The Politics Of Data Governance: What We Can Learn From 2016 Presidential Elections?

art02x-image-edThe world is done watching 2016 US Presidential elections and many are going through withdrawal symptoms. Without passing a judgment on the process or outcome of the elections, I’d like to use the learnings from the US presidential elections and relate them to Data Governance. We all know that politics is everywhere, in our daily life as well as in corporations, and Data Governance politics are real whether you like it or not. In my mind, politics by itself is not a ‘dirty’ word and I’d like to acknowledge it and embrace it towards a successful Data Governance program in all data management engagements.Of course, I am not saying Corporate Data Governance is like the US Presidential Elections. Given that the elections and results are fresh in our minds, I’d like to use them to glean any learnings we might have concerning Data Governance, and use it as an occasion to reinforce some longstanding tenets towards the success of Data Governance in enterprise. Yes, it is somewhat tongue in cheek and opportunistic, but so what? Data Governance is such an important and impactful program that I’d like to use any current news to highlight Data Governance. So, let’s get on with it.

First, I am assuming that you are familiar with Data Governance. Just in case you are not, I’d like to use’s definition: “Data Governance (DG) refers to the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity, and security of the data employed in an enterprise.” Given the broad scope of Data Governance, the politics related to it are real and alive in enterprises. Ignore it at your own peril.

OK, what are the learnings and lessons from the recently concluded 2016 US Presidential elections? I am no expert in presidential politics, so I relied on pundits from reputed publications on the web to collect and present some key learnings. The following are the items they mentioned as key success factors for the winning campaign:

  • Identify your sponsors and support base that’ll stick with you through thick and thin: It is quite obvious that both major party presidential campaigns have gone through many twists and turns, but to a large extent, the winning campaign identified their support base and sponsors early on and that particular base supported their campaign even when things were seemingly going bad.
  • Build Enthusiasm: The winning campaign kept building the enthusiasm all the way till the final election date with constant communication and focused messaging.
  • Simple Works Best: The communication and the strategy was simple. The campaign focused on large rallies and direct messaging to the audience without any filters.
  • Keep the campaign focused: During the campaign, it appears the focus was lacking from both campaigns with many distractions, but the pundits came to the conclusion that the winning campaign was focused. Who am I to argue? To give them credit, the winning campaign had a much more focused slogan to rally around (again, I am not here to judge but just state the facts).
  • Keep the audience energized and keep up the momentum: This goes along with enthusiasm and it is no doubt that the campaign and the crowds drew energy from each other with massive rallies and constant messaging.
  • Capitalize on the frustrations of the disenfranchised: This is somewhat controversial but it is clear that the winning campaign capitalized on the frustrations of the disenfranchised and rode the wave.

In addition to these key success factors, I also gathered factors that led to failure for the losing campaign and what we can learn from them. They are:

  • Lack of focus: As I said earlier, both campaigns seemed to lack focus but the losing campaign surely had many more distractions; many of their own and some out of their control. This came back to haunt them in the end.
  • Inability to energize and generate enthusiasm: The losing campaign could not muster enough of enthusiastic audience / sponsors / supporters that would go all the way to make the campaign successful.
  • Lack of transparency and trust: At the end, it came down to relative trust and transparency between two campaigns and the losing campaign seemed to have more of a trust deficit.

As I looked through these learnings, I could not help but identify the commonalities between these and the critical success factors for Data Governance that I am aware of based on our engagements and commonly agreed best practices. Let me restate these key success factors for Data Governance and the politics related to these factors:

  • Identify an Executive Sponsor and ensure his / her buy-in: Without a doubt, this is probably the single most important factor that will either make Data Governance successful or doomed. Many data management initiatives failed when the key executive sponsor left the company, was reassigned – or worse – bailed out when things were not going right. The executive sponsor of course brings many office politics with him or her. How high in the organization is the executive sponsor? What is his/her clout? Which business function does s/he represent and what is the relative power of that business group? These are all questions one needs to address and they can’t be swept under the carpet. Given that the executive sponsors are either self-selected or assigned, there is not much one can do to alter the equation, but understanding the equation will be helpful in steering Data Governance the right way.
  • Start strong and keep it going: Data Governance in general is not started in isolation but most often aligned with some other data management initiative such as Master Data Management (MDM). It is very important to start with great enthusiasm from key management as well as stakeholders and keep it going. It is important to identify your enthusiastic supporters and continue to engage them to keep the Data Governance program succeeding. Also, understand the value proposition related to the main data management initiative such as MDM. Is it completely bought-in? How high is the visibility for that initiative in business groups? Make sure that it is not just an Information Technology-led initiative but a business unit-led initiative with active participation from IT to give Data Governance adequate political clout.
  • Have a clear focus: Many data management initiatives have gone astray very quickly without a clear focus. Ask simple questions, such as: what is the primary purpose of this initiative? Who’ll benefit from its success? What business functions will derive value from it? Always start small with narrow but defined focus and gradually expand it over a period of time.
  • Set up a proper foundation with a strong Executive council and defined data stewardship: Ensure that there is a strong core with a powerful Executive council and Data Governance council with sufficient authority to drive the program. Ensure that the data stewards who most likely are doing stewardship as part of their daily jobs have formal stewardship roles. Remember that ‘responsibility without authority’ is a political disaster waiting to happen.
  • Continued communication with stakeholder engagement: People who have been delivering successful Data Governance programs will tell you that these initiatives will thrive or fail based on their communication and stakeholder engagement. Make sure that the communication to stakeholders is appropriately frequent and relevant. Use a combination of mechanisms (email, bulletins, face to face, all hands etc.) to stay engaged.
  • Get some quick wins to attract management/audience attention: More often than not, either business intelligence communities or some kind of risk management/regulatory task drives data management initiatives in combination with Data Governance. If these are the ‘disenfranchised’ communities who haven’t been satisfied with their needs, make sure that you identify some quick wins for these groups and communicate those quick wins.

Politics is a very fascinating area. People seem to either hate it, indulge in it whole-heartedly, or try to ignore it unsuccessfully. Data Governance is no exception and acknowledging the politics and dealing with it head-on is the best approach as opposed to ignoring it. Even though Presidential elections and Data Governance initiatives may seem worlds apart at a cursory glance, the 2016 US Presidential elections gave us a golden opportunity to learn, and apply these learnings towards implementing successful Data Governance initiatives.

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Ramesh Dontha

Ramesh Dontha

Ramesh Dontha is Managing Partner at Digital Transformation Pro (www.DigitalTransformationPro.Com), a management consulting company focusing on Data Strategy, Data Governance, Data Quality and related Data management practices. For more than 15 years, Ramesh has put together successful strategies and implementation plans to meet/exceed business objectives and deliver business value . His personal passion is to demystify the intricacies of data governance and data management and make them applicable to business strategies and objectives. Ramesh can either be reached on LinkedIn or via email: rkdontha AT

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