Is a Lack of Data Governance Cancerous?

ART02x - edited feature imageOften individuals in an organization believe that they don’t have to think about Data Governance (DG) during the implementation stage and assume that they can worry about it later.  Fast forward a few years, the same individuals complain that:

— My reports are inconsistent.
— I am seeing wrong values.
— We need to improve our data quality.
— Why do we have so many duplicates?

Initiating Data Governance early on would have helped address these concerns before they became “issues.”

When I see a hesitation to initiate Data Governance before a problem arises, I feel the need to compare this to one of the real-world scenarios and lay out the side effects of late onset Data Governance.

My comparison is with “Cancer.” Cancer is a serious disease that stresses and overwhelms individuals with uncertainty about treatment options and possible side effects. Consequences of cancer can be life threatening but if caught on time, there is hope! Lack of DG in an organization is similar to Cancer diagnosis. It can be compared to the various stages of Cancer.

Why is Staging Important?

Staging is a way of describing the size of cancer and how far it has grown. Lack of Data Governance also fits well into different levels of staging. Staging determines the severity of the situation. It is important because it helps us determine the type of treatment necessary to solve the problem

Let’s dig into this a little more and identify the various stages that are common for both.

Stage 0:

This stage essentially means that the cancer is “in place.” Cancer cells are still located in the place they started and has not spread outside to the nearby tissues.

In case of Data Governance, a lot of data issues start within “silo” groups. Data integrity and quality issues are minimal if it is contained within a group and usually handled without much hassle.

In this stage, both cancer and DG issues are often highly curable by easily addressing the little tumor growing within the contained area.  While treatments for cancer focus on clean eating and taking steps to boost the immune system, data management will require teams to address the minor problems that are currently surfacing within the team and solve it before it gets worse.

Subject Matter experts within the team can be the Data Stewards that identify the issue and fix it. No formal DG forum is required to address concerns in this phase. Data Steward does not have to be a separate job description. Usually SMEs fill this role.

Stage 1:

This stage is usually a small cancer or tumor that has not grown deeply into nearby tissues. This is an early- stage cancer.

In case of DG, the problem is identified within the group and if not address can develop into a larger issue and impact external groups or departments.

While the cancer treatment focuses on removing the tumor with surgery, DG will require removal of data contaminators with a plan to address the issue. Similar to Stage 0, Data Stewards within the team will need to address the issues not as a single incident, but as a “problem” addressing the root cause.

Data Steward does not have to be a separate job description. Usually SMEs fill this role.  Fixing the root cause will remove the possibility of a recurrence of that same data issue. No formal DG forum is required at this phase as the impact is local.

Stage 2:

This stage usually means that the tumor is larger than in stage 1, but the cancer has not started to spread into surrounding tissues.

Data integrity and data quality issues at this phase is still initial and it can be easily addressed within the group before it starts impacting other teams. Teams need to create an SME group within the team to address all data issues identified. These SMEs will be Data Stewards ensuring that data produced and consumed by the team is of good quality.  No formal DG forum is required at this phase as the impact is local but a more structured set up within the team is required to address data issues before it starts impacting other teams.

Data Steward does not have to be a separate job description. Usually SMEs fill this role.

Stage 3:

This stage indicates larger cancer or tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissue. They have not spread to other parts of the body.

Data integrity and MDM issues have begun to surface more prominently in this phase across departments. MDM issues are being created that is resulting in Data Quality issues that need to be addressed. While this has not become an Enterprise issue, it has the potential to become one if not addressed.  Data Stewards (SME) need to be identified within all teams that consume the impacted data.

While an enterprise level DG committee is not required, there is a need for regular coordination between impacted teams. Data Stewards of all impacted teams should work collaboratively to address data issues before it creates disruption.

Stage 4:

This stage means that the cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body. It may also be called advanced or metastatic cancer.

Data integrity and Data Quality issues has spread across the organization. The entire enterprise is dealing with consequences due to lack of Data Governance within the organization.

While this phase of cancer may not have a favorable solution, the data management issue can be addressed and resolved with a Data Governance solution within the enterprise.

This phase is when senior leadership needs to be involved, a sponsor is identified, and a full-fledged DG program is initiated within the organization. It will also require a formal Enterprise level Data Governance committee to be set up. Formal sponsorship has to be identified with clarity on stakeholder roles and responsibilities.

In Conclusion:

While this can be perceived as a morbid comparison the goal of this comparison is for organizations to not ignore the data needs of your organization before it becomes too late. Ensure that you have your annual checkups and apply your Data Governance therapy to address any underlying data integrity and Master Data Management (MDM) concerns. Not all stages require a full-fledged Data Governance application within an organization. Data Governance can be non-invasive and knowing the stage enables the provider to formulate an effective treatment plan that suits the identified stage. Have you had your DG checkup yet?

Share this post

Anu Tirupathi

Anu Tirupathi

Anu Tirupathi is a Principal Enterprise Analyst at Intellectual Ventures. Anu is very passionate about work related to data strategies, data quality and other data management practices. She has spent more than 10 years on this topic and continues to have the thirst to learn more about data. Anu spends her leisure time hiking and spending quality time with her family. Anu can be reached on Linkedin or via email at

scroll to top