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Data Governance is Not About Governing Data

By   /  October 10, 2017  /  1 Comment

Click to learn more about author Frank Cerwin.

Governance is all around us in our daily lives.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) governs meat that we purchase in grocery stores.  The county’s Recorder of Deeds governs land ownership.  Government bodies at the municipal, county, and state levels govern roadways with stop signs, street lights, and speed-limit signs.  The dictionary.com definition of governance is “to rule over; to influence and guide; to control”.  Are meat, land, and roads being governed?   No.  These objects have no cognitive ability to understand rules imposed on them.  They’re not capable of reasoning and judgement to be influenced or guided.  So, what is actually being governed?

The answer is that people are being governed.  It’s people who process the meat, buy and sell land, and drive cars on the streets.  Even with self-driving cars, a person created the logic that went into the on-board computer.  This truth also applies to Data Governance.  Just like meat, land, and roads, data has no cognitive ability of its own to understand and abide by rules without someone executing a process that acts upon it.  Processes performed by and automated by people who create, acquire, maintain, use, share, and dispose of data.

There are three categories of people who comprise the Data Governance system, or more appropriately, the data government.  There are those who create the rules, those who execute the rules, and those who adjudicate the rules.  This is very similar to our legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government at the national, state, county, and municipal levels.  All of these government levels have all three branches.  The legislative branch of a data government develops and communicates the rules regarding who, where, and when data can be created, accessed, modified, stored, moved, and disposed.  These rules can be decreed by the organization, an industry group, business partners, or national government agencies.  The executive branch determines how the rules will be carried out, executes them in the form of manual and automated processes, and monitors compliance.  When non-compliance is detected, the judicial branch adjudicates violations of the rules and imposes penalties.

It’s the people within the executive branch (think “execution” rather than a group of executives in suits) of the organization that are actually being guided and controlled.  The subject that the governance acts upon is ‘data’ and understanding it is important.  However, at times, the data itself becomes the primary focus of our effort because we tend to choose the easier activity.  Governing people is the difficult challenge and requires skills in marketing, motivating, and managing across several organizational roles.  It’s time to sharpen your people skills to effectively govern data.  The objective is ultimately to have data governance relied on and appreciated as much we rely on the USDA seal on our steak, the deed proving ownership of our home, and a stoplight at a busy intersection.

About the author

Frank Cerwin focuses his firm, Data Mastery Inc., on Master Data Management (MDM) strategy, planning, design, and education. Frank developed and offers clients a highly-acclaimed MDM framework and service operating model that establishes a long-term, sustainable MDM program. His framework and model have proven to overcome issues experienced by organizations who struggle to launch, cost justify, sustain, or grow their MDM programs. Frank has over 30 years of leadership and architect experience at Fortune 500 companies. His extensive career experience spans MDM, customer analytics, database management, Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), application development, and security. Frank’s industry experience includes banking, insurance, restaurant, manufacturing, and healthcare, as well as government. Frank is the producer and presenter of the online course “Mastering a Master Data Management Program” that is offered through Dataversity Training Center. He is a Six Sigma Green Belt and ITIL certified and has been a featured speaker at several national data conferences including Enterprise Data World, Enterprise Dataversity, TDWI, Data Governance/Information Quality, and BI Innovation Summit. Follow Frank at: Twitter, LinkedIn

  • Richord1

    I agree that data governance should be focused on people. However, as much as we would infer, government and companies are not primarily governed by laws and policies but by norms and behaviors.
    With data, governance should examine what are the current norms and behaviors with respect to quality, responsibility and accountability for data and other forms of information such as documents and e-mails.
    Governing information and data is more like governing freedom of expression and freedom of speech. What rights and obligations do people have with the data within the organization? Looking at data and information in this way will provide valuable insights as to how to develop norms and behaviors about information and data that reflect the “culture” of the organization and only then can policies be developed to better govern. Sustainable data governance requires a change in norms and behaviors not process.

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