What Every Business Needs to Know about Data Governance

What is data governance? There have been many definitions, but the simplest way to define data governance is as the set of methods and principles that can be used to assure the high quality of data throughout its lifecycle. The need for such a program rests on the fact that technology alone is not enough to get the right information and documents into the right hands at the right time. There must be rules for organizing data and a set of institutional mechanisms in place to ensure those rules are applied correctly.

Your organization’s objectives and priorities will determine what data governance framework you should adopt. The right framework will help different officers within the enterprise — executive, legal, marketing, and so forth — make informed decisions with the best knowledge available. It will help assure compliance with relevant laws and regulations, as well as your organization’s own internal rules and culture. It can help protect privacy and security by ensuring that information and records are only released to authorized personnel in an appropriate way, and that record of who has access to what documents when is also properly kept.

Well-organized data is also key to corporate performance. It helps monetize data by making sure it is stored and distributed in a rational way. It can help your organization monitor KPIs, not only for data performance, but for all processes withing the enterprise. By standardizing and organizing data, governance can enhance the general efficiency of an organization, first by eliminating the need to overhaul data systems with every new initiative, but mostly by simply allowing organizations to do more with the sea of information at their disposal.

Most organizations that implement data governance programs take it in small steps. They choose a few discrete areas of business to focus on at first, rather than overhauling the entire data governance framework at once. After those areas — perhaps compliance, or market research — have been mastered, a foundation will be in place for controlling the rest of the organization’s data.

The next step will be to integrate data spread out over file structures, CRMs, and everywhere else loose data may be around. Implementing integration technologies and best practices will be absolutely crucial. Finally, the organization will have to draw up roles and rules. That is, the business will have to decide who will be given responsibility for managing the governance of data, what the scope of their authority will be, and by what rules data will be controlled.

All key stakeholders will have to be educated, and the flow of records and information within the organization clearly mapped. Finally, there must be feedback and improvement mechanisms to assure that the system is working as intended. The most important starting point when doing QA are the business users themselves. Management must have the information it needs to plan strategy and control costs. Finance must assure that spreadsheets balance and rules are followed. Marketing must know what new projects are coming and all pertinent information about the target market.

We live in an age of wondrous information technology. The tiny phones in our pocket have more computing power than machines in the 1960s that took up entire rooms. Digital voices answer our questions and turn devices and programs on and off. One might be so dazzled by these advances that one forgets that all these technological marvels are just tools to serve human needs, no different than fire, the wheel, and the internal combustion engine. As fire can be used to cook or to burn, as motor vehicles and highways would be useless without traffic safety laws, so too can the proper use of information technology make or break a large organization.