Net-centric Data Governance: Not for Sissies!

September 15, 2009
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Recently I had occasion to once again pass along advice to “Consider removing some of the burden from management teams by utilizing a centralized, federated, or net-centric Data Governance Model.”

This, as it often does, lead to a specific question and a general discussion. The question? “What does net-centric mean?” Here’s what Wikipedia says: “Participating as a part of a continuously-evolving, complex community of people, devices, information and services interconnected by a communications network to achieve optimal benefit of resources and better synchronization of events and their consequences.”

I confess that when I first heard the term and read the definition, I didn’t totally get it. I was really focused on the idea of technology being at the center of the concept. But then I heard some elegant discussions that made be look beyond that factor. Net-centricity is the next logical step when you’re not optimizing components within a closed system or even a set of closed systems. Rather, it acknowledges that sometimes you have to do your best to manage within “a network of networks.”    

Wow, is that true. And as we all know, networks can be messy,


Recently I had occasion to once again pass along advice to “Consider removing some of the burden from management teams by utilizing a centralized, federated, or net-centric Data Governance Model.”

This, as it often does, lead to a specific question and a general discussion. The question? “What does net-centric mean?” Here’s what Wikipedia says: “Participating as a part of a continuously-evolving, complex community of people, devices, information and services interconnected by a communications network to achieve optimal benefit of resources and better synchronization of events and their consequences.”

I confess that when I first heard the term and read the definition, I didn’t totally get it. I was really focused on the idea of technology being at the center of the concept. But then I heard some elegant discussions that made be look beyond that factor. Net-centricity is the next logical step when you’re not optimizing components within a closed system or even a set of closed systems. Rather, it acknowledges that sometimes you have to do your best to manage within “a network of networks.”    

Wow, is that true. And as we all know, networks can be messy, complex, and elusive. 

So what was the inevitable general topic that followed? A discussion of when to adopt a centralized model of data governance, when to design a federated model, and when to go for a net-centric model. That can be a long discussion, but one take-away had to do with the scope of impact you’re trying to make.

Sometimes your field of impact is simply within one department or group (local impact). Sometimes it is across multiple groups within one organization (enterprise impact). Sometimes it crosses two or more organizations (multiprise impact). Sometimes you’re aiming to change one little thing across the whole world (global impact).

The larger your field of impact, the more difficult it will be to succeed with a true centralized form of governance. Sure, it’s easy to make rules from a single spot. But it’s very had to follow up on them. If you need feet-on-the-ground monitoring and reporting, a federated approach may be better for you. (It’s also the better choice if you care a lot about the end results of governance, but are able to tolerate a lot of “local variance” in how you get there.

With a net-centric approach to Data Governance, you are not only giving up personal oversight. You’re recognizing that different networks have different ways of dealing with similar information, standardization approaches, processes, and protocols. You’re no longer claiming you have to have identical results. Rather, you’re focusing on reaching agreement about high-level goals and objectives and the conditions that need to be in place so you can be certain of addressing those as information moves from one network to another in an appropriate way, according to agreed upon conditions, meeting an agreed upon set of fit-for-use criteria. Of course, you’ll want to address detailed goals and objectives also, but your approach will recognize that collaboration may get exponentially more difficult the more detailed you get.

(Of course, there are exceptions to everything. Introduce the right technology and standards, and it may be desirable to adopt them in all circumstances. Voila! Easy governance!)

But usually, it’s anything but easy. Networks of networks may have too many parts to name. They are messy. Navigating them – much less controlling them – is hard. But it can be worth it when multiprise and global concerns are at stake. So welcome to the 21st century. It’s not for sissies. 


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