Starting Data Governance from Scratch, Again

ART02x - image EDIn our line of work, no two Governance models will ever be the same. Recently an opportunity presented itself that allowed your humble author to, once again, start a Data Governance/Enterprise Information Management (EIM) initiative from scratch. What follows is a diary of going through that experience again, from the beginning. Events as transcribed below are based on a true story; creative autonomy was exercised for the purposes of entertainment only and does not alter the foundation of said transcription. No dolphins were harmed in the production of this article.

Assessment

When one first arrives as the brand new leader of a Data Governance initiative, one must learn about the environment. There are many key questions that need to be asked, and therefore much to be learned. The following are some of those questions, and some of the answers in our story.

What Events Transpired to Bring Us Here?

It’s important to understand the driving force for a business to bring in Data Governance or EIM leadership. There must have been a high-level discussion or event that took place to determine a positive ROI or other tangible business benefit. For the purposes of this story, it was a combination of Data Quality (and thus, Information and Decision Quality), and regulatory requirements.

The reason this is critical to understand is that any design of a data governance framework can be built with a strategic business focus in mind. In our case, we can understand the pressure on the executive to have confidence in the quality of their decisions. We can thus produce a program that will instill them with confidence that the information they use for decision making is of good quality.

Other key focus areas include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Regulatory Requirements (as mentioned above)
  • Business Intelligence
  • Predictive Analytics

What Work has been Done, if Any, to this Point?

One thing we needed to discover quickly, was this their first kick at the can? Have other initiatives tried and failed? If so, why? Is there anything with the current implementation of the program that we need to address early?

Thankfully for us, there are a great deal of fantastic resources available to us. Nicola Askham, “The Data Governance Coach”, provides a free report entitled, “The 9 biggest mistakes companies make when implementing data governance (and how to avoid them all)”. You can download a copy from her website https://www.nicolaaskham.com.

In our case, there was a number of incarnations of a program defined, but never anything that received support to proceed. We needed to learn why these initiatives didn’t launch and address the business culture that culminated to that lack of enthusiasm to begin when we design our program.

This question, and an introspective review of Nicola’s free report, gave us an opportunity to dodge a few other issues that are apparent in our new task. The first being, Data Governance is not an IT issue. We need to design a program that makes it clear that we are talking about a program that manages policies and procedures that engender confidence in business information. The executive team, and by extension, everyone in the business, needs to understand that data and information is a valued strategic asset. The IT department is not the “owner” of strategic business decisions and direction.

Another pitfall highlighted in Nicola’s report really struck a chord with me. As this initiative is not the first time I’ve designed and implemented a governance program, there was a strong pull to try and solve absolutely everything right away. To have a single perfect program that addresses every single issue before the business. What we needed to focus on were the key issues that drove the business to start in the first place, which luckily, we’ve already learned above, and will learn more with our next question.

What Issues are Business Users Running Into?

We need to have a clear understanding of what business users are perceiving as issues. This will allow us to identify some low-hanging fruit that we can address early in the life of our program and use to demonstrate some success.

All data and information issues are interesting. Whether it’s an actual technical, procedural, or “real” issue, or if it’s a perceived problem. Sometimes, when business users encounter information that runs contrary to, “the way it’s always been”, or any other pre-conceived bias, they lose confidence in the quality of that information. Even though it is not necessarily something that any program, procedure, or policy may solve, we need to be empathetic towards our business users in these cases and learn about why they feel the way they do about this particular asset. We can learn and implement a number of things as it relates to this type of occurrence. Is there a data definition or business practice that has changed that impacts how information is displayed on a report? If that’s the case, we have an opportunity to provide clarity to the business on how data are becoming information which is driving a decision making process.

We’ll reiterate again, all data and information issues are interesting. Our key business users, through their years of experience, can readily identify quality issues with our business information assets. As practitioners, we have much to learn from them in how they identified any particular issue, and to begin to trend which assets report the most issues. This will help us focus our new program on areas highlighted by business users.

What is the Culture of the Business?

There’s one thing you will never find a template for, no formula you can apply, and no advice given that will automatically solve your problems; fitting the culture of the business. To achieve “The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success” (the tagline to Bob Seiner’s “Non-Invasive Data Governance”), we need to come to an understanding of how the culture of the business operates.

Understanding how the business makes decisions, comes together to interact with the strategic information assets, how it’s organized, and how it functions overall are critical to the success of any Data Governance initiative.

As Bob would say, “Everyone’s a Data Steward – Get over it!” We need to understand and formalize every single constituent’s relationship with the business data assets. We need to understand the production, definition, and use of data. Once researched and documented, we can assure our business users that we are there to help them, not to change them or add work to their plates. This is culturally something that is being done already, we do not need to add additional bureaucracy to their day-to-day activities (a fear the term “Governance” may instill in some).

We can achieve this, all in a framework that operates as the business already does. We need to learn if the business loves policy documents, or abhors them. Is the concept of a charter something that drives great business value and is referenced frequently, or is it something less formal of greater value?

For the case of our story, we are a policy driven business. In our case, we need to have a clear mission statement, goals, and guiding principles to our program documented, which provide a foundation for any action our program may take.

Conclusion

Here is where our story ends for now. The next step for our titular character is the design of the Governance program, using all that we have learned from our assessment phase.

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About Mark Horseman

Mark is an IT professional with nearly 20 years’ experience. Mark moved into Data Quality, Master Data Management, and Data Governance early in his career and has been working extensively in BI since 2005. Mark is currently leading an Information Management initiative at NAIT.

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