Organizations faced with the delivery of formal Data Governance or Information Governance programs recognize that there are several challenges they will face when getting started and as the program is operationalized. The challenges are not the same for all organizations. However, there are several that seem to appear more often than not, and I will share these with you in this article.
Before I start, recognize that every working environment is different, and organizations are at different levels of maturity associated with each challenge. For that reason, I have provided a simple chart that suggests that you evaluate on a level of red, yellow, or green the status of your organizations in association with the challenge. Red means you are at risk of the challenge conquering your chance of success, yellow means that the way you are addressing the challenge needs work, and green means that you are addressing the challenge in a way that is presently acceptable.
At the same time, the challenges presented below are a good starting point for delivering practical and pragmatic best practices that could put your program at risk if not achieved.
Common Challenges of Data Governance include:
- Lack of Data Leadership
- Understanding Business Value of Data Governance
- Recognizing the Need / Pain Caused by Data
- Senior Management Support, Sponsorship, and Understanding
- Budgets and Ownership
- People Think IT Owns the Data
- Lack of Data Documentation
- Resources to Apply to Data Governance
This article details each of the challenges pictured here:
Lack of Data Leadership
Data Leadership is a challenge facing many organizations. Organizations are slowly embracing that they need people to be responsible for their data, beyond the technology required to leverage and protect the data. That is the reason why the Chief Data Officer (CDO) is working its way up to the level of prominence reserved in the past for the Chief Information Officer (CIO).
My friend, TDAN.com columnist and Data Leadership thought-leader, Anthony Algmin, summarized the challenge of the lack of data leadership this way,
“The challenge of Data Leadership goes beyond working with data appropriately. We must orchestrate the many data activities to maximize the impact to the business. In organizations where ‘the business’ and IT are constantly at odds with one another, this is no simple feat.”
What do we do when we are lacking a CDO (assuming that governance is a big part of the CDOs job) or have a CIO that is interested (or more adept) in directing technology efforts than in managing data and information? The first thing we need to help them with is understanding the business value of Data Governance. Read on.
Understanding Business Value of Data Governance
Recently, several clients that thoroughly understand the need for governing data as a valuable asset, have asked me to define in a single sentence or short paragraph “why Data Governance is important.” I like to answer this with,
“Look at the value you expect to get from the other investments you are making: transformations both digital and operational, artificial intelligence, business intelligence and master data, analytics and data science– and recognize that you will not achieve the expected level of return on investment if the data associated with the initiative(s) is substandard.”
Investments in only the technology will do nothing to improve the quality and value of your present data. It will, however, highlight data deficiencies. Again, the data will not govern itself. This should be enough, but management seems to want more.
So we attempt to give them more. We quantify the organization’s confidence in data, their ability to operate efficiently and effectively given the data they use, how long it takes to gain access to data they need to perform their job function and their understanding of the data that in available to them, how the data is classified, and how it must be handled. We find other ways to demonstrate the business value of Data Governance when looking to the ROI of other investments is a logical choice.
Recognizing the Need / Pain Caused by Data
Data Governance must have a purpose. You must be able to quickly answer the question as to the purpose of your Data Governance program. This is a challenge for many organizations that can be addressed (at least somewhat) by the development of a Data Governance Purpose Statement. Let me share a few Purpose Statements that are being used by my clients.
One client defined their purpose to be “using strategic data with confidence.” Another defined their purpose to be “protect classified information.” These statements answered the why question. And then their programs went on to 1) select data that was critical and 2) improve people’s confidence in the quality and understanding of that data. The other organization inventoried their data and information, made certain the data was classified appropriately, communicated standards for handling the data, and educated the masses in how the data must be handled for the auditors to part with a thumbs-up.
Regarding the pain caused by data, the best way to understand the pain is to ask and observe. The administration of Data Governance must focus on a business need and often that need focuses on some level of pain they are feeling or capability they cannot complete.
Senior Management Support, Sponsorship, and Understanding
I use two criteria to determine if something is “best practice” for starting and implementing a formal Data Governance program. The two criteria are 1) the statement has to be practical and doable given the present state of your organization and 2) the Data Governance program will be at risk if the best practice is not achieved. Both of these criteria have to be true for something to be best practice for your organization.
Almost 100% of my Data Governance clients use statements similar to “Senior Leadership supports, sponsors, and understands the activities of Data Governance and results of governing data” as their very first best practice. It is a challenge to get your senior-most leadership to do all three of these things, and therefore, effective communications and a plan for communications are a staple in organizations that effectively address this challenge.
