Embarking on a Data Expedition for Data Governance

When working with data governance practitioners, I often hear comments that indicate pockets of data governance excellence (the proverbial half-full glass) or silos of data governance (half-empty) as they work toward the common goal of enterprise data governance. This is frequently accompanied by an observation that “if we could just get everyone to follow the rules (the same rules), then we could truly and successfully govern at the enterprise level."

The challenge is that this theory is based on a false premise. The focus of data governance should not be about bureaucracy and rules. The focus should be business enablement within context of use. Does this mean policies, procedures, principles, and rules are not required? Absolutely not. They are definitely needed and, in fact, nonnegotiable. But they should not be the focus of data governance; they should be the byproduct of creating a framework and program that support the needs of the business across the entire company within specific contexts of data use.

How can we, or anyone, for that matter, see past bureaucracy when the discipline is called data governance? For crying out loud, it screams red tape and administration! It is time for a new point of view, a way to look at what we need to be doing to help our companies use data to its fullest potential—our current data and the uncharted frontiers of new data in the data universe. And that’s when it hit me—data governance is like guiding a data expedition.

Don’t worry. Data expedition isn’t a new catch phrase I am trying to coin for data governance practitioners. While it would be flattering, the idea is already out there —I Googled it. And in doing so, I realized the term can even be read two ways—moving data faster or a data journey. Obviously, I am going with the idea of a data journey. It doesn’t mean I am looking to see Data Sherpa or Data Porter roles evolve. Please, I beg you, don’t take this analogy too far. But, just for a moment, sit back and think about how data governance could change at your company if you were no longer focused on laying down the law and were instead guiding an expedition.

The term “expedition” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a journey especially by a group of people for a specific purpose.” I find this intriguing because it points out that it requires a group of people all moving toward a common goal. This means that the data expedition is not just about the data governance council and data stewards being on board. The entire company is involved. And it is not about business goals versus IT goals—or aligning goals. No, it is about the same goal, a specific purpose.

While key initiatives and annual goals may fluctuate, the principal purpose of a business does not. The primary purpose of a business is to appropriately and responsibly serve the interests of stakeholders, which may include owners of the enterprise (private or public), employees, customers, and the general community. Data governance should enable all aspects of data use to do just that.

When it comes to expeditions, it is not the journey itself that excites the trekkers, it is the destination. A successful data governance expedition will involve observation to determine whether to embark on the journey or not, exploration to identify challenges and goals, discovery to search the data terrain for patterns, investigation of what is possible to achieve, and navigational tools to reach the endpoint.

So don’t try to sell your stakeholders on the journey of governance. Instead, get them excited about where you are taking them. They will be happy to follow your lead.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Big Data Quarterly Magazine


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