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Data governance success: No pain, no gain

Data governance isn't easy, but it is necessary for success in data-centric projects. Rick Sherman commiserates and offers expert advice for getting started with data governance.

Does this sound familiar? Your business users are complaining that they constantly have to debate and reconcile the numbers in different reports. They complain that the reports you give them aren't consistent with the way they run the business. They are constantly asking you to explain the reports to them.

It makes me think of that classic refrain "if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem." It's time to get your business folks to understand that they need to be part of the solution. That means that business people have to get engaged in defining data definitions, business transformations and the performance metrics they want to use in reports. Oh sure, some of them might have given you specs on these things when you initially developed the reports, but the business is constantly changing and you have to continuously revise all these things to reflect current business conditions.

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Even more important, the definitions you got from the business initially were probably based on one-on-one discussions with specific business users and groups. Did anyone try to get the different business groups to agree on these definitions? Probably not. So one group is happy with the definitions (they were the ones who defined it) but other groups don't use those reports either because they disagree with those definitions or they do not understand them.

What should you do? It's time to initiate a formal business-driven data governance process. That process should match your business culture and the size of your company. In a large company with a lot of discipline, you'll create steering and working group committees along with a business intelligence (BI) competency center. Companies that are not as large or as disciplined might assign responsibility to people from various business groups and leave it up to them to decide how to ensure the process works. But regardless of your company's management culture or size, a data governance process MUST be implemented to ensure data consistency and quality.

Implementing data governance may sound overwhelming. You'll likely have to use your powers of persuasion to get people involved. But if the business wants consistent, comprehensive and relevant data, people have to get involved. Remind them that the time they spend arguing about numbers and reconciling them could be shifted to much more productive business work if data governance was implemented. You either get data consistent before you create reports or you try to do it afterwards. It seems like a no-brainer.

Key steps:

  • Work with business people to define data, business rules (transformations) and performance metrics they want in reports.
  • Obtain agreement on a consistent view of the above from business groups that use these reports, otherwise say your system will not go live!
  • Set expectations and obtain commitment for ongoing business participation in this data governance process (it is NOT a one time project).
  • Document everything and make it easily available to business people when they are examining reports or performing data analysis.

Good luck. The level of effort is high, but the reward – business value from data – is even higher.

About the author
Rick Sherman has more than 18 years of business intelligence and data warehousing experience, having worked on more than 50 implementations as an independent consultant and as a director/practice leader at a Big Five accounting firm. He founded Athena IT Solutions, a Stow, Mass.-based business intelligence consulting firm. Send Rick an email.



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