaviors around data are brought to the forefront of your staff’s thought processes rather than being pushed to the back of their minds as an “inconvenience” or a “nice to have.”

6.  To keep under control and to restrain data

Governing data means that access to data is managed, secured, and auditable by classification (confidential, sensitive, public) and that processes and responsibilities are put in place to assure that access privileges are granted only to appropriate individuals.

Governing data means that all individuals understand the rules associated with importing data into spreadsheets, loading data to laptops, transmitting data, or any other activity that removes data from the native source.

Governing data means that the rules associated with controlling hard copy versions of data are well documented and communicated to individuals who generate, receive, or distribute these hard copies.

7.  To exercise a deciding or determining influence of data

Governing data means that the right people are involved at the right time for the right reasons to assure that the right decisions are made about the right data.

Governing data means that the information about who in the organization does what with the data is completely recorded, shared, and understood across the organization. This provides the ability to get the rights right.

Governing data means that a formal escalation path exists for known data issues that moves from operational (business unit specific) to the tactical (cross-business unit) to the strategic (enterprise) and to the persons identified as the authorities on that specific use of the data.

8.  To exercise political authority over data

Governing data means that somebody or some group of people have the authority to make decisions for the enterprise about data that impacts the enterprise.

Governing data means that the political nature of decision-making is leveraged in making the tactical and strategic decisions that best benefit the enterprise.

Governing data means a formal escalation path exists for known data issues that move from operational (business unit specific) to the tactical (cross business unit) to the strategic (enterprise) and to persons identified as the authorities on that specific use of that data.

The statements I’ve listed with each of the characteristics governing data may help you get a jump-start explaining what it means to govern data and what governed data looks like. Once you have answered the question of what it means to govern data, the next question you may hear is “what is the best way to govern data? and to that question you can answer, “The Non-Invasive Data Governance approach.” :)

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About Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. (Bob) Seiner is the publisher of The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN.com) – and has been since it was introduced in 1997 – providing valuable content for people that work in Information & Data Management and related fields. TDAN.com is known for its timely and relevant articles, columns and features from thought-leaders and practitioners. Seiner and TDAN.com were recognized by DAMA International for significant and demonstrable contributions to Information and Data Resource Management industries. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services, a data and information management consultancy that he started in 2002, providing practical and cost-effective solutions in the disciplines of data governance, data stewardship, metadata management and data strategy. Seiner is a recognized industry thought-leader, has consulted with and educated many prominent organizations nationally and globally, and is known for his unique approach to implementing data governance. His book “Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success” was published in late 2014. Seiner speaks often at the industry’s leading conferences and provides a monthly webinar series titled “Real-World Data Governance” with DATAVERSITY.

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