In October 2018, DATAVERSITY® released the report Trends in Data Governance and Data Stewardship, which was based on an online survey that garnered responses primarily from Information and Data Governance specialists, Data and Information Architects, and Business Intelligence and Analytics professionals. Findings from the survey revealed, among other things, that there’s still a lack of maturity in these areas, that there remains a dissatisfaction with the quality of business data, and that despite a growing understanding of the value of practicing Data Governance and Data Stewardship, not a lot of energy is expended on taking action to extract that value.
As we enter into 2019, we asked leaders in the Data Management field to offer their thoughts about how Data Governance will — or should — evolve in the new year, as well as where troubles and gaps in Data Governance will create problems. They provide perspective that companies should consider as they contemplate considerations for their Data Governance programs.
Let’s start with some insights into the consequences of not pressing offense on the Data Governance court. In 2019, says Anthony Algmin, Principal at Algmin Data Leadership and co-author of the DATAVERSITY report, some companies will recognize that Data Governance helps to efficiently coordinate activities to extract value from data in motion. This will drive improvements in business outcomes. “Some companies will learn this in 2019, and others will step further towards irrelevancy,” he comments. “Others will see this and implement Data Governance, but do so poorly, with little connection or impact on business operations.” Data Governance that fails to drive real data value, he says, is just a waste of resources.
Without Data Governance, expect “a whole slew of Data Management initiatives to flail around and potentially fail. Just about any corporate-wide Master Data Management project will struggle without Data Governance in place,” says Andy Hayler, CEO of the analyst firm The Information Difference. It becomes hard to answer really basic but important questions — such as who are the most profitable customers and what are the most profitable channels — when different parts of the business may be classifying product, customer, and channels in different ways, he explains.
In some industries, “spectacular failures” that have their root causes in data issues are on the horizon — in fact, they already are happening, says John Ladley, Chief Delivery Officer at information management consulting firm First San Francisco Partners. “I have already seen this in three decent size companies and it will continue,” he says. Perhaps less drastic but still undesirable: “Companies that do not spend more attention on their data assets will miss enormous opportunities to save money or monetize data assets.”
Next year the clear delineation that exists between those organizations that maintain a reactive and defensive stance to Data Governance — that is, pain avoidance — vs. those that leverage the threat of “data trauma” as an impetus to increase overall data visibility and fluency, will become obvious, says Danny Sandwell, Director of Product Marketing at Data Governance vendor erwin. “The latter will drive the emergence of true data-driven entities,” he says. The former will “continue to try to plug the holes in the boat,” instead of realizing long-term success in transforming data into a true enterprise asset.
Moving Forward with Data Governance
For companies that want to avoid as many Data Governance missteps this coming year as possible — and what company wouldn’t? —businesses will have to do the footwork to discover best practices, although they shouldn’t necessarily be married to them.
“Certainly, the implementation of Data Governance is very patchy,” says Hayler. “One thing to consider would be to establish what best practice in the area looks like.” The hard part is that while technology can help with Data Governance, it really is a business process:
“At its heart it means business people taking responsibility for data ownership and having difficult discussions around aligning their data — for example, which department’s version of the product classification hierarchy is ‘correct’ and is to be used going forward across the whole enterprise.”
The Information Difference provides a Data Governance benchmark database to get some leads about what practices are associated with high-performing organizations.
Businesses also can look to resources such as the DAMA DMBOK2 (Data Management Body of Knowledge), industry conferences and organizations, and consultants or peers who have had previous successful experiences, says Donna Burbank, managing director at consultancy Global Data Strategy, Ltd. “I would suggest that those starting Data Governance educate themselves using existing best practices, and proactively reach out to others in the industry who have succeeded.”
That said, it’s important to customize any Data Governance implementation to a company’s unique corporate culture and business goals.
“Too often I’ve seen companies try to simply build a ‘cookie cutter’ implementation that has been taken as-is from a documented best practice, and these generally have limited success,” she says. “Governance only works well when it’s integrated into the daily operations and roles of an organization and, since each organization is unique, so should be each Data Governance implementation.”
Look to the future, too, and govern toward that future state, recommends Kelle O’Neal, Founder and CEO of First San Francisco Partners. “It is clear that creating a Data Governance program takes time, therefore people should build toward the future, not the present,” she says. For example, if more and more data is coming from external sources, then the majority of the effort should be focused on the data acquisition process to ensure that data is ingested in a way that facilitates understanding and protection, she explains.
Companies also should recognize that building out a Data Governance program doesn’t have to be a completely linear or sequential process.
