Giving Everyone a Stake in Data Integrity

Ann All

Depending on whom you ask, governance can either solve practically any organizational problem or is itself a problem.


When I interviewed her in June, Jeanne Ross, director of the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at MIT and co-author of the book "IT Savvy," told me schizophrenic attitudes about governance in many cases are the result of organizations adopting governance for the wrong reasons. She said:


What a lot of people call governance comes from people not being able to make up their minds, so they say, "Let's put a committee together." They defuse responsibility for decision-making and accountability by creating what they call a governance structure. When in fact what they most need is clarity so they can assign decision-making rights to the appropriate people. Otherwise you can set up gobs of governance mechanisms, but it won't improve your decision-making abilities.


Data governance is becoming especially essential because of the increasing importance of data in almost every facet of a company's business. Without good data, you can't ensure compliance with regulations, you can't provide good customer service, and you can't make good use of advanced analytics to harvest business insights.


Recognizing this, many folks have called for a few powerful data stewards to handle governance, as Bill Inmon, whose bio refers to him as the "father of data warehousing," did in a B Eye Network article last year. As IT Business Edge's Lora Bentley pointed out, Inmon suggested the best people for the job were those with a significant stake in data accuracy.


But doesn't everyone in an organization have a stake in keeping data as clean, complete and reliable as possible? That's the idea espoused in a recent post on the Pitney Bowes Enterprise Business Solutions Blog. Author Navin Sharma writes:


The integrity of the data (completeness, accuracy, validity, reliability, fit for use) needs to be clearly understood by all -- and accountability needs to lie with every employee within the organization, not just the data stewards or the data custodians. This is where I differ from most of the industry analysts. You see, just as it is up to every corporate citizen to uphold the corporation's ethical standards, best practices, and laws, it is up to every member of the corporation's data community -- those who generate it, refine it, analyze it, and use it -- to adhere to best practices and data governance rules.


While I agree that giving everyone more responsibility for data integrity is a great idea, empowering everyone to make changes as they see fit is an obvious recipe for disaster. I like the approach suggested by Gartner analyst Ted Friedman, which I wrote about last year. Each business unit should appoint a data steward. While the stewards can make business process changes and apply resources to address quality issues, they report to a corporate sponsor for data quality. The sponsor serves as the ultimate point person by resolving conflicts across stewards and business units.

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Sep 14, 2009 11:05 AM Navin Sharma Navin Sharma  says:

Thanks for the mention - one point of clarification though: my stating that data governance is everyone's business is not meant to imply that there is no role for data stewards - quite to the contrary. Just as a country's citizens are responsible for knowing and following the laws- but not taking the law into their own hands, corporate citizens need to understand and follow the data-governance rules set forth for them - but not necessarily have free reign over and access to the data itself.

The key here is that everyone needs to have a better sense of data's value and the importance of treating it as the corporate asset it really is.  I talk about this a bit more in a new post - you can check it out on


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