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Building a Data Foundation Pillar #3: Establish Data Governance

Author: Stan Kidd | 3 min read | April 9, 2020

Thus far in our “Building a Data Foundation” series, we’ve talked about defining a data strategy and setting a data architecture. In this third post, we’ll discuss the next step after these foundational stages: establishing good data governance across the organization.

So what is data governance exactly? Data governance seeks to align the task of data management with your broader enterprise strategy. With data governance, information is treated as a critical business asset—just as much as the people, processes, and technology that you have at your disposal.

The field of data governance encompasses a variety of interlocking concerns:

Data quality

The quality of your enterprise data directly impacts the quality of the insights that you can obtain from it. According to one study, poor data quality is costing businesses between 15 percent and 25 percent of their revenue. Data governance includes practices to ensure that your data is accurate, complete, up-to-date, and available.

Data compliance

Recent regulations such as the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) place strict limits on how organizations can use customers’ personal information. Data compliance ensures that your organization respects all applicable external laws and regulations, while making the best use of the information at your disposal.

Data stewardship

“Data stewards” are senior figures within the organization who are tasked with maintaining the quality and availability of your enterprise data. The responsibilities of data stewards include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying the most critical data (and taking steps to preserve it)
  • Defining data access rules and business policies
  • Tracking data sources
  • Enhancing data with metadata

Data security

Keeping your enterprise data secure from cyber attacks and data breaches requires both technical skill and managerial smarts. Data governance includes high-level and strategic concerns about data security: for example, deciding on which data encryption techniques to use, or whether to store sensitive data in the cloud.

In a 2018 survey, nearly half of companies (46 percent) said that they didn’t have a formal data governance strategy in place, despite recognizing the value of data to their organization. With businesses of all sizes and industries growing increasingly reliant on data-driven decision-making, failing to create a concrete data governance strategy is a competitive disadvantage.

The best data governance strategies typically include:

  • A set of data governance leaders, including managers and executives from across the organization, who are charged with making the most important governance decisions. In larger organizations, the head of this body is usually the chief data officer (CDO) or chief information officer (CIO).
  • A select group of data stewards who work together to create and enforce data stewardship policies, as described above.
  • A data governance team responsible for implementing the decisions of governance leaders. These individuals are drawn from various departments that rely on good data governance, such as IT, sales and marketing, and human resources.

Data governance is closely related to, yet distinct from, the field of data management.

Want to learn more about how to build a stable data foundation? Download our white paper “Build a Business Foundation on Trusted Data.”

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