Welcome to Right Governance, step four of the Eightfold Way to Data-driven Business. You have made it through Step 1 (Right Identification), Step 2 (Right Collection), and Step 3 (Right Validation).

Now, as the Bard would have it, Here lies the Rub.

Welcome to Step 4, Right Governance, where we deal with a question that can make brave men weep:

Who owns the data?

No, perhaps property is not the proper angle. Let me rephrase:

Who is accountable for making sure that:

  1.  data is correctly gathered from various sources
  2. data is safely stored, backed-up, updated
  3. data is promptly turned into actionable information and
  4. circulated, but also
  5. made available wherever and whenever needed to whomever has a demonstrable right
  6. data is also worked upon, and
  7. data integrity and survivability is guaranteed throughout?

I am pretty sure the line of would-be owners is much shorter now. Good.

In over 20 years, I’ve seen all sorts of horrors regarding company data:

  • each function owner with their “own database” on their laptop (usually in Excel or, exceptionally, in Access) and no centralized repository
  • manual extraction of function-related data from enterprise-grade ERP, hand processing in Excel, then reloading of processed data into ERP
  • data collection and processing by the ERP but also, independently, by the function owner, who will subsequently discuss only “his own” data
  • relevant function owners tweaking raw process data
  • missing process data input by hand.

Allow me to be blunt: in a company there is no “my own” data. All data are company data.

Hence the problem of governance. Somebody must be held accountable for data integrity, no how much the data is accessed or processed. And yet this somebody does no more own the data than any other person in the company. Also, this somebody must guarantee prompt data accessibility; and quite likely maintain a talent pool of experts to help function owners make sense of the data in their own terms. The Chief Data Officer (we’ll make do for want of a better name).

IT would be an ideal candidate for the position, if you ask me.

Actually in some (very few) fortunate companies, IT is already doing the job. After all what else should it be doing?

Exactly what it is doing in the majority of businesses out there: taking care of the hardware and software instead of business.

I’ve written at length about this “autistic IT” syndrome, and won’t repeat myself, except for the obvious conclusion: either IT guarantees proper data governance, or it will be “reluctantly let go”, in HR lingo. If in 2014 IT still sees as its role the well-being of technology, externalisation is just around the corner.

Data governance is not simply locking the data up in some database and standing watch, a job that traditional IT would after all perform well. In a data-driven business, data governance means:

  1. looking after data through its entire lifecycle (security, integrity, survivability)
  2. guaranteeing flawless interfacing
  3. providing and circulating routine reporting
  4. gathering continuous feedback from function owners
  5. pro-actively improve routine reports
  6. increase company data awareness and capability
  7. being the official data-to-business and business-to-data translator
  8. providing on-demand talent for data investigation
  9. help function owners formalise and automate decision processes.

Even the best Data Officer cannot do all of this alone: strong, unambiguous CEO support is needed throughout.

The coming, data-driven company will be very different from today’s business. Eventually, everything susceptible of being automated will be; simple market reaction times will make sure this is so.


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