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Keeping Up With Data Management, Data Governance, Data Stewardship and Information Management

Governance related to managing information assets, in either an operational or strategic context, is difficult to do and a relatively immature process.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

You say “tomato,” I say “tomahto!” How many more terms do leaders need to keep track of and learn to do? According to the April 2008 report, “The State of Information and Data Governance,” published by the International Association for Information and Data Quality and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, organizations use multiple labels when referring to the activities associated with the governance of information assets. The terms most often cited by respondents were data management (63%), data governance (55%), data stewardship (47%), and information management (44%). The good news is that we don’t necessarily have to learn four different things by different names. The bad news is that governance related to managing information assets, in either an operational or strategic context, is difficult to do and a relatively immature process.

Business intelligence (BI) program and project managers spend the bulk of their time ensuring that projects are completed correctly. However, even BI projects that succeed in meeting a timeline and budget can be failures if the results don’t address the appropriate business priorities. Every organization, large or small, must make decisions about how to use their resources in the best interests of the enterprise. The demand for data, projects, people and money always exceeds the supply of those resources. This is the core of governance: how to make those decisions in the best interests of the enterprise – not what is in the best interests of a particular function, but in the best interests of the organization. Of course, we all have different opinions about what that means. A governance process that ensures that the correct projects are completed and the correct people are involved in prioritizing them is essential to success.

In many organizations, governance is frequently inadequate or nonexistent. Decisions may result from whoever complains the loudest, who has the most political clout or who is best at selling their ideas. In many organizations, the IT department prioritizes their own work from a constant fire hose of requests from various business functions, but choosing projects that create value is inherently a strategic activity and should involve corporate leadership. If the IT team is prioritizing its own work, they become their own customer. Even if the project is completed correctly, there is no guarantee that the correct projects are being completed.

Much of the written work on governance focuses on the structural features or methods for managing a collection of projects. Topics such as policies, procedures, standards, data definition, roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, business rules, data redundancy, master data, structured and unstructured data, privacy, security, data usage, data quality, auditability, authorities and decision making are all valid and important to address. However, research and experience indicates that effective governance processes are characterized by both methodological comprehensiveness and social interventions where key stakeholders build collaborative relationships and shared understanding. Although the methods and processes are certainly not easy to accomplish, the underlying social system patterns are typically more difficult to understand and address. Partnerships are required.

Partnership, as we define it, is “a relationship in which we are jointly committed to the success of whatever process we are in.” There are two partnerships imperative to successful governance: (1) the partnership between functional heads who are peers, and (2) the partnership between business and IT. Neither of those partnerships comes easily or naturally.

Partnership Between Business Functions

According to the report mentioned above (“The State of Information and Data Governance”), formalizing information governance is a new experience for most organizations. Only 9% of respondents said their organization had implemented an information governance initiative longer than two years ago. Forty-three percent of respondents indicated they are evaluating alternative frameworks and structures or are seeking to learn more. Eighty-six percent indicated that they plan to devote more attention and resources to their information governance initiatives in the future. This is an ideal juncture to reevaluate the complexity of governance.

The phenomena of “siloed” organizations is widely experienced and lamented. It is also a common obstacle to consider as organizations evaluate their governance structures. The success of governance in business intelligence depends on the partnership between the functional silos or functional peers. It may be helpful to recognize that silos are a predictable pattern of social system behavior that occurs in most organizations. It is predictable, but not inevitable.

Take any organization, define the work to be done and divide the work into different functions. Then, define the goals and objectives for each function and build a team to support each function. Finally, launch the organization into the dizzying pace of business change and, voilà, silos result! Most business functions focus on their functional goals, their team (direct reports), their domain, their functional rewards, and thus perpetuate the organizational silos. Seldom do the managers of these functions see their peers as a “team.” In fact, they often view their peers as competitors for resources, budget, promotions and visibility. They focus on their responsibility for their specific function and typically limit their lateral partnerships and collective responsibility.

Therefore, one of the most powerful social interventions that can take place for successful BI governance is “lateral integration” or “peer partnership” where these peers begin to think and act like a team. A good governance mission requires them to look across the organization and identify which BI projects will serve the whole business. This requires that the members of the group be willing to do what is in the best interest of the organization, creating horizontal goals that serve the whole organization and not just their functional areas.

The first step in this process is awareness. If these peers are educated on the pitfalls of their traditional segregated patterns of behavior and the benefits of integrating, they will become aware of the power that can result.

The next step is to charter an effort where these functional peers operate as a team to execute the governance methodology and processes. Components of a governance approach might include:

  • Creating categories of projects such as mandatory, investment or business opportunity

  • Preparing the value case for business opportunity projects

  • Defining criteria for project selection

  • Scoping projects in chunks for success

  • Determining risk

  • Managing the risk to increase value

  • Managing and leveraging project interdependencies

  • Continually adjusting portfolio composition

  • Defining data standards and definitions

  • Building agreement about roles and responsibilities

  • Defining decision-making processes

  • Determining authorities

Partnership Between Business and IT

Another partnership required for successful governance is the one between the business functions and the IT function. Unfortunately, there are also predictable social system patterns that negatively impact this relationship.

Frequently, business customers hold IT responsible for delivering what they need. The pattern of behavior that appears repeatedly is that customers feel neglected when they don’t get what they want, yet they do not have time to get involved. As a result, IT may under-deliver and feel judged and blamed. There are two specific prescriptions that are likely unpopular, but that support the social intervention required for successful governance and improving partnership. First, the business customers need to get more involved in the overall process. Second, IT needs to make sure they are not trying to function too much on their own. If partnership is a “relationship in which we are jointly committed to the success of the process,” then there must be shared responsibility for the outcomes and each party must have a distinct role in those outcomes. More often than not, the success for the initiative gets volleyed between the two like a hot potato that is either rejected or tightly held by one or the other. There are two parts in every relationship, and there must be common commitment for each party to fulfill their part of the partnership.

The key to effective governance certainly includes process and structure, but it is not just about process and structure. It must also include “social intervention” resulting in collaboration and partnership. Governance must include education so that all stakeholders are aware of the typical, predictable patterns of behavior that occur and how they disintegrate partnership. It must include education on creating new patterns of behavior to leverage the power that partnership can provide to business intelligence success.

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