Putting a positive spin on data governance

With data having become the ‘new oil’, it may be time to use a different term for data governance when having discussions with business.
Read time 4min 10sec

Data governance − establishing the correct procedures and policies for the formal management of data − is crucial and is still in its infancy within most organisations in South Africa and around the world.

While no organisation will deny that this is important, the very word ‘governance’ may be a stumbling block in the way of broader and more effective adoption and implementation.

As a data practitioner, I commonly find that when having a conversation with business, as soon as I mention the dreaded words ‘data governance’ in a meeting, people’s eyes gloss over. Their inbuilt protection mechanisms go on high alert and they ready themselves to object to anything you say moving forward, even the positives.

This may be because for many people, governance implies a rigid and punitive system − in short, a grudge process that does little to add value to the business and its bottom line.

Unfortunately, the drive for data governance has generally been motivated by a ‘stick approach’ due to regulations, be it POPIA, GDPA, BCBS 239 and so on. Most organisations have started on their data governance journey out of fear, not value creation.

In my experience, many data governance programmes fail due to a failure to sell the value of a data governance programme within an organisation.

This failure is due to many reasons, including the ability of data practitioners to convince business of the value of such a programme, an inability to link business value to data governance projects, failing to focus on business value rather than the number of assets being monitored, executive buy-in (as with most IT-based projects, senior commitment and buy-in will determine success or failure) and using ‘stick measures’ like regulations alone rather than finding ‘carrots’ to encourage compliance.

Most organisations have started on their data governance journey out of fear, not value creation.

So why not change the conversation and refer to the data governance programme as something different; for example, ‘data asset management programme’? Why? Data is an asset with a fiscal value, and the main reason for initiating a data governance programme is primarily to manage your data assets more effectively.

From a purist point of view, this could be viewed as blasphemy. Mainly due to the formal definition of ‘data asset management’ which in reality does not equal ‘data governance’.

For me, the term is to change the label of the programme, not the content thereof nor the goals. The programme will still be a ‘data governance’ initiative − just running under a different label or heading.

This label recognises data as something of value, to be curated to drive more value. Many organisations today are realising that data is a true asset, which, if managed effectively, can lead to the organisation achieving growth and outsmarting the competition. Many publications use a very high-level theoretical value of somewhere between 20% and 60% of the value of your company.

That said, there are more scientific methods which can be used to get a more accurate valuation of data assets. It is worth reading Infonomicsby Douglas B Laney for details.

So conservatively at 20% of the value of the organisation and growing in value daily, data is a major asset which needs to be managed effectively − just like any other asset. To manage this asset effectively, one needs to set up the correct internal structures, agree on roles and responsibilities for managing it, then implement the correct tools to assist with this process.

Now you may be wondering, how do we sell the data governance programme to business?

Firstly, it is important to make them understand the value of the data as a whole within the organisation. This means bringing home the value of data as a competitive advantage driver, and the very real costs of mismanaged data.

With step one complete, look at the challenges faced within the organisation when utilising data: Did poor quality of data or lack of access to the correct data delay a product launch? Did the business make a poor decision based on the incorrect information? Did the business decide to enter into a market and fail because it was unable to understand the data within the organisation?

Reviewing these losses and highlighting them to business will assist with the first steps to getting business to realise why understanding and having access to clean and consistent data is important for all those concerned.

Lastly, use my new programme label ‘data asset management’ or create your own label, as a more positive, value-forward take on data governance.

Lawrence Smith

KID Group presales solution architect.

Lawrence Smith is KID Group presales solution architect. He is focused on supporting growth in the group’s new robotics division and driving additional Informatica business within Infoflow. Smith has 18 years’ industry experience, architecting solutions for various global customers while working for companies including Automation Anywhere, Informatica, Oracle and Sage Software.

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