Governance: If It Isn’t Logical, It’s Political

June 25, 2011
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It is hard to turn on the radio or TV, or read the paper or news web sites, without being deluged with the current political dilemmas. Often times, people in business are accused of “playing politics” or having a political agenda. More often than not, that means that they are acting in their own self interest as opposed to the greater good of the company as a whole.

It is hard to turn on the radio or TV, or read the paper or news web sites, without being deluged with the current political dilemmas. Often times, people in business are accused of “playing politics” or having a political agenda. More often than not, that means that they are acting in their own self interest as opposed to the greater good of the company as a whole.

The downside to all this is that we look to those who provide governance to set the company good ahead of individual interest. Unfortunately, “governance” has been so intertwined with politics that even the mention of trying to get “data warehouse governance” is met with skepticism and is an almost instant starting point that this will be bad. Often times users end up asking “why” instead of agreeing to “how.”

Editor’s note: Rob Armstrong is an employee of Teradata. Teradata is a sponsor of The Smart Data Collective.

But, does it have to be that way? Fortunately, is does not. Bottom line is that if it does not make sense to those who will be governed (and have a hand in the execution of the governance), then stop and figure out the hidden political agenda.

What makes for good governance as it applies to the data warehouse?  What does it even mean to have governance and how far is the scope?  For that matter what is the goal of the governance so you know when it is achieved and working?

I will start with the last question first: To me, the goal of the data warehouse (and thus all processes need to align towards this goal) is to provide an environment where users can self service their data needs. This may range from in depth heavy analytics in support of new marketing or product strategies all the way to simple look ups for customer or operational process information.  So governance needs to enable, not encumber, self service.  Therefore we need a limited set of simple rules that provide the “guard rails” and check points to ensure a robust and useable environment.

So, the second question, what is the scope of governance?  The scope should be limited to providing the quality data and to ensuring / defining service level commitments.  Now there are a lot of moving parts to this but the important point is that governance is different than regulation.  You will never be able to regulate against every situation, and if you try then it will result in a never ending spiral of reactive crackdown to new problems. 

The analogy I like is that we have basic traffic rules and trust everyone to abide by them.  In serious situations (like drunk driving) we have severe consequences (or should).  That is governance.  As a side note, when the consequences are not enforced then governance will never be achieved. This is one of the most often causes of governance failure.

Unfortunately it gets taken too far when every possible variance is covered reactively. Rather than have a simple enforced rule of “no driving while distracted” (governance) we get rule after rule trying to define what distracted means such as cell phones, eating, reading, putting on make up, shaving, etc. There become so many rules that one can not help but run afoul of them and the environment is seen as prohibitive rather than supportive.

If done correctly, and embraced by all involved, good governance actually results in self regulation. The user community becomes a vital part in the governance structure as opposed to being the recipients of endless regulation. 

More often than not the user community is viewed as an afterthought to the process. To be fair, this is also due to the fact that the users make themselves be seen that way.  User communities need to step up to the ownership and responsibility of the warehouse rather than just making demands of the IT providers.

Finally, to answer the first question last.  What then, makes for good governance?  Again this is a larger topic than a short blog to cover but again, less is better than more.  If you want to start the journey of data warehouse governance then I would recommend starting with the data quality, general service level agreements (covered in a previous posting: http://smartdatacollective.com/rob-armstrong/36391/what-do-you-mean-bi ), and outcome based prioritization of data to include in the warehouse.  Once you have these basics in place you can expand the governance to the broader areas of need.

Governance in data quality is driven by the user groups agreeing to what data quality means and what level of quality is necessary for different data elements.  This needs to happen up front, as well as be reviewed periodically, and it must be driven by the users who can then attach business value to the higher level of data quality.  If data quality is driven by IT then it is seen as too much overhead to getting data into the data warehouse and just one more reason why IT is standing in the way.

A relative of this would be the outcome based prioritization of data subject areas.  Having a simple roadmap that is created, prioritized, and led by business leadership and executives will go a long way to resolving arguments and contention.  Data subject areas should be first vetted for their ability to drive actionable events that drive profitability.  They are then compared against the cost of collecting, cleansing, and integrating the data into the data warehouse models.  Once again, by including the key business groups in these decisions the data governance gains broad agreement and as a side benefit, aligns the data warehouse output towards explicitly measureable goals.

So, I will stop there as this topic can be taken more layers as to execution.  First question for you: What type of governance do you have in your company? Is it logical and supported by the users? Or is it political agendas masquerading as vital interest?