One of the most consistent challenges to the implementation of a Data Governance program is gaining support from upper level management. Many senior executives are unfamiliar with governance and are unwilling to dedicate resources to what they don’t understand, particularly when they don’t see the value in it.
According to Bob Seiner, they don’t have to.
Chief among the many topics the KIK Consulting & Educational Services president discussed, during the Data Governance Winter 2012 Conference in Fort Lauderdale in his “Data Governance Best Practices: What They Are and How to Make Them Work for You” presentation, was the concept of Non-Invasive Data Governance. The blitzkrieg of promotional materials and lengthy marketing campaigns that many governance programs implement to garner support from upper level management may be unnecessary, as might the allocation of significant upfront capital and additional resources.
Granted, such resources can only improve governance programs and may even become necessary for their longevity. But, when the goal is simply to broach the topic to organizational leaders, gain their initial support and found such a program, all it takes is a conversation…phrased the right way:
“I truly believe that the beginnings of defining how governance will work can be done by existing resources until when it is determined to dedicate additional budget, resources, and time,” Seiner said.
Seiner’s notion of Non-Invasive Data Governance* revolves around the principle that every organization already has some semblance of Data Governance in place. It may not be referred to in this terminology, but there are people who oversee and organize data, individuals who define the data lexicon, and various processes that data goes through to be stored and accessed. By emphasizing the fact that an organization is already engaged in some variation of governance, Seiner believes that individuals can more readily gain the support of management by merely asking for its cooperation in formalizing and refining its current procedures to ensure uniformity and increased accessibility to data.
Effective Data Governance involves a hierarchy of individuals and responsibilities that encompass general worker bees, a variety of data stewards, a governance council, and upper level management. Those attempting to implement Data Governance are merely asking for a formal denotation of these positions and hierarchy, which provides accountability and a structured system of management that, should increase usage and add to data’s value.
The key to overcoming any initial resistance is in phrasing this non-invasive approach so that the actual beneficiaries of data – from general workers to top-level executives – explain just what it is they need data for:
“Data Governance needs to focus on getting upper level management support, sponsorship and (most importantly) understanding of Data Governance and getting the business and technical sides of the organization to tell us how Data Governance is going to add value to them,” Seiner explained. “Let me state that again. We want to get THEM to tell US where Data Governance will add value to what they do.”
Non-Invasive Data Stewardship
Non-Invasive Data Governance extends to the role of data stewards. Instead of convincing management that Data Governance requires hiring specific positions of stewards from outside of an organization; Seiner’s approach to stewardship consists in identifying people who already regularly interact with the management of data and denoting them as stewards. In this respect, data stewardship involves recognizing those who already function in the role of stewards and labeling them as such to formalize their responsibilities.
In an ideal situation, Non-Invasive Data Governance programs incorporate data stewardship as one of the responsibilities of everyone in the organization to ensure a uniform accountability and maximize the involvement of individuals in the data process. Eventually it will be necessary to stratify stewards into domain, operational, and tactical roles to formally structure Data Management and use different stewards for different data types.
However, the very fact that an organization has governance in place does not mean that the nature of the jobs stewards perform in Non-Invasive Data Governance programs should fundamentally change or become more difficult. To the contrary, the structure provided by such a governance program should ultimately reduce the workload of stewards:
“People are stewards because of their relationship to the data they steward,” Seiner said. “I am a firm believer that there are many stewards for each type of data and different types of stewards. If there is a data quality or a data exercise that takes place and you engage the stewards that should be involved, that involvement should not take any more time because there happens to be a Data Governance program. I think that is a pitfall that many companies fall into. They call everything Data Governance activities.”
Non-Invasive Best Practices: Metadata
Non-Invasive Data Governance begins with the ends of an organization in mind. Once management and data users explain where the value of data lies for them, a governance program should be structured to achieve those ends by implementing a set of best practices. The primary criteria for best practices revolve around successfully answering whether or not a governance program will be at risk if a practice is not implemented, and whether or not such a practice is both pragmatic and achievable. Best practices are organization specific and allow data users the opportunity to assess where they currently are with their data needs and to identify what steps need to be taken to meet those needs.
One of the integral components in implementing best practices is the creation of metadata which involves both data about an organization’s data as well as definitions of terms, roles, and responsibilities. Metadata helps to define processes and specific job functions employees must fulfill for Data Governance. The clarification of business terms for data dictionary is a key aspect of metadata:
“While we are determining the types of metadata, the sources and processes associated with Data Governance metadata, we should also keep in mind that definition, production, and use of the metadata must be governed as well,” Seiner said. “Some people call that Metadata Governance.”
Non-Invasive Data Governance is applied in two ways: both proactively and reactively. Proactively, it is necessary to incorporate specific practices that organizations already do into its governance process to maximize data utility. Doing so is influential to demonstrating the value of data, which is a vital component for continuing upper level management’s sponsorship. Proactive governance applications allow management to see how Data Governance is used in daily processes that an organization is centered upon.
Reactively, Data Governance is used to trace data lineage. The reactive application of governance is where the true value lies in having specific steps about who is producing data and how, as well as what definitions are used in clarifying it lies. In situations in which there are discrepancies in data quality or use, effective governance provides an easily accessible trail of data that allows for mistakes to be identified and corrected. Best practices should seek to provide such a level of accountability that ultimately simplifies data use.
Non-Invasive Data Governance utilizes a top-down approach to the effective management of data. Once individuals can obtain executive level support, it is necessary to identify where the value in data lies, create best practices around it, delineate definitions, roles and responsibilities pertaining to its governance, and apply it both proactively and reactively. Doing so allows executives to witness the demonstration of their data’s value.
Most importantly, Non-Invasive Data Governance is instrumental in obtaining management support and sponsorship in a cost-effective way:
“If you go to your management and tell them you require significant X budget, Y resources, and Z time, you should expect that they will send you down the justification path,” Seiner said. “If you go to that same management with a message that we are already “doing” governance, but we are doing it in a rather inefficient and ineffective way, we can formalize accountability by identifying the stakeholders and setting up a formal approach to resolving data and information problems, then you have a better chance of gaining senior management’s attention”.
Seiner hosts a monthly webinar series with DATAVERSITY™ called Real-World Data Governance (RWDG) the third Thursday of every month at 2 p.m. EST. The RWDG Community includes On-Demand Webinars and related articles and links.
* Non-Invasive Data Governance™ is a trademark of Robert S. Seiner and KIK Consulting & Educational Services, LLC.