“There is value in creating multiple tracks to address immediate, urgent needs as well as long-term, future needs,” O’Neal says. “Many organizations have innovation groups that are free to experiment on products of the future. A similar approach could be taken for governance, to ensure that governance is forward-looking.”
Ultimately, Data Governance is not a go-big or go-home process. In 2019, put the focus on delivering something, Ladley says:
“If they have a glossary, then do something with it. If they intend to do a glossary, then do one. Or govern something that is mundane, but a high return, like streamlining reports or metric Data Quality.”
Sandwell sees taking small steps as a good approach to Data Governance in 2019, too.
“Organizations that have accomplished the basics — budget, designated resources, executive sponsorship — will look to launch limited implementation, generally associated with a specific data intensive initiative, like MDM, compliance, Data Lakes or Metadata Management, to establish a foundation and value proposition upon which to iterate Data Governance.”
Data Governance Support Structures and Supporters
As companies continue to evolve, their Data Governance aids will too.
“Advances with Artificial Intelligence and other technologies are poised to ease the burden of many activities related to Data Governance,” says Algmin. “I think we’ll soon see transformative changes in metadata, master data, and Data Quality Management capabilities — which are three key data refinement disciplines necessary to put data in an optimal form for data consumers.”
Technologies will continue to evolve, O’Neal agrees. They will enable “more automated and intelligent ways of ensuring trusted, understood data, and Data Governance practices will want to leverage those technologies to improve the efficiency and transparency of their programs,” she says.
On the culture side, Ladley believes that 2019 won’t necessarily bring either sufficient leadership support or resources to get Data Governance programs to a sustainable level. Yet O’Neal believes that in many industries, such as financial services, many C-level executives do recognize the importance of data, even if the company doesn’t have an official Chief Data Officer.
“Other industries are catching up and are seeing that data can be a competitive differentiator that enables them to leapfrog their competition by being ‘smarter,’” she says. “Maybe I’m just the eternal optimist, but I’m seeing more companies focused on investigating how to make data an asset, than questioning if data is an asset.”
Burbank also sees that the spotlight among clients on digital transformation and customer centricity requires Data Governance to be successful. “I think more organizations will see the value of data as a strategic asset and there will be more of a focus on Data Governance as a result,” Burbank says.
Another positive influence prompting better Data Governance is that “data ethics is becoming more important and companies are concerned about whether they are acquiring, managing, using, and sharing data in ways that match their company values,” O’Neal says. “I think that this will be a key focus area in 2019 for Data Governance thought leaders and practitioners.”
Data Governance to help meet that noble goal doesn’t mean that adherence to regulatory requirements to avoid business risks will fade into the background as Data Governance drivers. “New privacy regulations, as well as higher customer expectations, will bring Data Quality into focus,” says Manish Sood, CEO of Data Management vendor Reltio.
O’Neal points out that privacy, transparency, and portability are the current areas of regulatory importance that companies need to address:
“This coming year in the US, we will see states adopting stricter data transparency and portability regulations. Also anticipated in 2019 is the final publishing and application of the EU ePrivacy Regulation, which will impact even non-EU-headquartered businesses.”
Although more organizations are moving to governance for business benefit as the “carrot,” the “stick” of regulation will continue to be a factor as well, Burbank says:
“Particularly as more and more organizations have customer centricity as a core goal for their business strategy, consumer privacy regulations such as GDPR and other regional privacy laws come into play.”
Are We There Yet?
As the experts indicate — no. Indeed, Data Governance perhaps is more about the journey than the destination. “I think companies will always be figuring it out because they will always be innovating around Governance,” O’Neal says.
Another observation: The readiness is all, and too often companies are not ready enough. “There is an old saying to the effect ‘don’t bring a knife to a gun fight,” says Author and President of Data Quality Solutions Dr. Thomas C. Redman:
“In many, probably most, data programs, we’re bringing a squirt gun to a tank battle. Companies will struggle with this until they realize how pervasive and fundamental the issues are and put aggressive, well-positioned, well-staffed programs in place.”
When it comes to Data Governance planning for 2019, there are just too many issues for companies to face all at once. Given the need to pull together a strong team, Redman recommends focusing on talent development and placement. “This is going to take a lot of people up and down the organization chart,” he says. “Companies need to develop this talent on their own.” And they have to create a structure to get the right people in the right spots, too.
Despite the challenges, there’s still a bright outlook for 2019.
“The increasing interest in data as a strategic asset has increased the focus on Data Governance,” says Burbank. “If many organizations are at a low level of maturity, this is very well an indication of the number of new organizations engaging in Data Governance, which is a positive trend.”
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