Search This Blog

Friday, July 23, 2010

Data Governance Is...

Recently someone on a LinkedIn discussion forum asked for a definition of data governance because he had yet to find one that was universally accepted. Now he has about 30 definitions and all of them are "personal" in the sense that they apparently work for the person who responded and/or that person's company.

In fact the lessons of the past 10 years or so produce the conviction that data governance is anything, everything and nothing.

It is anything we need it to be that serves our immediate purpose.

It is everything in that it spans all corporate functions in order to produce the needed results.

It is nothing because we always have to define the term whenever it is used and no two definitions are the same.

My own input to the discussion was that
Data governance is that part of corporate governance that is concerned with insuring the integrity of the corporate information resource.
The only useful application for this definition is in establishing a context for any initiatives and establishing responsibility or accountability. This definition cannot be used as a strategy or a vision to drive results. It doesn't suggest any metrics. It doesn't help us to isolate key processes nor does it suggest any standards.
Other definitions you may have seen involve "decision rights". The problem with "decision rights" is that there are always individuals who will pop up once one of these rightful decisions is made and insist that the decision in this particular case was rightfully theirs. Quite often this individual will make a good case and the "rightful" decsion will be overturned--often at considerable cost. When this happens, it calls into question the makeup of the existing decision-making bodies and can cast a long shadow over the entire concept.
My definition contains a problem in that it invokes another poorly defined concept--that of corporate governance. As I have discussed in previous posts, corporate governance in any form that would support the needs of those desperate for data governance is as rare as a polar bear in west Texas. It is the most challenging, most demanding and most thankless job imaginable to create a system of governance in the midst of a feudal culture.
This is not to say that results--even valuable and far-reaching results--can't be obtained. Such results are possible for those who are dedicated, courageous, knowledgeable and visionary. If one can keep the vision of data governance as part of a corporate culture and pursue integrity for all information but do it one relationship, one entity--even one attribute--at a time, then real progress can be made.
I have often wondered why we think we need a definition for data governance when it is so obviously subjective. Of course data integrity and data quality and even data itself are equally subjective. None can be discussed without first offering a definition ("What do you mean by that?") and we don't have definitions that we can quote that are meaningful to "this" audience. In fact, we are given to definitions that are nearly meaningless even to our colleagues and serve only to get us all in the same ballpark.
It is possible to take any result and call it data governance (who could argue?). It is possible to take any corporate initiative and use it to promote data governance. Why don't we simply get busy and spend our time discussing results instead of definitions? Show me the data that demonstrates you have brought processes into control for some subset of your company. Let's talk about which processes are most critical and which represent the greatest opportunity. Let's get moving.