Designing Data Governance

Artist paintbrushes in a jar over colorful backgroundIn our last entry, we talked about assessment.  Now we’re moving into the design phase of our information management program.  Here, we reap the knowledge we gained in the assessment phase into the delicious shredded wheat of a functioning program; perhaps with a dram of milk and a dash sugar in the form of a Common Data Matrix and Governance Council.

Putting Together a Council

One of the key connection points to the business is the existence of a governance council that aligns the program to the business and is a conduit to communicating across the organization.  In our case, the governance council is comprised of “information stewards” who have been selected from each business unit and who are recognized as being responsible for the production, use and definition of data assets within their individual business units.  This council is known as the Information Stewards Committee, and one of their first tasks is to work with us to develop a common data matrix (see below).

Recognizing Council Members

During our Assessment phase, we spent some time understanding the culture of the organization.  Using this knowledge we can reach out and work with the business to recognize the people who will be our executors of the production, use, and definition of data assets across the organization.  The term “recognizing” is important here.  The connotation we wish to promote is that we are simply formalizing the relationship to data.  When we use words like “appoint” or “identify,” we are creating a sense of additional work or responsibility.   If we begin our program by weighing down our supporters, it may be very difficult to gain traction from those who will end up being our greatest champions and assets.

Terms of Reference

Of key importance when working with a new team of people in a council is to clearly define how the council functions.   Terms of reference defines for our council the purpose, mandate, responsibility, makeup, and communication strategy.

Our council is made up of business leaders across the organization.  Some cultures may allow for more frequent meetings, and some business issues may require more in-depth collaboration, but in the interests of keeping meetings impactful and valuable to our team, we kept our meetings to once a quarter.

The council is responsible for approving, discussing, and being a part of the mechanisms of our program.  They take an active advisory role in working with us to define the production, use, and definition of data.  Our council advises us on how to best deliver a framework for data quality, and is a team player in turning on the lights that illuminate the value of what we’re doing.

Effective Communications

Now that we have a team recognized and in place, it’s key that we communicate effectively with them.  These are the movers and shakers within our organization.  We do not need to continually send them mundane updates.  Everything we send should be exciting, impactful, and actionable.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should introduce ourselves and the program to our council.  What we did here was hold 1-on-1 meetings with our recognized Stewards.  This is where my personal whimsy took over and we called the meetings, “Data Enthusiasts in Offices Drinking Coffee.”  We set up a very informal set of discussions to essentially train people on what it is we do, how we’re here to help align the business to the information assets, and give everyone a sense of what the next few months will look like.   This gives us an opportunity for our stewards to communicate any challenges that they may be facing, and allows us to speak to how the program will work with them.

Key things we said in each 1-on-1:

  • “Congratulations on being recognized as an information steward for your business unit.”
  • “Our goal is to give the business confidence in their decision making based on information assets.”
  • “We’re here to help, not to change.”
  • “We’re going to understand, document, and formalize what it is you do already around the production, use, and definition of data.”

Just like being trained in media or public relations, having consistent messaging across all mediums is important, and make sure that your communication to the council continually aligns to the goals of your program.

Effective Meetings

Meetings must have broad value and be actionable, valuable, and engaging for each member of the council.  Nicola Askham has a great article available on relating to this (  In short, much of what we’ve outlined for the terms of reference, along with working hard and consistently to create valuable meetings for our committee.

A Common Data Matrix

The curator of and author of Non-Invasive Data Governance, Bob Seiner, created and freely gives out a template for a “Common Data Matrix”.  This is an artifact used to document at a high-level how data domains are interacted with across the organization.  With this we can document which areas of our business have the ability to create, read, use, or remove data assets.  We can also identify the source system, any provisioning systems (data warehouse, data lake, or operational data store) and perhaps any shadow systems that may be in play.

Now, while Bob’s provided matrix is fantastic, you’ll want to make some changes to localize it to your environment.  Make sure all the nomenclature is aligned to your communication strategy as we’ve discussed above.  Are there other aspects you wish to capture about these data domains?  For us, we had a desire to capture which domains and sub-domains of data were confidential and protected by federal legislation and regulation.

To earn a template of the “Common Data Matrix”, you can attend one of the “Real World Data Governance” webinars hosted by Dataversity (, or purchase Non-Invasive Data Governance (ISBN: 978-1935504856).

There be Data Dragons

Once the common data matrix is being filled out, you will run into what I whimsically call, “Data Dragons”.  Nothing shines a light on issues like documenting process and providing data to our constituents.   During the exercise of filling in the matrix, we will discover shadow IT, and we will see data that is not following the processes we are formalizing.  These be our data dragons.  They exist in every organization where someone has not tread the path to discovering the source of data.  Pockets of IT sprung up by well-meaning people within our organization armed with nothing but a dream and a license for Microsoft Excel.  Out of their endeavors springs a creation that is so cute and adorable in its hatchling form, providing that long-needed stop-gap for the operation of a business unit.  However, overtime it grows and consumes, morphing into its final form as our dastardly Data Dragon, wreaking chaos on our data in many untold ways.

The key to slaying the Data Dragon lies within the Common Data Matrix.  Why did this happen in the first place?  We need to work with our information stewards to help slay the beast, which usually means evicting it from its Microsoft Excel dungeon.

Defining our Focus and The Great Unveiling

We’ve put together the key components of our program, now it’s time to bring it to the business, define our focus, and start to realize the benefits of our program.  Stay tuned for our progress!

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Mark Horseman

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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