How Can Data Governance Help in the Covid-19 Crisis?

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We’ve all been affected by Covid-19, and I hope you and your loved ones are well.  The health crisis continues to unfold, and it may be many months before it is under control.  At the same time there has been a massive economic shock, whose ramifications are less easy to understand than the disease itself.

Malcolm Chisholm, President, Data Millennium; follow Malcolm on Twitter @MDChisholm
Malcolm participated in the webinar, ‘Dentsu International: Delivering Global Media Services with the Intelligent Data Hub‘ which was sponsored by Semarchy

Watch the webinar here.

When it comes to data, I think we all understand more of how public health and epidemiology is driven by data, and how valuable data is.  In fact, I heard Dr Fauci of the US CDC say (and I am paraphrasing him) that actual data trumps all the models you can have.  But I would like to defer any discussion of the role of data in the health crisis until later, in part because its going to be controversial.

So while the health crisis is acutely important today I would like to try to think about the economic crisis.

In all wide-scale crises we each have our role to play, and it is a very fair question to ask what Data Governance can do to help.  Now in answering this question, we are not here to think about how Data Governance can profit from the situation, or even how Data Governance units can find ways to make themselves seem relevant so they can survive the economic crisis and then get back to business as usual after this is all over.  Selfish thinking is not going to contribute anything to help the organizations we work for or the communities we live in.      

To help frame how Data Governance can help it is useful to reflect how the need to move rapidly to work from home seems to have caught many enterprises by surprise, even though they had spent a lot of time on Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity.  Luckily, the technical infrastructure was broadly available for rapid adoption.  This shows that the focus of Data Governance in this crisis should be in the area of risk management.  It is not the time for Data Governance to be focusing on increasing revenues, and attaining enterprise goals.  Improving process efficiency may be relevant, but it implies business process re-engineering, and this takes time.  So risk management is a logical place for Data Governance to help. 

Here are 5 practical ways that Data Governance can help today.

#1 Build a data competencies matrix for all staff working closely with data.  What data does a staff person work with?  What data processing do they do?  What data are they knowledgeable about?  What data-related skills do they have (tool skills, methodology skills)?  We need to know this in case individual staff members are incapacitated, so we can more easily find people to plug the gaps.

#2 Get an understanding of Data Lineage at a high level.  This is the dataset level.  It is not at the detailed column-to-column level.  What we need to understand is the enterprise’s Data Supply Chain, and if we understand this, we can predict what will be impacted if an area of the business has to shut down or operate in some kind of degraded mode.

#3 Develop and implement guidance for End User Computing (EUC).  With so many people working at home there is a possibility of many more corporate data assets ending up on endpoints like personal devices.  People need help in managing these well to prevent negative incidents. EUC is risky even when done on premise, and is even more risky with remote working.  It takes time to develop policies, so practical guidance is a better option.

#4 Proactively help with data needs.  People may be encountering data problems but do not know who to turn to.  Data Governance can help facilitate solving these problems by reaching out to colleagues working remotely and asking if they are having data-related issues.  If there are problems, Data Governance is better placed to help coordinate resolutions.  IT is likely to be overwhelmed with technology concerns, and in any case is not well placed to deal with data issues. 

#5 Provide Data Literacy training.  This is not related to risk management.  There are a lot of anecdotes that people are finding they are much more productive working at home.  This means that they have more time available, which could be used to gain new skills.  Roughly speaking, data literacy is the ability to understand the enterprise’s data assets and use tools and methodologies to work with them effectively.  In this lockdown period we need to prepare for what happens when the economy reopens.  It is unlikely to be the same and we need to get ahead of that now.

So, these are 5 practical approaches that Data Governance can take today to support the enterprises we work for.  Planning for the future, and a possibly very different world after the lockdown ends is something we will write about at a future time.

Stay safe!

Malcolm Chisholm has over 25 years experience in data management, and has worked in a variety of sectors, including finance, insurance, manufacturing, government, defense and intelligence, pharmaceuticals, and retail. He is a consultant specialising in data governance, master/reference data management, metadata engineering, business rules management/execution, data architecture and design, and the organisation of Enterprise Information Management. Malcolm is a well-known presenter at conferences in the US and Europe, writes columns in trade journals, and has authored the books: Managing Reference Data in Enterprise Databases; How to Build a Business Rules Engine; and Definitions in Information Management. In 2011, Malcolm was presented with the prestigious DAMA International Professional Achievement Award for contributions to Master Data Management. He holds an M.A. from the University of Oxford and a Ph.D. from the University of Bristol, and can be contacted at

Copyright Malcolm Chisholm, President, Data Millennium

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