Organisations have wrestled with the challenges of managing, maintaining and protecting data across systems and between departments for as long as they have used computers.
Often, they have turned to technology to help them do it. But as every new generation of data management technology passes without having resolved the issue once and for all, it becomes ever clearer that making data secure, compliant, accurate and timely is not simply a matter of deploying one tool or another.
Instead, it is now apparent, it takes careful data stewardship, well-managed data creation and curation processes and an organisational culture that recognises the value of data. This, broadly speaking, is what is meant by the term ‘data governance’.
An evolving discipline that encompasses data quality, compliance, security, business process management and more, data governance is perhaps best characterised as a methodology for balancing the various obligations, risks and benefits associated with data and its management.
“Data governance is about identifying who the stakeholders are and identifying what’s going to make the data fit for their use,” says Gwen Thomas, president of US consultancy the Data Governance Institute, “and making sure that you either govern it in such a way that it’s delivered to them in the way they need, or if that’s not feasible, you have a mechanism for resolving the issue."
The benefits will be self-evident to most IT professionals. Poor-quality data leads to failed IT projects; out-of-date data leads to missed commercial opportunities; insecure or non-compliant data can lead to public scandal and even a prison sentence for executives.
But achieving data governance is difficult. According to a survey conducted by IBM offshoot Initiate earlier this year, the typical data governance strategy is blighted by immaturity and a “suprising lack of perceived executive interest”.
As that suggests, asserting data governance is a challenge that will test an IT executive’s ability to influence the board and the behaviour of employees more than their technology management skills. This is also reflected in the cultural focus of many of the steps towards data governance presented below.
It may therefore be a daunting prospect for some. But with the volume of data, and its importance to business operations, only increasing, it is a challenge that can scarcely be avoided.
Click each step for explanation
- Build a business case
- Set up a data council
- Appoint a council leader
- Prioritise projects
- Sell the bigger picture
- Assert common definitions
- Automate where possible
- Measure success