Way back in the early 2000s, Data Governance wasn’t really much of a thing. There were a few really early pioneers that were doing Data Governance, and they were laying the groundwork, but governance was not a recognized capability.
Companies who did see some value in Data Governance were primarily focused on the benefit to their data stores. Governance could offer more accurate data and make that data easier to find, but there was little awareness of true benefit of Data Governance for the business side.
In a recent DATAVERSITY® interview on Data Governance trends in 2022, Kelle O’Neal, the Founder & CEO of First San Francisco Partners, said that today clients are much more focused on governance, and often ask: “How does this solution add value to my organization?” The question is answered, she said, when Data Governance steps in and creates that discussion point.“ Not just around Master Data Management, but Metadata Management, Data Quality, and all sorts of other capabilities — and how does that add value?”
In the interview, O’Neal discussed the main Data Governance trends, changes, and challenges she’s been seeing in the industry, much of it stemming from an overall maturity of the industry around Data Governance.
Shift from Data Benefit to Business Benefit
Over time, she said, organizations have started to internalize that true business benefit of Data Governance: identification and mitigation of risk, opportunity for revenue growth, and increased productivity and efficiency that drives other expansion opportunities.
She credits a growing awareness among business people about the value of data.
“You can buy all these technology solutions, but if people don’t recognize the value of repeatability and have trust in the data, then it’s very hard to have the system force that change.”
The Data Generation
We now live in a world full of data. Children growing up now interface with data all the time, and they understand the importance of ensuring that their own data is accurate. They’re using it withapps on their phone, and there’s now an awareness around data as something that doesn’t need to be taught anymore. “It’s just there,” she said.
They recognize that data moves about, and they can see from a very young age where inaccuracies in data impact them. These fundamental realities around data are just normal, whereas before, they needed to be called out and identified.
Privacy Drives Awareness
Now, everyone understands that privacy is important, she said. Big data is just reality — it’s no longer a new trend, and because of that, the approach to Data Governance is shifting. It’s shifting because consumers and businesses are recognizing the importance of privacy.
People want their data to either be private, or they recognize the trade off if they release their data for sale. It’s no longer up to the government alone to regulate it. Children understand that when they sign up for an app and allow notifications, they are creating the opportunity for that app to know more about them, and the youth know they need to decide if that’s okay or not.
Shift from Regulatory Compliance
Up until five years ago, regulatory compliance was a huge driver for O’Neal’s business. Now the primary regulatory driver is data privacy, and the need for privacy controls around data is such a well-known fact that organizations are asking for help understanding nuances in the regulation, rather than asking if privacy is important.
In 2021, O’Neal analyzed by segments the work that First San Francisco Partners did. She discovered that the percentage of the business devoted to pure strategy work, (where a company says, “I need a Data Governance program. I don’t have one yet,” or “I need a Master Data Management program,”), has shifted and is now less than 20% of her business. “That’s not to say that companies don’t still need help, but they’ve already established some sort of foundational capability, and they’ve already started doing it. That is a big difference, it’s a significant Data Governance trend.”
This very quantifiable change in the maturity process around governance is what O’Neal considers biggest trend of 2021. “Data Strategy is still important, but now we’re starting from a clear understanding and an establishment of some capability.”
Education Moves Beyond the Basics
While education is still needed, the focus of that education has changed because people are ready to move beyond the basics, she said. Instead of introducing the idea of governance, O’Neal is able to work on helping clients realize value from the Data Governance programs they already have.
In the past, when companies needed training in the foundations of governance, they had to hire consultants. As online training resources such as DATAVERSITY have grown with the industry and expanded the scope and quality of their offerings, that’s no longer the case. Companies with limited budgets are able to give people a good basic education online and use consultants for more advanced training.
Moving Out of the Silo
Another Data Governance trend O’Neal is seeing is moving up the data supply chain:
“People are recognizing that BI and Analytics are not separate from Data Governance — they are just in another place on the continuum.”
Governance is all along that continuum, and the way that master data, for example, is used in an operational context, compared to master data in a BI/Analytics context, is actually just a stage of the same process. This is not a new idea, as industry thought leaders have been talking about it for a long time, but the difference is that it’s translating into reality, she said.
Previously, when working in the data space, she would need to convince analytics people that there was some value in being part of the process. Now, the people who should be involved in determining what the requirements of data are, and to address those requirements, are no longer living in silos dedicated to “Data Management” or “BI/Analytics.”
It truly is a movement toward including the entire data supply chain in that process, she said:
“It’s becoming more common for us to be hired by the heads of the Data Science group, or the chief AI officer because they understand that it’s all part of the same thing.”
Metadata Management at the Forefront
The ability to solve a problem from a metadata perspective provides a tremendous amount of value that helps organizations then prioritize other types of Data Management capabilities, she remarked.
For example, a solid understanding of metadata helps isolate and refine master data requirements, providing an opportunity to think about Data Quality at a different point as well, offering a much broader understanding of the data in the first place, before thresholds and dimensions are applied.
The Value of Change Management
Although change management has been a focus of First San Francisco Partners from the beginning, the industry awareness around change management was such that it felt optional to people. O’Neal found that if change management was bid as a separate line item, it would get taken off as the first way to address a budget constraint. Her response was to start “baking it in” to her services, “because we knew it was the right thing to do.”
Now companies are asking for change management and adoption exercises. O’Neal thinks that this is a consequence of companies buying software and discovering that it wasn’t getting used. “So, they’re recognizing that this is an adoption issue, a change management issue.”
It’s becoming more common for change management to be called out explicitly in budgets for tools and technology purchases so that management can see that money spent will be for things people will use.
Emerging Challenge of Cloud Apps and Solutions
Most IT organizations have a cloud governance policy or process, with a decision-making process around spinning up a new cloud tool if it costs more than 50k, she said. Yet many cloud tools are under that threshold, and therefore don’t meet the criteria for a formal Data Governance process. “Even those small purchases use data, create data, and can create a problem around data, if they’re not incorporated in the overall governance capability.”
It’s not new Data Governance, but rather a recognition that cloud applications and cloud data solutions, whatever their cost, need to have some level of value articulation, capability development, adoption, and of course, control.
The availability of training resources, a growing awareness of the importance of privacy, a desire to more effectively manage change, and an increased understanding of the value of data in business have all contributed to a shift in the industry, O’Neal said:
“The biggest Data Governance trend of 2022 is that you no longer have to establish the basics, and this is a very quantifiable difference in maturity around Data Governance.”
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