Structured vs. Ad Hoc Data Governance

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I was struck recently by the difference between companies that have a formal, structured approach to data governance, versus an informal, unstructured or “ad hoc” approach.

In many cases, companies with an ad hoc approach already have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things.

But it’s not formally part of their job description. They just do it because they know it’s the right thing to do, or that the company really needs it.

So they act as unsung heroes of data stewardship, cleaning up data manually, writing scripts to make data corrections in bulk, even working together in teams to do data governance tasks, without ever formalizing it into a data governance program.

I wrote yesterday about whether data governance should be located in the business (with support from IT) or in IT (with support from the business). It’s a natural tendency of business people to think that data management, since it involves computers, should be part of IT. And it’s a natural tendency of the IT people to think that only the business knows the subject matter well enough to manage it.

But wherever you stand on this question, I think it’s better to have a structured approach to data governance. Set up a data governance committee or team, define its mission and processes, and give them the technology tools they’ll need to achieve the mission.

Relying on an ad hoc or informal approach is risky. People take new jobs, go on vacation, or get burned out. So you can’t rely forever on the unsung heroes of data stewardship.

I’ve said many times that if companies treated their physical assets (like inventory or cash) the same way they treated their information assets (particularly customer data, for some reason), then people would be going to jail.

Start thinking about how your organization can improve its data governance maturity, or start a data governance function, if you don’t already have one. You’ll find that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. In other words, once you start, if you remain diligent and patient, the rest of the organization will ultimately see the value of adding data governance to “how we do things here”.

Here are some good resources for further reading:

Please let us know via a comment if you have any other resources on data governance you’d like to suggest.

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