What is Data Governance? This is a question that often attracts some amount of confusion. A quick Google search will unveil a whole host of different definitions and explanations.

The prolificacy of so many differing definitions is a source of much frustration but one of the better definitions I’ve found online is this:

Data Governance is the cross-functional discipline of managing, improving, monitoring, maintaining and protecting data…”

Having said that, I disagree with the “protecting” part and even this definition will not work for the business users you need to influence. Think about it from their viewpoint – does it sound like something that is going to help them do their job better; or more rules and regulations that hinder them from doing their job?

My experience is that if you use that type of definition when first introducing the topic to them you are likely to find yourself banging your head against a brick wall. You need to explain why your organisation is – or should be – doing Data Governance in the first instance.

The “what Data Governance is” can come afterwards once your audience have agreed that they want it. I use the following definition that I developed years ago and it has never served me wrong yet:

Data Governance is all about proactively managing your data to support your business achieve its strategy and vision.

How many senior stakeholders wouldn’t want to know more about something that is going to help their organisation achieve its strategic objectives?!

Why does your organisation need data governance?

Of course, after sharing such a definition, you need to be able to explain it in more detail if asked.  So, make sure you have done your preparation and know what benefits your organisation could achieve if they implement Data Governance.

What do you do if you are “doing” data governance?

There are many activities you might want to include in your Data Governance initiative, but it is important to remember that there is never a one size fits all approach. Every organisation’s needs are different are therefore every Data Governance initiative is also different.

A standard Data Governance framework has been designed as a theoretical exercise. And it certainly wasn’t designed for your organisation. The only way to be successful with Data Governance is to first work out why your organisation needs Data Governance, and then to design and implement a framework that meets those needs.

And I can absolutely (almost) guarantee that as any standard framework was not designed for you it is not going to meet your needs. It’ll be very likely be too complex, too convoluted, and too focused on things that really aren’t appropriate for your organisation. You need to look at which activities will help you deliver the benefits you hope to deliver for your organisation.

What data governance is not!

First of all, though undeniably linked to your Data Governance framework, Data Protection (also known as Data Privacy) is not Data Governance and shouldn’t be confused as such.

It specifically revolves around the protection of personal information and although more recent Data Protection regulations – like GDPR, for example – do have requirements that are more easily met if you have a Data Governance Framework in place, Data Governance is a separate discipline supported by a different expert team in your organisation. You can read more about Data Governance and regulation in this great blog by Craig March, Senior Data Business Partner at Housemark.

Likewise, Data Retention, which focuses on how long you should hold onto data before deleting it, is something which your Data Owners should be consulted on but is a fundamentally different discipline.

Records Management or Information Management do bear some similarities to Data Governance, though they focus on the handling of complete records (whether they are analogue or digital) rather than electronic data which are the building blocks of records/information.

While these separate disciplines all carry value in their own right – and can (and should) be aligned with your Data Governance framework – they are ultimately separate.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding the links between these different areas can feed into the misconception of Data Governance as a sort of grand, surveillance program designed to watch business users every move with their data.

So, what is Data Governance? It is about getting your business users to care about their data and its quality.

And if you want to know more about Data Governance then I’ll be speaking at Housemark’s Housing Data & Analytics Summit in Birmingham on 6th October. I hope to see you there!


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