Solving the People Problem as Data Governance Grows

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    Five steps you can take to ease the trauma of starting data governance.

    One of the main challenges with any data governance effort is making sure it’s a business endeavor, not an IT project. And as if that’s not hard enough, it then needs to move into the entire organization.

    That can be a hard sell, and experts who write about these sorts of things are frequently bemoaning the problems of governance and business engagement.

    “Many organizations begin their data governance journey putting decision-making responsibility, resourcing and stewardship within existing organizational structures — and early business value and momentum can certainly be delivered this way,” writes Informatica’s Rob Karel in a recent post. “But to truly scale data governance as a holistic, cross-enterprise effort benefiting multiple parts of the business, the current state of your organizational structure will have to adapt.”

    Karel is Informatica’s vice president of product strategy, but before this, he worked as an analyst with Forrester specializing in data management issues. It’s clear he’s putting his background to work in this series of posts, which share his work in designing best practices and tools for Informatica.

    I picked the series up mid-stream, with an October post on the people facet of data governance. Time and time again, I’ve heard that’s one of the major challenges with governance.

    In a previous post, he outlined some of the key roles and responsibilities required for data governance. You’ll need:

    • An executive sponsor.
    • Business AND IT data stewards, which is a bit of a surprise, since the general piece of advice is to have data stewards, and that’s usually defined as someone within the business. Karel recommends both.
    • Data governance driver. This is the first time I’ve heard about this role, but it strikes me as a smart addition to the team. This is someone who’s devoted to the goal of achieving data governance but who can remain neutral during the inevitable political battles that arise from it. Usually, he says, this job winds up under the project management office.

    He picked up the people discussion last month, diving into some of the more easily overlooked issues that tend to become major issues as a data governance effort grows. For instance: How much time should a data steward’s work take? Is this a full-time job or part-time job?

    That’s not a minor question, as any data governance expert or, for that matter, any employee, can tell you. People tend to get really resentful if you tell them this new project will only take a half-hour of their time a week, then give them work that’s four times that. It just doesn’t go well.

    He also suggests you define what kind of relationship your data stewards have to your executive sponsor: Solid or dotted-line reporting. This is exactly the sort of political hot potato it’d be easy to overlook.

    Another key point of his post: What are the escalation paths for policy and data conflicts? Experts will often tell you to define “who owns the data,” but what happens if there’s a conflict about that? And what happens if that changes — such as when your company acquires another business?

    By establishing a process for resolving these kinds of issues, you can ensure data governance isn’t thwarted by turf wars.

    The series is examining the 10 facets of data governance. It looks like he’s averaging a post per week stretching back to June, so there’s a lot of material to catch up on. You can see a list of previous posts and follow his progress by looking under Karel’s name on the Perspectives blog.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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