Budgets and Ownership
One of the challenges that most organizations face focuses on a budget that is available and the identification of whose budget Data Governance will land. Some people believe that your governance program will fail if it is budgeted (and therefore lands) under Information Technology (IT). I am not one of those people.
To me, Data Governance has to be owned and paid for by somebody. If that somebody is IT, you will need to break the perception that IT “owns the data.” IT may “own” the administration of Data Governance but there should be recognition that “the business” must steward the data. This is a point made in my article Everybody is a Data Steward; Get Over It! where I say that people who define, produce, and use the data are all stewards if they are being held formally accountable for how they define, produce, and use the data. A lot of these are businesspeople.
I am known to say that “Data Governance’s primary cost is people’s time.” That time most-of-all includes the time needed to administer the program. All of the other time associated with Data Governance, would already need to be spent on the data initiatives. For example, if you are focusing your Data Governance effort on protecting sensitive data, you would need to educate users on handling rules and making sure they follow the rules anyway. For example, if you are focusing on improving the quality and value from critical data elements as part of an effort to leverage that data more thoroughly, you would need to spend that time already, focusing on that data. The data will not govern itself. There needs to be ownership and budget to allow people time to govern data more formally.
People Think IT Owns the Data
Raise your hand if you have heard this premise before. Okay, take your hands down. There is a common belief in many organizations that IT owns the data and that businesspeople are just users of the data. Let’s make it clear that this premise is false. Although, this has been the perception over the years, we as practitioners should take it as our mission to dispel this myth.
IT has a lot of responsibility around the data – but defining, producing, and using the data are not included in those responsibilities. IT, on its own, may have responsibility for making certain technology able to address the definition, production, and use of data. But most practitioners will agree that businesspeople should be responsible for working alongside IT to define data and data requirements, produce high-quality data, and use data for operational and decision-making purposes. Therefore Data Governance has to be owned and budgeted by somebody. It can be IT or the business as long as it is owned and budgeted by someone.
Lack of Data Documentation
Data documentation is certainly a challenge. What is the “right” amount of data documentation to require? What will people use that will make them utilize the data more efficiently and effectively? What will increasing their level of understanding of the data that is available to them, how that data is defined, produced, and how it can be used add value to the business? Ask anybody who effectively uses any source of data and they will tell you that their understanding of the data is what leads to its effective use.
Metadata is a challenge for many organizations. Metadata can be defined as “data about data” or as I put it “information stored in IT tools that improves both the business and technical understanding of data and data-related assets.” Consider that metadata itself has to be governed. Someone needs to be formally responsible for defining what metadata or data documentation needs to be collected. Someone also needs to be formally accountable for producing that metadata, and hopefully, somebody will be formally accountable for using the metadata. Data documentation is a challenge that must be addressed.
And then there is the detailed matter of metadata storage, getting the metadata in order, metadata maintenance, and metadata access. This challenge relates to several others including the Resources to Apply and Budgets and Ownership.
Resources to Apply to Data Governance
I have stated several times that data and metadata will not govern itself. Somebody will need to be held formally accountable if your organization is expecting a sustainable level of success in governing these assets.
I suggest that you start with a single Data Governance or Information Governance Administrator. I wrote about the role of this person in another article that you can find here: A Data Governance Manager Job Description. It is not mandatory to start with a team, and in most cases I suggest that a single person to lead the charge is important.
In many cases the challenge is to find the “right” person, the “right” approach, the “right” amount of their time (full or part-time). Check out where I wrote about the ‘Data Governance Bill of “Rights”’ as well. Organizations that allocate dedicated resources that are evaluated on their success with Data Governance do better and move faster (no kidding) than organizations that find someone to take the responsibility beyond their other job functions and only allow a small percentage of their time to the program. I’m sorry – this is true! I think you knew this already.
Beyond the Administrator, there will likely need to be a Data Governance Council (~1-3 hours a month), Data Owners or Subject Matter Experts (that are already SMEs, but they will be used smarter with formal Data Governance), Stewards that define, produce, and use data already. An effective Data Governance Administrator that addresses this challenge knows who these Stewards are and how and when to engage them. You can read about a complete set of roles and responsibilities in the linked article. It will give you ideas about how to address this challenge.
Thank you for reading what I consider to be some of the biggest challenges organizations face when implementing a formal Data Governance program. When you are starting a Data Governance Program from scratch, you can almost count on needing to address these challenges and others head on.
In the area below feel free to state the challenges that you faced or are facing or provide input on how people can address the challenges that I have presented here. Thank you.