US Supreme Court

Organizing Data Governance for Success

This series on Data Governance is sponsored by SAP. Previous articles have included Why Govern Master Data?Getting Started with Data Governance, Part 1 and Getting Started with Data Governance, Part 2.
A Sample Organizational Model

Sample Data Governance Organization

A three level model like this can work well at a lot of companies:

  1. Data Governance Steering Committee: a cross-functional, executive level group that makes policy decisions, provides funding, resolves escalated issues, and provides strategic direction.
  2. The Data Governance Office (DGO) is charged with coordinating data governance (strategic) and stewardship (tactical) activities. It manages communications from the Steering Committee to all stakeholders.
  3. One or more tactical groups (Data Stewardship Teams) in each functional area and geography (if needed), which provide guidance to individuals with data stewardship responsibilities.

However, what’s most important is to have the organizational structure that will work in your company.

Data Governance Steering Committee

The Data Governance Steering Committee serves a function similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. Issues escalated by the Data Governance Office are resolved by the Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee probably won’t directly make much policy (except on an exception basis), except where the issues are serious or the dollar amounts are large. For example, where a new policy may be compliance-related and involve large penalties, the Steering Committee would at least review (and probably sign-off on) the new policy.

Similarly, establishing the overall Data Governance organization and its place in the company, as well as its Year 1 funding and its renewal, is probably a matter that will be settled by the Steering Committee.

The ultimate power in the corporation to make sure Data Governance policies are being followed, and to resolve issues escalated from lower levels, resides in the DG Steering Committee. But that group will, to a large extent, rely on the Data Governance Office to make it aware of when policies are not being followed, and when escalated issues need to be resolved.

This group will usually include senior level business owners and the overall executive sponsor(s) for data governance, and operates strictly at strategic level.

The key things at this level are: getting the right executives involved, and that once it starts meeting, it accomplishes some useful things. Otherwise, the executives will feel like they’re wasting their time when they do meet, and the group will quickly disband.

Data Governance Office

The Data Governance Office is similar to the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. It’s heavily involved in making data policy. It oversees the business data stewards and the IT stewards. The DG office is similar to a Program Management Office (PMO) and usually includes the global process owners (from the business) and the global solution owner from IT.

The DG Office operates at the tactical level but needs to be comfortable managing up (to the strategic level) and down (to the operational level).

The DG Office is critical to having a successful Data Governance initiative. Creating the right Data Governance Office can make or break your entire effort.

The policy making that transcends different line of business interests would typically be done in the Data Governance Office, since the DGO would have representation from the various lines of business through the global process owners.

Who’ll Head Up the Data Governance Office (DGO)?

There’s a tendency in these job descriptions to be a little “over the top”. Some companies are looking for people who can in effect walk on water, leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc.

Data Quality Pro had a great article recently: “Data Quality Director Required – Must Possess Powers of Invincibility”. Vincent McBurney wrote an interesting article titled “Data Governance is Career Suicide”.

Hub Designs Magazine responded with an article titled “Data Governance: The People Make It Real”, explaining how to support data governance leaders in their new roles.

This person does need a strong leadership style and the delegated authority of the executives on the Data Governance Steering Committee.

Data Stewardship Teams

The third level of the Data Governance Organization is similar to the Legislative Branch of the Federal Government.  It works with the Data Governance Office in making data policy, and in carrying it out.

These teams need to be from the business side in order to know the “ins and outs” of the data, but the teams should include IT stewards as well, to assist with the technology aspects of the data governance processes.

There are usually data stewardship teams from various functional areas and geographies. They work at the operational level but selected people may be representatives to the Data Governance Office (i.e. they’ll primarily be data stewards but they may attend meetings of the Data Governance Office, even if they’re not formally members of the DGO).

This is so they can adequately represent the stewardship level on issues they are bringing to the Data Governance Office for resolution.

These people spend time responding to issues raised by others; monitoring data quality and developing new data quality and business rules; but their real skill set is collaboration with multiple organizations at multiple levels.


Don’t get the impression that data governance means a big bureaucracy.

Every company will find its own balanced approach, with a business-driven, IT-supported group that makes decisions about information and governs master data like any other critical asset in the enterprise – with diligence, formal processes and metrics.

But people can fill multiple roles at first, and especially during the initial phases, you can take a pretty lean approach. It’s more important to start doing data governance than to wait for the perfect organizational structure and staffing.

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