Getting Data Governance Out of IT/Business Limbo

Ann All

Nearly a year ago in a post on data governance, I shared Gartner analyst Ted Friedman's thoughts that while everyone in an organization should have a stake in data quality, the ultimate responsibility for it should lie with a corporate data sponsor. That ultimate authority is often someone in IT, Friedman said. I also shared thoughts from MDM from the Front Line blogger Charles Blyth, who presented five users groups that need to be involved in data governance and offered suggestions on getting folks more invested in producing and maintaining quality data.


In a comment on my post, Blyth wrote that while the CIO often ends up taking the data governance lead at a corporate level, he is "not convinced it's a given" that IT should play that role. Executive-level sponsorship is the key, he said, noting he's seen successful data governance programs headed up by the CFO, the COO or even the CEO.


IT may handle data management, but it doesn't typically know what's in the data, said DataFlux's president and CEO Tony Fisher when IT Business Edge contributor Loraine Lawson interviewed him last spring. He told her:

If you look at an organization, there has historically kind of been this philosophy that IT owns the data or that IT is responsible for the data, but we've all learned over the last few years that that's really not the case at all. IT manages the databases that house the data and they ensure that the security and the access rights and the fact that the system is up 24/7, they ensure all of those things are true, but when you ask them what is in that data, they say, "Well, that's not really my responsibility, that's the responsibility of the business.

Interesting, especially in light of this story from the UK, about a CFO who resigned because a botched integration between legacy IT systems resulted in TUI Travel overstating its revenues by 117 million (US$185 million). I wondered whether there were any repercussions for the CIO, given that an IT problem led to the error.


A company spokesperson was pretty terse, referring me back to the news release, although she did tell me, "The finance team is ultimately responsible for financial reporting." In the United States, Sarbanes-Oxley makes CFOs of public companies legally liable for financial data. The UK has its own version of Sarbox, the Corporate Governance Code, though it's not immediately clear to me whether it makes the CFO as directly responsible for financials as Sarbox does.


All business people, not just CFOs, should take greater responsibility for data stewardship, writes Gartner's Mike Rollings, noting that dramatic incidents like the resignation of TUI Travel's CFO may help drive the point home. IT's role is to offer technologies that help simplify data stewardship. He says:

If every business on the planet internalizes this lesson, stewardship may finally be noticed as a business priority. The information environment (and the application portfolio) have been ignored for too long. Business people must become reacquainted with their stewardship responsibilities for the enabling technology environment, and IT departments must help them repatriate stewardship into the business.

Writing on Information Management, Platon A/S Executive Vice President Martin ABC Hansen says sometimes neither business nor IT take responsibility for data quality because data governance falls into a sort of IT/business limbo. (It resides there with business process management, and other business practices heavily infused with IT.) He writes:

Data in itself is not an IT issue. Storing the data is an IT issue, but understanding and interpreting the data is a business issue done by the business functions. This is one of the primary challenges when trying to place the ownership. Data is not owned, but partly managed by IT, and business doesn't want to own anything that "smells" like IT. This is typically the reason ownership is not anchored, and hence, falls between two chairs.

Hansen wraps with an eight-step list for creating an effective data governance program. It's well worth a read. A couple that might be of special interest to TUI Travel:

  • Identify stakeholders: Who should be actively involved and why? Which roles are they likely to take, and how does it match the current organization in terms of their current positions and related power?
  • Define the data governance organizational model: Draw the governance model, including all identified levels, roles and stakeholders from an enterprise level down to the local business units.

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