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Confessions of a data governance sponsor

Jill Dyche provides a cautionary tale for those of you on the brink of enlisting the business in a data governance effort or for those on the business side considering launching an effort of your own.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

This past fall I delivered a veritable cavalcade of conference presentations and keynotes on the topic of data governance. I spoke in the U.S. and in Europe on data governance design, emerging best practices, and tips and techniques to ensure data governance success. One topic I’ve added to my repertory is the recent phenomenon of data governance failure.

As with any trend, some people jump on board before they’re actually ready. I’ve blogged and written about data governance hitting the skids, and it seems that we’ve had a crop of new clients who engaged us once they saw their data governance efforts going downhill.

Last year we worked at a large pharmaceutical company where a nascent data governance effort was already in jeopardy. The company’s IT department had called us in to “do some triage,” as the CIO explained it. After interviewing IT stakeholders and hearing various versions of what the trouble was, I requested a one-on-one meeting with the executive sponsor for data governance.

I had what turned out to be several conversations with the vice president of marketing for the company’s U.S. sales and marketing division. He had not only volunteered to be the data governance sponsor, buy also had cultivated support for data governance among his peers. Following is a synopsis of our initial meeting. Hopefully the conversation will serve as a cautionary tale for those of you on the brink of enlisting the business in a data governance effort, or for those of you on the business side considering launching an effort of your own.

The scene is the typical executive suite in a global headquarters building. The requisite success posters, awards and framed quotations adorn the walls, and framed family photos perch on a corner of the desk alongside several issues of Harvard Business Review and a copy of Moneyball. The data governance sponsor reports to the CEO and is an acknowledged power broker. He’s clearly in charge, though seems a bit tense. I suddenly feel like David Frost.

Data Governance Sponsor: I consider myself a marketing expert. On a good day, I’d say that my team knows more about our customers than anyone else in the company, with the possible exception of our sales reps. We have a ton of data. Trust me, we do. Our customers are physicians, and we know a lot about them – from where they practice to where they’re licensed to their AMA number. We have lots of information, that’s for sure.

Jill: So what drove data governance?

Data Governance Sponsor: I’ll be honest. When it comes to measuring marketing effectiveness, we’re in the weeds. We have too much data. We don’t know whether a doctor who has prescribed our medicine is the same guy that showed up at our company-sponsored box at the baseball game. I can’t calculate ROI on our campaigns. We don’t know our market share in a particular area. I have no way to gauge customer satisfaction. And don’t even talk to me about return on marketing investment (ROMI). And I’d like to be able to calculate net promoter scores, micro-target doctors in specific fields prescribing specific drug therapies and do other types of predictive work.

Jill: So what made you think data governance was the answer?

Data Governance Sponsor: I thought – and I still do – that our data issues were getting in the way of our business goals. Unless I really know which doctors, which practices and which hospitals do the most business with us…are the most engaged with us…I’m flying blind. If I could just reconcile those relationships and identify the individuals involved, I could start to roll up customer value and do some of the strategic stuff I just mentioned. Until then, we’re relying on the same old sample drops, which we don’t measure. [Note: Sample drops are when sales reps leave drug samples with physicians in hopes that they’ll distribute them to patients who will then request regular prescriptions.]

Jill: So starting data governance was your idea?

Data Governance Sponsor: I did a little reading. I talked to the CIO. I told him I understood that I should take ownership of the data, but that we needed to bring other business executives, the information owners, to the table and that I needed his help getting it all together. He was all for it.

Jill: So what was the quid pro quo?

Data Governance Sponsor: What?

Jill: How did you convince your colleagues to participate?

Data Governance Sponsor: I asked them to. Okay, then I begged them. We told executives in finance and sales that we needed their data in order to get a single version of the truth about our customers. I have personal relationships with both of them, and I called each of them and explained the problem. Then they were on board.

Jill: And how did you circumscribe their roles? What did you see them being accountable for?

Data Governance Sponsor: Well, they thought it was a systems issue. They said, “Sure, you can have my data. I’ll give you a password to our CRM system and our financial package.” They thought it was just about getting system access.

Jill: Let’s get back to data governance. How did you decide to actually start data governance?

Data Governance Sponsor: Start it?

Jill: Yes. Kick it off.

Data Governance Sponsor: Yes, well we had a meeting where everyone agreed to share their data.

Jill: Good. And then?

Data Governance Sponsor: And then we went and got passwords, and I had some of my guys start looking at the data.

Jill: That’s great. But what about the value proposition?

Data Governance Sponsor: Value proposition? Better data!

Jill: Great, and when these efforts work, they usually involve defining success metrics. We ask people to finish a sentence like: “When our first data governance initiative is complete, we will be able to…” Was there an answer?

Data Governance Sponsor: Well, I had an answer. The answer was “calculate the ROI of lead generation events.”

Jill: And what stake did your colleagues have in that success?


