The Science of Data Governance Matter

You will often hear experienced practitioners and consultants suggest that there is both an art and a science to effective data governance. The art is in the details of fine-tuning a data governance program to fit your culture and address specific business needs. But the fundamental principles of data governance are best understood and executed through science.

Data governance is a physical science. For some, this is a very exciting and intriguing proclamation, and for the rest of us, the very thought of chemistry and physics brings on a cold sweat. But, through years—and now decades—of experience in the world of data, the laws of physical science have resurfaced to provide a unique perspective on the core elements (pun intended) of successful data governance.

States of Matter. The existence of matter is expressed in states or phases based on physical properties and the behavior of particles. Effective data governance programs operate in different states with properties similar to solids, liquids, and gases. Some phases persist for long periods with low energy, while others require sustained energy sources. The key is that while physical properties change, the basic elements remain constant across all states. The effort and energy required to support and maintain each state will vary, sometimes significantly.

Energy. The energy required to support and sustain data governance is substantial, particularly the larger the program becomes (mass). Inertia can come from the mandates of top-down initiatives or the momentum of grass-roots, bottom-up projects. Hot topics that drive the business will generate their own energy, while the pressures of external forces may create new, and sometimes unexpected, sources of energy. Authority, budget, resources, and time are all factors in the energy equations of data governance.

Solid. This represents a rigid physical state of matter that retains a fixed shape. Particles are densely packed and have little to no movement. Solids can only change shape by applied force. The solid state of data governance is the core framework, the non-negotiable state of policies, processes, and standards that apply across the enterprise. Once established, the solid state of data governance requires little energy to sustain and support, as there is little to no flexibility for the pieces and parts. For solid state data governance to change, significant force such as an executive mandate or substantial change in the overarching business model is required.

Liquid. When energy is applied to matter in a solid state, the matter becomes liquid. Fluid state of matter is incompressible and assumes the shape of the container it occupies. As various forms of energy (resources, budget, authority, etc.) are applied to the solid state of governance, fluidity and flexibility are generated and the state of data governance changes. The liquid state of governance maintains the core elements of the established, solid-state data governance framework while allowing autonomous data decisions to flow throughout business units, taking on various shapes and sizes and addressing specific requirements as necessary. The additional energy of resources such as data stewards and accountable business stakeholders creates elasticity by applying domain and technical expertise to accelerate business processes.

Gas. When additional energy is applied to matter in a liquid state, the matter becomes gas. Gas is compressible liquid with no definitive shape or form that permeates or fills the entire container it occupies. In energy-rich data governance environments, the fundamental elements of the data governance framework are baked into day-to-day businesses processes and tasks. The ownership and accountability of responsible data management permeate all levels of the organization. Like gas matter, mature data governance programs evolve through phases with continuously applied energy which can be difficult to maintain. The key to sustaining a mature data governance program is to ensure the sources of energy (resources, budget, authority, etc.) are renewable and constant.

Similar to elements and compounds, data governance can exist in multiple phases or states, sometimes within the same company. It is because of these physical science principles that no two data governance programs are the same. For data governance to be most effective, you must understand the observable states of governance within your business, identify the ideal or desired state, and determine the energy required to reach the points of change given environmental conditions.

“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.” – Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey (2000)


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