Data governance is becoming increasingly critical as organisations face new data privacy regulations and rely more and more on data analytics to help optimise operations and drive business decision-making. Effective data governance ensures more than the accountability needed to manage the data.
“There are some overlooked benefits of data governance, such as providing more visibility into data and business operations, mitigating manual operations, cultivating a centre of excellence, and helping establish a one-stop shop for data-related challenges,” says George Firican, a data governance and data management practitioner working with The University of British Columbia and founder of LightsOnData.
In this interview, Firican, who also advises organisations on how to treat data as an asset, shares practical takeaways on social media, talks about data governance becoming a part of the organisation’s fabric, and if technologies can be a substitute for good processes.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did your data governance career begin?
As with most people, it’s something I discovered along the way and fell into. As a programmer, I got to develop systems that captured or utilised data, but it wasn’t until my role as a project manager and interacting with clients that I realised the importance of well-defined metadata, common definitions, processes, and procedures, and overall governed data.
Do you find the word governance negative? Do you think of changing it to something more agreeable?
Indeed, governance is often equated with a judicial, bureaucratic, and controlling system. If an organisation is less likely to adopt data governance because of the name, then sure, it has changed to something more agreeable. As long as the data governance concept is still what’s under the hood, by all means, market it in a way that best resonates with the organisation’s culture and environment.
Why do organisations need to continue investing in data governance?
There are a lot of innate benefits to data governance. It delivers the framework for managing data as an asset as it provides the authority and accountability needed to manage the data, defines the roles and responsibilities, helps create data standards, processes, and policies, and sustains the data strategy. There are also some overlooked benefits, such as providing more visibility into data and business operations, mitigating manual operations, cultivating a centre of excellence, and helping establish a one-stop shop for data-related challenges.
Do you see a rise in data governance?
Since the introduction of GDPR, I think there’s been a constant rise in data governance. A lot of it is to ensure regulatory compliance, but I’m happy when I see organisations that embrace data governance because they see it as a foundational piece in their aim to become a data-driven organisation.
Why is it critical for an organisation to have proper data governance and management?
The bottom line is that data governance and data management are needed to help best achieve the organisation’s goals, which usually involve selling more products and services and being as efficient as possible. Without governing and managing our data, it’s like the wild west. Chaotic and unpredictable. Imagine having a restaurant where anything goes, where the staff works with those ingredients as they please and don’t follow recipes or food safety protocols. Where anyone does anything as they please and as a result, the food might not get cooked, might not get prepared the same way twice, or might not ever reach the customer. A restaurant where the chefs don’t know if they are cooking with onions or pears or if the ingredients are past their expiration date. Well, data management, under which data governance resides – at least according to DAMA, refers to “the development, execution, and supervision of plans, policies, programs, and practices that deliver, control, protect, and enhance the value of data and information assets throughout their life cycles.” It ensures that organisations are treating their data as an asset.
Data quality and data governance often overlap. How do you delineate the two disciplines?
One cannot have good data quality without data governance. By introducing data governance, one needs to improve data quality. Although they are related, data quality and data governance are separate data management disciplines. Data quality ensures the data adheres to several data quality dimensions. In contrast, data governance is about the “exercise of authority, control and shared decision-making over the management of data assets.” In other words, data governance describes who needs to do what, to what data/information, under what conditions, and what processes, procedures, tools, and overall best practices to use.
Tell us what a typical data governance function consists of.
According to DAMA International, data governance refers to the “exercise of authority and control (planning, monitoring, and enforcement) over the management of data assets.” Planning refers to the rules of a data set and its metadata. Monitoring refers to measuring compliance against the regulations in the previous planning stage. Lastly, enforcement refers to ensuring that the rules are followed and what the action items are when the rules are not followed.
Do you see data governance becoming a part of the organisation’s fabric?
In a few data-driven organisations, data governance is not just a program but a capability; it’s a business function at the core of anything involving data. The more mature the data governance program is, the more we see it as part of the organisation’s fabric.
What are the Top 3 data governance tools? Do you think technologies can be a substitute for good processes?
There are a lot of different areas of data governance, so it’s difficult to cut it down to three tools to use. Start with a business glossary, data catalog, and data lineage for data governance. Even with the best tool, you can’t forego good processes. One of the main reasons why many tools remain unused for the initial months after their purchase is because the organisation doesn’t have its processes defined, so it’s still unclear how to best configure and utilise those tools to the best of their abilities.
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