Your Company Has the Flu – The Data Flu

ART03x - edited feature imageIs your company feeling any pain or suffering from the quality, protection, or understanding of your data? The chances are that your organization is feeling the pain. The germs are all around you, the symptoms are obvious, and the treatment or cure may or may not be readily available. Your company has The Data Flu.

One thing I know is that the treatments include a healthy dose of data governance. That is what this article is about.

The Germs

The germs of an unhealthy data environment come from the people, processes, and technologies associated with the data. People need to do the right things when it comes to the data of your organization.

Specific people must have the formal responsibility to define the data effectively – meaning that fore-thought, strategic by nature, must be given to the definition of the data. If you don’t have people responsible for strategic fore-thought of data definition, then germs are bound to multiply. It doesn’t matter how much “data sanitizer” you use.

People must have formal responsibility to produce the data such that it can be used as a strategic asset and that it is fit for purposeful use.

People must have formal responsibility for using the data the way it is intended to be used. This includes protecting sensitive data and conforming to the rules and regulations set forth by their industry and the governments of their country (and every other country they deal with).

Without formal responsibility for the data, it can become sick very quickly.

Germs can come from any process that is not well defined or executed effectively. Process often requires involving the “right” people at the “right” time doing the “right” things. I often refer to this as the Bill of “Rights”. This Bill lies at the core of effective data governance.

The Symptoms

How are you supposed to recognize the symptoms of the data flu? That would appear to be a core question that we want to ask ourselves. Symptoms of ill data include data that you do not trust, data that you spend too much time manipulating before you can use it, data that is hard to get, or data that “you know you can trust” from only your reliable sources. Believe me … the list is a lot longer than that.

Any or all those symptoms require attention. And the thing is, you probably already knew that. The problem in many cases is that there is no one in the organization that has responsibility for fixing what ails you.

This problem is like not having any doctors. Your company has the symptoms, but you do not have anyone to turn to that will help you solve these problems. That is … until now. The people responsible for Data Governance are typically the symptom-solvers when it comes to recording, communicating, and gaining awareness at the appropriate level of the organization – when it is sick.

The Treatment and The Cure

Treatment for all of what ails you, data-wise, may not be easy to come by and it often only solves parts of the problem. It is like the availability of the flu vaccine. The vaccine was available to many or maybe most. But even the flu vaccine was only partially effective.

One of the first treatments I recommend is that the organization create the function of Data Governance and give the “Doctor of Data” responsibility to someone. Perhaps your organization already has this function and you do not know of it. The next steps for you to follow is … to ask.

The Data Governance function may exist under the Office of Data Management (if that exists, but that is probably too easy or obvious) or perhaps the office of the Chief Data Officer (CDO). Gartner Group tells us that 90% of large organizations will have a CDO by the year 2019.1 2019 is not that far away. Another article for another day may focus on the need for a CDO versus the traditional Chief Information Officer (CIO) role.

If you do not have a Chief Data Officer and the Data Governance function is not a part of the Chief Information Officer’s repertoire, you may want to look under the reign of anybody that has the responsibility for improving your analytical capabilities – or has the term data science associated with their group. These are all good people to ask. And they are good people to get involved with if you are suffering from data flu symptoms.

Simply stated, the Data Governance function is all about executing and enforcing authority over the management of data and data-related assets. This function does not naturally happen without a formal responsibility to make it happen.

There are three basic approaches to building the cure … the Data Governance function. There is a command-and-control approach that requires the organization to assign people into roles that they don’t already play and feels over-and-above people’s existing work load. There is a traditional approach that echoes the words of “if you build the data governance function, they will come.” And finally, there is the non-invasive approach to Data Governance that assumes that people already have relationships to data that can be formalized in a way that doesn’t feel as … invasive. I’d use the last approach if I were you.


When you, personally, do not feel well or you have the flu, the recommendation is that you stay home and take care of yourself. You may even call the doctor. That’s probably a good idea.

When your data is not … well, you should probably do something about that too. Staying at home will not solve the problem.

The Data Governance function is the way organizations are addressing their data flu problem. The Data Governance function may be hidden under the name of something else (“Data Management”, “Information Asset Management”, “Data Asset Management or … organizations have been known to get creative) but the Data Governance function needs to exist if your organization is going to get healthier.


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Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. Seiner

Robert (Bob) S. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services and the Publisher Emeritus of The Data Administration Newsletter. Seiner is a thought-leader in the fields of data governance and metadata management. KIK (which stands for “knowledge is king”) offers consulting, mentoring and educational services focused on Non-Invasive Data Governance, data stewardship, data management and metadata management solutions. Seiner is the author of the industry’s top selling book on data governance – Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success (Technics Publications 2014) and the followup book - Non-Invasive Data Governance Strikes Again: Gaining Experience and Perspective (Technics 2023), and has hosted the popular monthly webinar series on data governance called Real-World Data Governance (w Dataversity) since 2012. Seiner holds the position of Adjunct Faculty and Instructor for the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College Chief Data Officer Executive Education program.

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