Productive relationships are based on establishing a shared understanding and maintaining a meaningful dialogue. For data governance initiatives this means going beyond merely imposing policies and standards and engaging in a two-way conversation about real business challenges and solutions. Without the ability to establish a meaningful dialogue, the organization at large will not engage, and the goal to drive cultural change towards a more data-driven firm will remain a hollow slogan.
The first step to having meaningful conversations with business users about data is not to have them as data conversations. Business users typically deal with business processes, business rules, business requirements, metrics, reports, etc. If we understand—and then demonstrate—how these business aspects draw upon data, we can start having business-relevant conversations about data. Moreover, by understanding how a given business asset specifically draws upon one or more data items, we can personalize the data governance conversations with that business community. Making conversations relevant and personal builds great engagement. In short: we need the data governance discipline to grow up.
Go to any data governance conference and chances are you will find experts outlining how you need to establish a framework, policies, and a business glossary to subsequently assign owners and stewards. If you fail to get traction you probably lack senior sponsorship. Imagine going to a project management conference and the key takeaway being you need a project plan, project sponsor, and manager—you would insist on getting your money back! The key questions, like how to understand what needs to be done and how to engage and collaborate were not addressed.
To the average business user, it is not obvious when good governance will start delivering real business benefit. The data governance effort typically focuses on formalizing policies, data definitions, ownership, etc.; while the business desperately wants the data landscape easier to understand and interact with. Business users often only take an interest in data when something has gone wrong. As the business sees governance less about control and more about the prevention of failures, the dialogue then becomes goal-driven and less about the mechanics of control.
For data governance initiatives to be successful, they need to go beyond policies and data definitions to create a platform that grounds those in the messy reality of data today. By doing so, a meaningful dialogue can be established about how the data governance and business objectives can connect. Moreover, understanding the real world data usage and relevance is a prerequisite to understanding the value of the data.
The goal for data governance is not better data definitions, or more ownership; the goal should be to support the firm in becoming more data-aware, data-savvy, and ultimately data-driven. This requires a profound change in attitude from many people. A new corporate culture is not created overnight; it is the result of prolonged and consistent encouragement, allowing for a change in behavior. Cultural change is the macro-effect of making lots of small modifications to working practices until they become the norm.
The success of any data governance function depends on being able to reach, engage, and influence the behavior of the broadest possible group of people across functions and disciplines. Our business is data, but let’s remember our data is about the business. Let’s have the dialogue!