The Data Governance – Business Dialogue

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Productive relationships are based on establishing a shared understanding, then maintaining a meaningful dialogue. For data governance initiatives this means going beyond merely imposing policies and standards and engaging in a two-way conversation about real business challenges and solutions. Without the ability to establish a meaningful dialogue the organisation at large will not engage and the goal to drive cultural change towards a more data driven firm will remain a hollow slogan.


Patrick Dewald, Data Governance architect and Director, Diaku,

Diaku are platinum sponsors of the IRM UK Data Governance Conference Europe 2016, 16-19 May, London


The first step to having meaningful conversations with business users about data is not to have them as data conversations. Business users typically deal with business processes, business rules, business requirements, metrics, reports etc. If we understand and then demonstrate how these business aspects draw upon data we can start having business relevant conversations about data. Moreover by understanding how a given business asset specifically draws upon one or more data items we can personalise the data governance conversations with that business community. Making conversations relevant and personal builds great engagement. In short we need the data governance discipline to grow up.

Go to any data governance conference and chances are you will find experts outlining how you need to establish a framework, policies and a business glossary to subsequently assign owners and stewards. If you fail to get traction you probably lack senior sponsorship. Imagine going to a project management conference and the key takeaway being you need a project plan, project sponsor and manager; you would insist on getting your money back; the key questions – how to understand what needs to be done and how to engage and collaborate were not addressed.

To the average business user it is not obvious when good governance will start delivering real business benefit. The data governance effort typically focuses on formalising policies, data definitions, ownership etc. while the business desperately wants the data landscape easier to understand and interact with. Business users often only take an interest in data when something has gone wrong. As the business sees governance less about control but more about prevention as failure the dialogue then becomes goal driven and less about the mechanics of control.

For data governance initiatives to be successful they need to go beyond policies and data definitions and create a platform to ground those into the messy reality of the data today. By doing so a meaningful dialogue can be established on how the data governance and business objectives can connect up. Moreover understanding the real world data usage and relevance is a prerequisite to understanding the value to data.

The goal for data governance is not better data definitions or more ownership, the goal should be to support the firm in becoming more data aware, data savvy and ultimately data driven.  This  requires a profound change in attitude from a lot of people. A new corporate culture is not created overnight; it is the result of a prolonged and consistent encouragement, allowing change in behaviour. Cultural change is the macro effect of making lots of small modifications to working practices until they become the norm.

The success of any data governance function depends on being able to reach, engage and influence the behaviour of the broadest possible group of people across functions and disciplines. Our business is data, but let’s remember our data is about the business, let’s have the dialogue!

Patrick Dewald is a Data Governance architect and founding partner in Diaku.  He has a wealth of experience designing Master Data Management and Data Governance solutions for financial institutions. Patrick has been heading up Data Governance initiatives, designing and implementing group-wide data services from the ground up for the best part of 15 years. Patrick is recognised by its peers as a thought leader in the field of Data Governance. Contact Patrick at

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