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4 steps to get your data governance initiative off the ground

Guest Editor: Nicola Askham 7 minute read Data governance

In my last blog, I wrote about the reasons why it’s important to get stakeholder buy-in to start working on data governance. In this blog, I will look at the next stage – 4 practical steps to get the foundations ready for building your initiative.

Data governance is paradoxical. The concept itself is quite straightforward. After all, it's just about proactively managing your data in order to improve the quality of it. But despite the fact that many businesses are on board with the benefits, a great deal still struggle to implement it.

The issues that people face when trying to start a data governance initiative are diverse but these can all be overcome with some planning. The biggest one is always that of achieving culture change and turning your organisation into one where individuals think about and proactively manage their data. 

Over many years I have developed a methodology, which ensures that I work with an organisation through each stage logically. We start by making the case for data governance and getting stakeholder buy-in. Then we can lay the right foundations to design and implement a data governance framework that will work.

The foundation stage of this is obviously the most crucial. Too many people think that you can dive straight into designing a data governance framework, but if you don’t do the groundwork to get your initiative started correctly, it’s unlikely that you will successfully develop and implement a sustainable data governance framework.

Read on and I’ll share with you the steps that I go through with my clients to show you how to lay the right foundations for success.

1) Get the go ahead

In my first blog, I looked at why you're going to need engagement with some very senior stakeholders in your organisation in order to even get permission to start working on data governance. I discussed the need to align with your organisation's corporate strategy and sell the specific benefits. So where do you start? Here’s a couple of practical ideas:

  • Step away from the detail – If you are a person who "gets data" and have worked in your company for some time, you undoubtedly know a lot of the data issues that you want the framework to address. Asking you to step away from the detail that you already know may seem a wasted effort, but this is absolutely vital to the success of your initiative. Senior individuals are not worrying about detailed data problems. They are viewing the company at a much higher level. If you meet them and try to sell the concept based on detailed data issues, they not going to be interested.
  • Don’t be shy – I have found that nothing is as successful for getting a tick in the box for data governance as face to face meetings and workshops. In an organisation I worked with recently, I ran a number of workshops with senior stakeholders to explain first what data governance was and secondly the specific reasons why they needed it. These workshops gave me the permission I needed to get the wheels in motion

2) Find and train an executive sponsor

Once you have gained approval to commence, you're going to need to agree on an executive sponsor for your work. This person will be key to ensuring the initiative gets the support it needs. Now is the time to make sure that they really understand what data governance is and the benefits that your organisation can hope to achieve from it. This will leave your sponsor well equipped to champion your cause with their peers.

Tips for finding a suitable sponsor:

  • Seniority - This person needs to be senior enough to have the budget and authority to back your initiative. Someone who understands what you are trying to do but lacks either the budget or authority won’t be able to help you get the initiative going or overcome any obstacles.
  • Interest - They need to have a vested interest in the outcome of the initiative. As an example the Chief Risk Officer may have an interest in meeting regulatory requirements to implement data governance or the Finance Director may be interested in the reduced costs that improved data quality will bring.
  • Education - Once you have found someone who is right to be your sponsor you need to spend some time with them. The word “train” sounds formal, but I mean that you need to explain what data governance is, why your organisation needs it and what you need from them.

3) Engage and gather information from a wider stakeholder group

Once you have an executive sponsor in place, the next thing you need to do is engage with stakeholders, ideally in every part of your organisation. This step is going to involve a mixture of activities:

  • Benefits - Continue to sell the benefits of data governance focusing on specifics for each different department you speak to. I have always found it useful to use the Corporate Strategy as a basis for conversations with each business area to pinpoint exactly what they’re responsible for delivering to meet that strategy.
  • Conceptual Data Model - Start to understand what data that department uses and produces by working with them to develop a Conceptual Data Model. These are very simple, high-level data models that business people who have never seen a logical data model can easily understand. They make it a lot easier to identify who might be the correct data owner of the various data sets. In my experience, if you don’t use these models you have to rely on good business analysis skills to gather the right information. I’d always recommend you attempt them -  they give better results with less effort and also come in very useful when implementing your Data Governance Framework later on.
  • Challenges - Start gathering some information on the challenges they have with that data. A good way of doing this is during the conversations you’re having to develop a Conceptual Data Model. These tend to be developed iteratively and while working with each department to draft it, the conversation can easily be used to flush out the challenges they have with each data set.

4) Be clear on what your framework should consist of

You now have the information and the right stakeholders involved to design and validate a data governance framework. So, before you put pen to paper, make sure you know exactly what’s required for a well-rounded comprehensive plan.

In a nutshell, a data governance framework is the structure that you need to put in place to proactively manage your data quality. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. For it to work, it must fit your organisation’s culture and practices. However, the three main components are always the same:

  • A Data Policy
  • Processes
  • Roles and responsibilities (You can find out more about these in a previous blog I wrote).

If you want to find out more detail about a Data Governance Framework and its components we can help -  you can download a white paper on Using a Data Governance Framework to support Data Quality here.

Summary

This may sound like a lot of effort before even sitting down to design a data governance framework (let alone implement it), but it is well worth the effort at this stage. You’ll ensure that you have everything in place to build the framework that is correct for your organisation and to create an implementation plan that focuses on the correct areas of priority.

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