Data Governance: As Popular as a Root Canal

Loraine Lawson

Data governance is one of those IT necessities that everybody talks about, but few people want to do. Frankly, it's been my experience that anything "governance" generates as much excitement as a root canal, and adding "data" to the term doesn't do much to sexy it up.


So, I wasn't too shocked to learn that a recent Initiate survey of 100 companies found that most do not have formal, functioning data governance program. It's an interesting survey, available for free reading online, with sometimes conflicting results-which it acknowledges. An example:

... just over 27 percent of respondents said that their data governance initiative is past the 'forming' and 'storming' stages (initial stages) and into the phase with somewhat formal methods, roles and deliverables. This seems to be in conflict with answers further in the survey where it is reported that over 41 percent said 'we do not have a data governance board,' leading us to believe that most of these data governance initiatives do not have a data governance board leading it, and that they are evolving rather randomly instead of being managed towards corporate goals.

Only a rough third one-third acknowledged that they've put into place a formal or somewhat formal process for data governance. Marty Mosely, CTO at Initiate, says that by his math, only five to eight companies out of nearly 100 had any meaningful data governance directives.


Worse, according to Mosely, is the obvious lack of interest in data governance among leaders:

On a scale of zero to six (zero representing no interest whatsoever and six representing active involvement), almost half of the respondents listed their CXOs with and interest level of zero. Over a quarter listed their CXOs with an interest level of one, and around 10 percent had an interest level of two. That means that less than 10 percent of a few executives (the CSO, CCO and COO) had interest at level six. That's pretty pitiful.

Data governance is one of those weird birds that cuts across a lot of initiatives. The practice dates back to the 1980s, according to Initiate, but we're seeing renewed interest thanks to initiatives like business intelligence, data integration (hence, my interest), data quality management, compliance requirements and master data management, (again, hence my interest). You would think this would make it an easier sale, but I wonder if this is part of the problem-since it applies to so many projects, it's probably easier to procrastinate requiring anyone to take responsibility for it.


Mosely's post prompted several responses, most notably from independent consultant Jim Harris at the Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ) blog, and Forrester analyst Rob Karel.


Harris says this is just an early adopter issue. Data governance is just starting to be taken seriously, and so few companies have actually acted on it. He thinks that will change in the next year or so.

Karel, too, thinks data governance is on the rise, though he acknowledges the survey results reflect his own experience with Forrester clients. He outlines a number of reasons why data governance is the red-headed stepchild of data initiatives:

  • No or little executive sponsorship.
  • IT tends to drive it, with limited to no business participation.
  • A general lack of business justification.
  • It's easy to move to the bottom of the priority list if, or rather when, "a more compelling initiative or fire drill comes along."


He's surprisingly optimistic that this is changing, though, writing that he believes that "data governance is receiving the most senior-management-level attention today than I've seen throughout my 18+ year data management career." Is that good news? He seemed to think so-and I suppose it is, if the trend continues.


Things will turn around for data governance, he writes, as leaders learn it's not about data, but about the business being effective:

One of the biggest turning points has been the growing recognition that data governance is not-and should never have been-about the data. High-quality and trustworthy data sitting in some repository somewhere does not in fact increase revenue, reduce risk, improve operational efficiencies or strategically differentiate any organization from its competitors. It's only when this trusted data can be delivered and consumed within the most critical business processes and decisions that run your business that these business outcomes can become reality. So what is data governance all about? It's all about business process, of course.

Certainly, there are reasons to be concerned about data governance - and the lack of it. But it is a bit of an esoteric issue, with no clear line of responsibility. In fact, as Initiate notes, you actually should form a data governance board to take responsibility for it, which seems like a bit of the old "which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" dilemma.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 9, 2010 6:29 PM Andy Hayler Andy Hayler  says:

Although the respondents to this particular survey paint a rather bleak picture, there is evidence that data governance is moving up the agenda. For example the recent annual data governance conference in San Diego had around 350 attendees, more than double that of the previous year, and our clients report some very large data governance activities at present.  Since most people agree that data governance is a good thing, I believe that this upsurge in interest is positive in many ways.  Hopefully time will show that the subject is indeed about to have its day. For many organizations, the dentist's appointment is now due.


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