Baffled by Big Data Governance?

Are you baffled by big data governance? If you are, don’t panic, you are not the only one! Now I consider myself a niche player, I’m passionate about data governance and the value it can bring to organizations. Not so long ago I would have said I was passionate about all things data governance, but since the advent of “big data governance” I have to be careful about the inclusion of the word “all” when I make sweeping statements like that.

In general terms I think that data governance is better than sliced bread. Ok, that maybe a bit of an overstatement, but it really can bring fantastic benefits to those organizations that fully embrace and embed its practices in their organization.

So what have I got against big data or more specifically big data governance? Don’t get me wrong I think that big data and the analytics associated with it offer some very exciting opportunities for companies across all industries. So it’s not big data per se that’s bewildering me at the moment. What’s confusing me is an increasing trend of webinars and even books, singing the benefits of big data governance to the unsuspecting masses.

So what is wrong with that I hear you ask? After all if big data is the next big opportunity, why shouldn’t we be governing that data? But stop, hold your horses! Let’s not get carried away on a wave of excitement. Before we all sign up to the next big thing let’s take a step back and review the current situation…

Let me ask you a question: how is the data governance of your small (and by that I mean the data that your organization creates and manages internally) data going? Do you truly believe that you have that totally under control?

I’ve recently been reading Bob Seiner’s book Non-Invasive Data Governance and in his book he encourages the reader to undertake a data governance maturity assessment of their organization (as indeed I and probably every data governance consultant also do). When undertaking such maturity assessments very few of my clients are very high on the scale of maturity. Indeed, in his book Bob states that between 30 and 50% of all organizations are currently operating at the most basic level of data governance maturity i.e. at the Initial level. It’s even more scary when you consider that some data governance maturity models label this first level “Unaware”. This means that a reasonable proportion of organizations are not yet governing their data at all.

So if we consider that a majority of companies do not have the data which they create and manage themselves totally under control, what is likely to happen when they combine their own data with large volumes of quickly changing data from outside their organization? And remember that this big data, they can’t control and probably don’t understand properly.

I have a feeling that this is a train wreck waiting to happen, with senior management making poorly informed decisions based on data they don’t understand. This could result in negative results for both their company and potentially also for their customers.

Don’t get me wrong I think the big data and big data analytics are opening up an exciting world full of opportunities. Undoubtedly this brave new world will need big data governance, so I’m not saying stop so much as wait. Get your own house in order first, before you dive in and embrace the world of big data governance.

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Nicola Askham

Nicola Askham

Nicola Askham, The Data Governance Coach, is an independent data management consultant.  Her experience in coaching both regulatory and non-regulatory organisations to design and implement full data governance frameworks, is unique within the Data Governance field. The coaching approach enables organisations to self manage the process beyond initial implementation. Nicola’s coaching and Data Governance workshops, including Solvency II, ensures your data governance framework is embedded as an integral part of your business as usual policy. Nicola can be reached at her web-site:

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