Data Governance: A New Hope

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Struggling to implement an effective data governance strategy? Stuart Squires, Comma’s Managing Director – EMEA, tells us how we can learn from the mistakes of the Galactic Empire to avoid falling into some common data governance pitfalls.

Stuart Squires, Managing Director EMEA, Comma Group; [email protected]
Stuart will be speaking at the Data Governance Conference & Master Data Management Summit Europe, 14-17 May 2018 on the topic “A Year in the Life of Data Governance – from Conception to Teething“.

They may have managed to take over almost an entire galaxy in just 20 years, but the Galactic Empire had some fundamental flaws as an organisation. Autocratic management structure. Inability to learn from past mistakes. An inflexible attitude to work-place errors (so long, Admiral Ozzel). Yet arguably, their biggest failing was an over-reliance on technology.

Sure, the Death Star looked great. Yes, it could render rebel alliance planets uninhabitable at the touch of a button. But was it the solution that the Empire needed, or just a glaring example of throwing money and technology at a problem, without really working to fix the root cause?

It’s a mistake that we see all too often in businesses struggling to effectively implement data governance. Technological solutions that are meant to improve the day to day running of an operation by utilising data, instead become a hindrance. Just like the Death Star was supposed to make destroying planets easy, but actually became a catastrophic weakness that led to the Empire’s downfall, a data governance strategy that prioritises technology, not transformation, can leave an entire organisation vulnerable.

Transformation, not technology

Let’s take an example. A robust business glossary has been set up using market leading tools. The processes of creating and updating entries are well defined. The business descriptions are available to all at the click of a button.

A Death Star engineer reviews the entry for “Thermal exhaust port” which reads: “A flue, about the size of a womp rat, which allows exhaust from the reactor core to be released into space”. Interested, he further clicks on “Womp Rat”. In this description he finds “Rodent, native to Tatooine, certainly cannot be bulls-eyed by a kid in a T-16”.

Having grown up on Tatooine, our engineer knows this final fact to be false. Disgusted at the lack of accuracy of this description, he vows never to trust the glossary again, tells his colleagues that the data governance programme was a waste of time and, most importantly, does not follow process to update the information to ensure that it is actually correct. If you’ve seen Star Wars, you know what happens next (if you haven’t, we’re astonished you’ve made it this far).

Forming an alliance

You see, data governance is as much about winning hearts and minds as it is about the technology that you purchase. Had that engineer understood his role in the organisation’s data flow, and bought into the new data governance programme, that fatal flaw in the Death Star would have been rectified and A New Hope might have concluded a little less hopefully.

So how can you make sure that everyone is on board with your vision for data governance? You can force change upon them, but it rarely works (even Jedi mind tricks could only get Vader so far). Designing your data governance strategy in an ivory tower and implementing it without listening to feedback or concerns, then punishing individuals when they fail to comply, will only entrench your data problems and prevent progress.

Sharing and explaining your vision, and helping to map people’s everyday roles within context, will create an environment where people understand their own importance in the strategy, and how it benefits them. This can be done through cascading performance targets and by understanding what is key to the personal success of the individuals involved.

In short, take a leaf out of the Rebel Alliance’s book. What makes people get out of bed? What cause can they rally around? It probably isn’t data.

Build on your strengths

Which brings us to our next point. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size fits all data governance solution. If there was, it would be easy to clone and everyone would be successful. At Comma, every company that we work with is different. They have their strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, and sourcing a solution that works for them means accepting and embracing these differences.

It may be that you already have a strong governance function for compliance with Health & Safety regulation, or a team that are nailing data quality in a particular area, or an underused piece of technology that was bought years ago. Find them, use them. Having data transformation ‘champions’ in different parts of the business will only strengthen your cause and make implementation less daunting.

Finally, don’t keep rebuilding your Death Star with the same fatal flaw. No technological solution – regardless of how great it looks on paper – will work without a strategy to transform your business’ approach to data. That’s why at Comma, we don’t just match our clients with MDM software: we provide a full wraparound service, getting to know what you need from your data in terms of business transformation as well as practical data management.

To find out what Comma can bring to your data governance strategy, load a holographic message into a droid and send it our way.

Stuart is an information management expert who over 19 years has worked his way from industry, through systems integrators and Big 4 Advisory to Comma. He has advised some of the largest companies in the world and has a vast experience of the data and information challenges that businesses face.

Copyright Stuart Squires, Managing Director EMEA, Comma Group

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