What is Data Governance?

(What you need to know if you are just starting out)

I’ve been writing blogs on my favourite topic of Data Governance for many years now and it only recently occurred to me that I had never written a blog covering what Data Governance actually is!  I’m not sure how that happened as I know that understanding what it is, is a vital first step. In fact, it is the first thing I cover in my training courses.  So, of course, I had to resolve that straight away and this blog is the result.

The business value of Data Governance, is often lost amongst the confusion surrounding what exactly it entails, not to mention the overlap with other relevant but separate disciplines, so it is important that we are clear what we mean when we use the term.

SO WHAT IS DATA GOVERNANCE?

I’ll be honest it’s a topic that attracts some amount of confusion. A quick Google search will unveil a whole host of definitions and explanations that range from really useful, through confusing to downright wrong.  And I’ll be honest a lot of them are… well… a little bit boring!

The prolificacy of so many differing definitions a of source of much frustration, which I explore in more in this blog: Why are there so many different Data Governance definitions?

One of the better definitions I’ve found online is this:

“Data Governance is the cross-functional discipline of managing, improving, monitoring, maintaining and protecting data,” although I disagree with the “protecting” part (see the section below on what Data Governance Is Not for an explanation of why) it’s not a bad definition. It just won’t work for the business users you need to influence.

Think about it from their viewpoint – does it sound like something that is going to help them do their job better; or more rules and regulations that hinder them from doing their job? My experience is that if you use that type of definition when first introducing the topic to them you are likely to get the latter reaction.

My experience has taught me that you need to explain why your organisation is (or should be) doing Data Governance first. The “what Data Governance is” can come afterwards once your audience have agreed that they want it

So I use the following definition that I developed years ago:

Data Governance is all about proactively managing your data to support your business achieve its strategy and vision.

How many senior stakeholders wouldn’t want to know more about something that is going to help their organisation achieve its strategic objectives?

WHY DOES YOUR ORGANISATION NEED DATA GOVERNANCE?

Of course, after sharing such a definition, you need to be able to explain it in more detail if asked.  So make sure you have done your preparation and know what benefits your organisation could achieve if they implement Data Governance. If you’d like to find out about determining these I recommend that you read: Why you Need Data Governance.

ARE THERE BETTER NAMES TO CALL IT?

You may be thinking wouldn’t it just be simpler to change the title to better convey the benefits of Data Governance? And that may be something you wish to consider for your organisation. As I explain in Does it have to be called Data Governance? the topic is a generally misunderstood one and if changing the banner under which it is delivered, to make it suit your organisation, clears up any confusion then I’m all for it.

As long as the scope and purpose of your Data Governance initiative has been made clear from the off, a name change can be helpful in some cases.

Of course, that can be easier said than done if it’s not already clear what should be included in such an initiative in the first place!

WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU ARE “DOING” DATA GOVERNANCE?

There are many activities you may decide to include in your Data Governance initiative, but it is important to remember that one blanket or standard solution won’t work across all organisations. In fact I’ve been asked so many times over the years about standard frameworks for Data Governance – that I wrote this blog to explain why one wouldn’t work: Where can I find a Standard Data Governance Framework?

You need to design a framework suited to your organisation’s needs. It’s important that you work out what your organisation needs from Data Governance. No one is going to thank you for starting a major initiative to document data lineage if there is no immediate value in doing so! You need to look at which activities will help you deliver the benefits you hope to deliver for your organisation. In What should you include in a Data Governance initiative?I cover a number of steps you can go through to work out the ideal scope of your initiative.

WHAT DATA GOVERNANCE IS NOT!

Now we’ve explored what Data Governance is exactly, I’d like to end this article by looking at what it’s not.

Seems like a strange way of looking at things, right? But, given that a number of the misunderstandings around the topic arise, it’s worth clarifying a few things:

Though undeniably linked to your Data Governance framework, Data Protection (also known as Data Privacy) is often confused with DG. It specifically revolves around the protection of personal information and although more recent Data Protection regulations, like GDPR, do have requirements that are more easily met if you have a Data Governance Framework in place, Data Governance is a separate discipline supported by a different expert team in your organisation.

Likewise, Data Retention, which focuses on how long you should hold onto data before deleting it, is something which your Data Owners should be consulted on but is a fundamentally different discipline.

Records Management or Information Management do bear some similarities to Data Governance, though they focus on the handling of complete records (whether they are analogue or digital) rather than electronic data which are the building blocks of records/information.

While these separate disciplines all carry value in their own right and can (and should) be aligned with your Data Governance framework, they are ultimately separate.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding the links between these different areas can feed into the misconception of Data Governance as a sort of grand, big Brother-esque surveillance program designed to watch business users’ every move with their data.

This isn’t the case at all! Data Governance is actually more about getting your business users to care about their data and its quality.

I hope you’ve found this blog a useful place to start understanding Data Governance better. If you are just starting out why not download my free Data Governance checklist here and get on the right track to developing a framework that suits your organisation’s needs and ambitions.

Don’t forget if you have any questions, you’d like covered in future videos or blogs please email me – questions@nicolaaskham.com.

Originally published on nicolaaskham.com