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How to Build Data Governance Programs That Last: A Business-First Approach

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Read more about author Emily Washington.

Data analytics and AI play an increasingly pivotal role in most modern organizations. To keep those initiatives on track, enterprises must roll out Data Governance programs to ensure data integrity, compliance, and optimal business value. Data Governance has become a fundamental element of success, a key to establishing the data integrity framework in any business.

The most successful Data Governance programs use a business-first approach, delivering quick wins and cultivating sustained success throughout the organization. Unfortunately, many organizations neglect to implement such programs until they experience a negative event that highlights the absence of good Data Governance. That could be a data breach, a breakdown in Data Quality, or a compliance action that highlights the lack of effective controls.

Once that happens, there are several different paths a Data Governance initiative might take. A typical scenario often plays out this way: The executive team calls for implementation of a company-wide Data Governance program. The newly minted Data Governance team forges ahead, engaging business users throughout the organization and expecting that everyone will be aligned around a common purpose.

Why So Many Data Governance Programs Fall Short

The problem with that approach is that business users don’t always see the big picture, and roles and responsibilities may not be clearly defined. Even though executive management is fully on board, the front-line employees who work with the data every day don’t necessarily understand who should be doing what. 

Expectations are often misaligned, as business users look to the Data Governance team to deal with minutiae. That often leads to a firefighting mentality, endless cycles of meetings, and frustration all around. Ultimately, executive management revokes its commitment, and the Data Governance program sits on the back burner until another negative incident involving data emerges.

There is a better way. It involves a business-first approach that aligns the Data Governance program with clear goals that add value for the organization. It requires a well-defined path to success, with clear priorities that enable your Data Governance program to show tangible progress.

A Business-First Approach to Data Governance

The business-first approach centers around four key principles:

  • Data Governance must be clearly linked to the overarching goals of the business.
  • Data must be prioritized, focusing on the most essential elements initially.
  • Effective stakeholder engagement must happen across all levels of the organization.
  • The team must define and articulate a clear path to success that aligns with stakeholders’ definition of organizational success.

The advantages of this business-first approach have proven out over and over again. 

How Data Drives Your Business

Data serves three critically important functions in most organizations. Reporting and compliance helps to shield the company from regulatory action and risk. Analytics and insights inform both strategic and tactical decisions and provide an accurate picture of how the organization is doing with respect to key performance indicators (KPIs) and process performance indicators (PPIs). Finally, data drives operational excellence by enabling automation and eliminating friction from business processes.

The best Data Governance programs act as a support for all three of these functions. To be successful, data professionals must think about how data is going to be used to drive all of them simultaneously. In many organizations, these three functions often operate as disconnected silos, although they frequently work with the same data.

Imagine that customer service leaders in the organization want to increase online data availability for self-service inquiries without adversely impacting risk and compliance. That could result in happier customers and fewer routine calls handled by customer service personnel. The same customer data serves the product management team, as they seek to better understand the company’s customers and their needs using advanced analytics

An effective Data Governance program helps to meet these objectives. It reframes Data Governance as a supporting function that contributes to success across various business initiatives, rather than as a net-new responsibility that each department must attend to in its own way. To business users, this shifts Data Governance from the liability column to the asset column. 

Prioritize Your Data

Not all data is created equal. When program leaders fail to prioritize, their Data Governance programs are less likely to produce the intended results, largely because they fail to establish the value of specific data elements with respect to clearly defined business objectives.

Engage Your Stakeholders for Success

Naturally, it is important to engage with your colleagues throughout all levels of the organization to make your Data Governance program a success. Program leaders should communicate in value metrics that resonate with strategic, operational, and tactical stakeholders so that they understand the value of your Data Governance program in helping them to achieve their own goals and objectives. 

By defining clear objectives and maintaining open communication with stakeholders in all three of these levels within the company, data leaders can shepherd the Data Governance program toward its first milestones of success. That will typically involve a regular cadence of meetings, newsletters, ad hoc discussions, and one-on-one interactions. This is where data leaders must develop the habit of monitoring and adjusting to ensure that adoption is proceeding at pace and the Data Governance program is delivering on its promises.

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