what is data governance

What is Data Governance (and how do I get started)?

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Tim Goswell

Data Governance Lead, Robinson Ryan

There’s a lot of focus on data governance in both the public and private sectors, so let’s get back to basics and address the fundamental question – what is data governance?  

In simple terms, it is making sure that the right things are being done with data.  

But what are the ‘right things’?  

1.     Make sure data is safe. We focus on whether data is secure, that we have ethical practices, that we meet legal obligations, and that we’re compliant. This is unfortunately the area that typically takes all the data governance focus.  

2.     Ensure that we are making the most of data to achieve outcomes. This might be profitability for business or socio-economic impact in government. It’s important to quarantine time and energy for this area of data governance as it’s where the function creates new value instead of just preserving existing value. Here we initiate taking stock of and examining our data assets. This includes how they fit together and how they aid us in discovering new patterns or knowledge. It’s also where we add metrics around the outcomes we achieve by looking at the data. One simple example of a valuable outcome is reducing the time that data scientists spend preparing data before they can look for insights and innovations.

That’s great, but where do I start with data governance? 

To be successful, you’ll need: 

  1. Executive buy-in and approval 
    There must be an understanding that governing data is vital, an awareness of how it makes a difference to risk and innovation, a view that data is a key asset, and a willingness to do something differently. 

  2. Understanding your ecosystem well 
    You need to understand how your organisation operates so you can make data governance palatable and practical. For example, if your organisation is already committee heavy, maybe a discrete data governance committee isn’t the place to start. You might add an element of data into the corporate governance agenda such as your compliance or risk and audit committee. Later down the track, you can migrate to the data governance authority having a life of its own. Or, if your organisation is heavily siloed, you may need to look at a hub-and-spoke approach to see how you can sow data governance into existing structures within each silo. 

  3. A data governance framework 
    The data governance framework documents how data governance will work in your context so it can be communicated. It lays down who does what, when, and how. The good news is you should try to do this within 10 pages! You need to cover the executive, managerial and operational levels of your organisation so everyone can see their part to play. Very often it’s about the business taking responsibility for data and not just leaving it to IT! 

  4. Cultural awareness and cultural building 
    In most organisations, data needs its own internal marketing campaign! And that is often the remit of the data governance function – to lift awareness and understanding. Getting preferred behaviour is so much more than just policies and processes. You need to capture hearts and minds – to tell stories about data, both good and bad, to illustrate its importance.  I met one data governance executive who spent two years travelling around the world to elevate data conversations in their organisation. It’s that Drucker idea of “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. 


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