Adaptive Governance Requires R&D

Market research, strategic planning, research and development (R&D), and proactively researching and strategizing for the future are commonplace components of business operations. The exception is the case of governance teams who are far too often recipients of, rather than participants in, strategic planning. As a result, existing policies and practices quickly stagnate or deviate from current usage.

While unique, emergent requirements can catch organizations on their back foot, making them scramble to catch up to the field. In the past, analytics and business products were distinct: A dashboard was a dashboard, and a product was a product. Analytics could inform decision making or run in parallel but weren’t integral components of products and services themselves. Back then, it was possible to operate governance in a reactive, order-taking manner. While not optimal, mind you, it was possible. The rapid evolution of data and analytics capabilities, along with the pace of change, makes this all but impossible today.

Analytic systems, including AI algorithms, are increasingly integral (i.e., embedded) into end-user products and services. In some cases, the algorithm itself is the service. More often, it is the embedded nature of modern analytics systems that challenges traditional data and analytic governance.

As a result, governance teams—those responsible for policy, operational enablement, and education—must be actively engaged in strategic planning at multiple levels of the organization. At the very least, they are active listeners, but optimally, they are active participants:

  • Business Strategy (C-Suite and Executive Levels)—If accountability for your governance programs is seated with an appropriate executive stakeholder body, your governance program should have a bird’s-eye view into overarching business objectives and strategy. Often, however, this information is not mindfully and regularly disseminated and discussed with those tasked with day-to-day governance and management. In other words, your governance structure should consist of two-way information flows in which executive management cascades down and solicits input on emerging business priorities and future potentialities, rather than merely serving as an escalation point for intractable operational conflicts.
  • Product Strategy/Management—Governance requirements are inextricably linked to the products and services an organization provides. Yes, this could be said for any corporate function. But I note it here because analytic and data governance teams are rarely actively engaged as product strategies and road maps are developed. This inhibits the ability to create integrated governance road maps across product and service lines. More problematically, it propagates a view of governance as an order-taking function, thereby rending governance as a reactionary operation and ensuring it remains a step behind emergent priorities and needs.
  • Research & Development (R&D)—R&D teams are the vanguard of innovation in many organizations. Having ongoing insight into the organization’s research and development agenda early and often allows governance teams to better anticipate potential future needs, as well as proactively researching how (or if) potential innovations should be governed. This thereby allows both new and novel risks—be they ethical, legal, reputational, safety-related, and so on—to be vetted earlier. To that end, governance teams should also be key participants in red teaming and other exercises designed to challenge the feasibility, desirability, and reliability of products/services in the R&D pipeline.
  • Legal/Compliance Teams—Legal/compliance teams are key stakeholders in most data/analytics governance processes. Typically, the interaction represents a hard-set checkpoint, one in which legal/compliance teams maintain veto authority based on existing regulations and laws or issue priority requirements necessitating a just-in-time scramble as new laws go into effect. This engagement model bypasses the opportunity for governance teams to engage when new regulations/laws are being considered but have not yet been codified and a robust evaluation of potential scenarios and corresponding responses can thoughtfully be considered and planned for.

Each of these groups perform, as a matter of rote, ongoing surveillance of emerging market, legal, and product landscapes. As such, they are a rich and oft unplumbed source of foresight for governance program teams. Governance teams, in turn, enrich the planning process of these groups with unique perspectives, including ethical considerations that are otherwise overlooked during functional due diligence.

To innovate responsibly, data and analytics governance must anticipate and quickly adapt to new business realities and emerging technologies. To do so, governance functions must become integral stakeholders in a much broader range of strategic planning activities across an organization. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the extent to which governance teams engage in strategic planning is the extent to which they facilitate responsible innovation.


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