Data Governance is Not About Governing Data

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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 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.

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