Jill: So it sounds to me as if data governance wasn’t really sanctioned at the enterprise level.

Data Governance Sponsor: Sanctioned?

Jill: Yes, with agreement on the desired outcome and a long-term plan for making a range of policy decisions on data and rules for engagement when new issues arise.

Data Governance Sponsor: I guess not. My thinking was that if we could just get the customer data together, we could work on other issues later.

Jill: So what does the role of executive sponsorship mean to you?

Data Governance Sponsor: It means giving up my people and some budget money to solve the problem.

Jill: No judgment here, but what I’m hearing is that you had specific problems to address and didn’t have a vision for data governance beyond how consolidated data could help marketing.

Data Governance Sponsor: I thought the CIO could help me with that. I’m trying to run an organization…

Jill: So who do you think “owns” data governance?

Data Governance Sponsor: Well, IT owns data governance. I just own the data.

Jill: So let’s say we help you guys do this right. I agree that we need to get some other people to the table, but first we need to come up with a workable process that we can execute in the short term and extend for the long term. Ultimately, it means going beyond what data governance can do for marketing. What say you?

Data Governance Sponsor (excited): I’m up for that. Why don’t you work with me to form a committee? I can get on anyone’s calendar! Just tell me who you want to meet with.

Jill: We’ll do that. But not yet. First I’m going to ask you to walk me through a typical data decision-making process.

Data Governance Sponsor: Process?

Jill: Yes. A step-by-step scenario where there are multiple organizational constituents and different hand-off points.

Data Governance Sponsor: Like when I need sales revenues for a particular product?

Jill: Yes.

Data Governance Sponsor: I call the CFO. He and I go way back.

Jill: Okay. But walk me through how you and your colleagues in finance agree on whether the sales revenue figures you’re looking at signify booked revenues or billed revenues.


Jill: I’m sensing that this is a very personality-based culture. And that’s okay. We’re not going to change it, but we’re going to help you design a process for data governance where you won’t have to phone a friend for every decision.

Data Governance Sponsor: Process?

Jill: Yes.

Data Governance Sponsor: Okay, but let me ask you something. What will that get me that I don’t have now?

Jill: It will get you thorough data that will fill in the pieces so you can do the kind of analysis you can now only envision. It will help you understand when you need to collaborate outside of marketing and when you can make your own decisions independent of other departments. It will also help the CIO understand the specific resources he needs to contribute in order to sustain the decisions once they’re made.

Data Governance Sponsor: So what you’re saying is we need to back up and build a plan.

Jill: Among other things. But first, with you, me, one of my business consultants and three of your product managers, we are going to map out a business process that allows us to determine ROMI. Then we’re going to look at the data gaps. Then we’re going to see how to fill those gaps and set up some roles to make sure that happens. Then we’re going to go through an approval process so that people outside of marketing understand that process. And the CIO will be in the room to represent current data decision rights. And then we’re going to build a little online community to get some feedback.

Data Governance Sponsor (intrigued): And then?

Jill: And then?

Data Governance Sponsor: And then what?

Jill: And then we’re going to launch a data governance program.

Any of this sound familiar? In fact, this conversation reveals a handful of key indicator assumptions about data governance at this pharmaceutical company that are usually symptoms of data governance failure, namely:

  • Assuming that “my problem is everyone’s problem.” The marketing executive had a particular vision and a range of specialized problems that could ultimately drive business value, but were nevertheless not perceived as problems by other departments.

  • Assuming that personal relationships will be enough to convince people to participate in data governance. Yes, this is a cultural issue, but introducing a more process-centric approach over time can add rigor while keeping friendships intact.

  • Assuming that once stakeholders commit to participating in data governance, they’ll know what to do. In fact, they need to be educated, not only on how data governance works, but also on the root cause business issues and how data governance will address them.

  • Assuming that governance doesn’t require deliberate planning. Watch out for any effort, whether it includes “governance” in its name or not, that involves discovery work (for instance, people need to access the systems and look at the data). That’s an intellectual exercise in the making.

  • Assuming that the mechanics of data governance will fall into IT’s purview. Although the CIO could certainly help with data maintenance, provisioning, cleanup and even stewardship, his organization should support the business goals of data governance, not spearhead them.

  • Assuming that a council or a series of meetings comprises data governance. In reality, the “whats” and “hows” should precede the “whos.”

How companies launch data governance will vary according to industry, needs, goals, prevailing culture, organizational structure and incumbent skill sets. There is no single best approach. However, there are already set assumptions about what data governance is. Sometimes you have to tear down existing paradigms before rebuilding them in a different way.

Jill Dyché

Jill is a partner co-founder of Baseline Consulting, a technology and management consulting firm specializing in data integration and business analytics. Jill is the author of three acclaimed business books, the latest of which is Customer Data Integration: Reaching a Single Version of the Truth, co-authored with Evan Levy. Her blog, Inside the Biz, focuses on the business value of IT.

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