Why it’s time to break down silos in data governance

05 September 2016

I’ve worked in data governance for 15 years and I can safely say that this is the most interesting time that I’ve experienced – and that’s partly because no two people in the world have the same view about what data governance means.

Ask a company that has recently suffered a data breach and they’ll tell you that data governance is all about preventing a data leak and avoiding the wrath of the Information Commissioner. Ask an organisation that’s been a victim of a cyber attack and they’ll say that it’s all about cyber security. To someone who has to manage large amounts of customer data, it’s about data privacy and ethics; to someone who wants to use data to make better decisions, it’s about data quality and reliability.

None of these is the wrong answer, but none go far enough. ‘We’re all in this together’ is the best way I can sum up data governance today. It’s about everything that people think it’s about, from treating data ethically to cyber security. That’s the point; it’s about all these things.

Too often, it is assumed data governance is all about managing and minimising risk but good data governance goes far beyond that. If you think solely in terms of threats you won’t see the opportunities.

At its best, as we explain in our recent video, data governance ensures that an organisation is making the best possible use of the data it holds and collects. It makes sure that an organisation has confidence and trust in its data, so that any decisions it makes are based on the best possible evidence. Some data may be more important than others, and organisations may have different data priorities, but “good” data ultimately drives the whole business.

And that brings me to the real problem. Too many organisations are treating data governance as a set of individual problems. Data governance is hampered by traditional silos – those with the necessary skills and resources (and a wide variety of skills and resources are required) are scattered throughout organisations, with little day-to-day contact with each other or any sort of co-ordination. The people who sit in regulatory compliance, for example, sit in different parts of the business from IT security, and sometimes at a different site altogether. They rarely speak to each other and never meet.

Why on earth not? Data quality isn’t an issue that’s unique to one part of the business, and neither is cyber security, or data privacy, or anything else to do with data governance. It’s relevant to, and affects, every part of the business every day. And that demands a holistic approach. Good data governance should be at the very heart of a business. It should be part of its DNA.

Getting there isn’t easy – it requires a change of focus and a shift in behaviour. What’s needed is someone who will bring all the elements of data governance in an organisation together, to give the various people working within data governance a structure under which they can work together. Increasingly that responsibility is falling to the Chief Data Officer.

Data governance has evolved beyond recognition during my career and it’s time for another fundamental change in the way organisations view and approach data governance. It is more diverse, involved and dynamic, and it needs an equally diverse, involved and dynamic team that spans the organisation so that the business can work together to achieve a common goal – trusted data. These are, indeed, interesting times.



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