Are You Really Ready for Data Governance?

November 25, 2009
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Comfort Zone by p_x_g via Flickr

Fall conference season has (mercifully) come to an end, and I can finally reflect on what I learned on my most recent tour of industry and vendor events.

(Editorial aside: I don’t know about you, but I like Vegas, I love New Orleans, and if I see Orlando again it’ll be too soon. Note to conference organizers as you finalize your 2010 event planning: The Big Easy still needs our cash!  Let’s go back. The jambalaya’s on me!)

Anyway, I’ve been speaking and writing a lot about data governance, and presentations at TDWI, SAS, Teradata, and various clients have placed me squarely in the crosshairs of people aiming for effective data governance programs. It’s interesting to hear their questions, particularly as they voice concerns about data governance adoption in their organizations. One question I get in almost every session is a variation of this one:

Alright Miss Fancy Pants, why is it that every time a so-called expert talks about a major business initiative they bring up change management? Why can’t we just launch data governance without all the change management fanfare? Why can’t we just ‘get ‘er done?’

Answer: I don’t know, why can’t you? Or, more aptly, why haven’t you?

Comfort Zone by p_x_g via Flickr

Fall conference season has (mercifully) come to an end, and I can finally reflect on what I learned on my most recent tour of industry and vendor events.

(Editorial aside: I don’t know about you, but I like Vegas, I love New Orleans, and if I see Orlando again it’ll be too soon. Note to conference organizers as you finalize your 2010 event planning: The Big Easy still needs our cash!  Let’s go back. The jambalaya’s on me!)

Anyway, I’ve been speaking and writing a lot about data governance, and presentations at TDWI, SAS, Teradata, and various clients have placed me squarely in the crosshairs of people aiming for effective data governance programs. It’s interesting to hear their questions, particularly as they voice concerns about data governance adoption in their organizations. One question I get in almost every session is a variation of this one:

Alright Miss Fancy Pants, why is it that every time a so-called expert talks about a major business initiative they bring up change management? Why can’t we just launch data governance without all the change management fanfare? Why can’t we just ‘get ‘er done?’

Answer: I don’t know, why can’t you? Or, more aptly, why haven’t you? Not trying to be argumentative here, but (1) my pants are just black wool crepe, trouser-cut, which I think is more understated than fancy, and (2) it’s just that the most effective data governance programs are often also the most disruptive. And, simply put, disruption makes people nervous.

Professor Robert E. Quinn at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business writes about taking people out of their “normal states” (aka, their comfort zones) and painting a picture of what they need to do. In a seminal Harvard Business Review article in 2005 called “Moments of Greatness: Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership,” Quinn described true leaders as ready to “venture beyond familiar territory to pursue ambitious new outcomes.” If that’s not data governance, I don’t know what is.

After all, the “normal state” in most companies often means contradictory policies, multiple versions of the truth, absence of true data ownership, selective collaboration, and decision-making in a vacuum. Data governance is the opposite of all that.

“We couldn’t afford to experiment with data governance,” says Kevin Davis, Director of Research Initiatives at a major southeast retailer. “We retained a consulting firm to teach us the foundational stuff and we followed their advice. That included a lot of deliberate structure, education, evangelizing, and expectations management.” Davis and his team faced the additional challenge of coupling their company’s new data governance strategy with a major MDM technology acquisition. “We knew we only had one shot at getting it right,” he says.

True, it’s easier to avoid sticking your neck out. And in some cultures (particularly in high-tech companies, but that’s another blog post altogether) wholesale changes to policies and processes can actually begin from the bottom-up. It’s not only less disruptive, it demonstrates value to incent widespread adoption. Bottom-up data governance is a legitimate and proven approach. But at the end of the day, your strategy needs to include a plan to broaden governance beyond the initial domain. After all if you’re not sharing data across organizations and business processes you don’t need data governance.

According to Professor Quinn, change happens when someone is “jolted out of his comfort zone… driven to clarify the result he wanted to create, to act courageously from his core values, to surrender his self-interest to the collective good, and to open himself up to learning in real-time.”

Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone? Then maybe you are ready for data governance!

(P.S.: I’m discussing data governance yet again with Initiate Systems CTO Marty Moseley in a December 3rd webcast. Register here!)

Photo by p_x_g via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

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