Data Governance Should Not Be a Clandestine Effort

A few months ago, I talked about data governance with a data architect at a large retailer. He had built the rough outline of what’s in Kalido Data Governance Director — in Excel! Needless to say our views are pretty much aligned. When I asked him how he intended to roll out his Excel framework, he smiled and said, “I’m doing data governance by stealth.” Clandestine data governance.

Over the years I’ve come across many people who tried to do clandestine data governance. These are smart and dedicated people who saw rampant data problems in their organizations, and decided to do something about it. But they didn’t have high level support and business engagement. So they did it bottom-up, starting with physical data. They picked up metadata repositories from the shelf that stack vendors sold them in bundles. They built Excel spreadsheets and put data dictionaries and data policies on the Intranet. So far, I’m not aware of any successes from that camp, if that’s all they did.

I’m with Jill Dyché on her distinction between data governance and data management: data governance makes policies for data, and data management executes them. Therefore, data governance is fundamentally top-down. Data governance is about authority for making decisions for data, expressed in the form of policies. If there’s no authority to enforce the policies, they’re worth no more than then paper they’re written on. There is no bottom-up data governance. There is no clandestine data governance.

But bottoms up is a great way to prepare and make the case for data governance.  The data architect at the retailer is meticulously assembling evidence for why his organization should form a data governance program.

Ultimately, to reach the objective of gaining competitive advantage by using data as a shared enterprise asset, organizations need to merge top-down and bottom-up. Bottom-up is data management; top-down is data governance. Both are needed. But there is no data governance until widely accepted processes are established for data policies. Data governance should not be a clandestine effort.

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