A data strategy unlocks the value of your data, data governance protects that value. Data is said to be the new oil. Data governance, therefore, is like the safety gear you’d wear when handling oil. It’s the equipment that will protect you if everything else goes up in flames. If you really want to optimise your organisation’s use of data, then getting your data governance in order is critical.
How data governance solves data challenges
Using data, especially for the first time, often poses some unique challenges for businesses. An effective data governance strategy gives you an opportunity to get ahead of any problems and overcome them. Some common issues we’ve encountered include:
- A lack of agreed definitions for KPIs.
- A poor security and access policy that leads to poor handling of personal data.
- Poorly defined ownership of data sets and processes.
- Difficulty accessing some data sets.
- Poor data quality, which can lead to inaccurate results.
- Inconsistent data entry and missing data.
- No single point for data access, with data stored in multiple silos and access difficult across the organisation.
- A lack of trust – either in the data internally, which can slow down business decisions and decrease buy-in, or externally where customers are unwilling to share their data.
Working through each of these issues, a data governance strategy outlines the responsibility and ownership of data across an organisation. It also details how data is to be managed and secured, who has access, where data can be accessed and how it is to be processed, transferred, and tracked. In doing so, data governance sets a common standard across an organisation and helps build trust between teams, employees, and customers. It’s an incredibly important part of any company’s data use, especially with GDPR due to be enforced.
Great data governance in action
Cynozure recently worked with a logistics organisation that was trying to unite its many dispersed data sets. We found there was no single point where teams could access data. It was primarily held in data silos, on different systems and in various formats and quality. This posed a problem when employees wished to access and analyse data quickly. It also made combining and analysing many different data sources practically impossible.
We worked with the organisation to determine the right model for its master data. This helped to keep the data more consistent and gave teams more confidence in reporting and results obtained from the analysis. Additionally, dashboards were created that could be accessed by key stakeholders whenever they needed. This enabled decision-makers to see the complete picture of the organisation with just a click. The reports generated via this dashboard and other data analysis were also accurate representations of the business’ performance. This led to more accountability and more informed decision making.
With effective data governance in the process, there is nowhere to hide from the data. Instead of worrying that the data might be in inaccurate, the organisation’s leadership could now focus on growing the business and moving forward. Good data governance, therefore, played a massive part in this business achieving its objectives and goals. That’s a pretty big accolade.
5 core principles of good data governance
Underpinning any good data governance strategy is the principle of creating trust in data. That is, trusting that the data is accurate, it is secure, it has been processed and cleaned correctly, that the right people have access to it, and that any results and insights that come from it are going to be true.
- It’s everyone’s responsibility: Whilst there will be a few individuals who have ownership over specific data sets, ultimately, data governance is down to everyone. It is not something assigned to just the IT team or the CIO. A lot of different people will need access to data and will use its insights. Therefore, a range of stakeholders should input to the data governance policy and its implementation and execution.
- Trust swings both ways: Trust in data needs to be both external and internal. For employees, they need to trust that the data they’re using is correct and that any insights gleaned from it offer an accurate representation of business performance. For customers, there needs to be an understanding that any use of their data is for their ultimate benefit. They need to know how their data is going to be processed and used, and how this helps them (in getting more personalised offers, for instance). Customers need to be sure that an organisation will use data responsibly and ethically. They will also deserve assurance that their data is stored securely.
- Put top security in place: The security of data is a fundamental pillar of data governance. But it is often overlooked. Every week there seems to be another data breach reported in the news. Data governance helps reduce the risk that it’ll be your organisation all over the tabloids. Access to data must be controlled and processes for requesting and receiving access must be defined and communicated company-wide. Physical security is needed and regular penetration testing set up. Any personal data must always be encrypted.
- Agree ownership and accountability: Knowing who holds ultimate responsibility for each data set can help keep data well-maintained. Everyone will understand who to report any changes to, whether that be a new data source, processing of data, or changes in the format of data. Likewise, when someone needs access, they’ll know exactly who to request it from. Accountability is important. There needs to be agreed, consistent and standard definitions used for metrics and KPIs that are then communicated to the organisation. By having this in place, performance can be more accurately and consistently tracked. With business decisions becoming much more informed as a result.
- Ensure the right training: There needs to be appropriate, structured training in place for people with responsibility for, and access to, data. Employees need to know where responsibility for data lies, who to report to, how to process or format data, and what to do in the event of a breach. Simply, dubbing someone a Data Steward or adding some responsibilities to an already busy to-do list will not cut it.
Data governance is central to data insights
If you want to ensure accuracy and have faith in what your data is telling you, then you’re going to need data governance. Not all data governance is created equal, but by following the core principles outlined you’ll be able to craft an effective strategy for your business. Without data governance in place, eventually your data strategy will fall down. Take the time to get your data governance in place, and everything else will follow.
Jason Foster – Founder & CEO