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What Does It Mean to “Govern Data ”?

Originally published March 2, 2010

Data governance means different things to different people and organizations. There are several definitions floating around the industry. Gwen has hers, Martha has hers, I have mine – and the funny thing is that they all define the same thing just in a different way. Sometimes organizations use the terms data governance and data stewardship interchangeably. Sometimes they use the term “Non-Invasive” to describe the approach that they take to data governance. However, the most important question that needs to be answered about data governance is this: What does it mean to “govern data”?

Let’s start by defining the term “govern” as it relates to data. To do this, I have taken TheFreeDictionary definition (everybody’s closest definition) of “govern,” and I have wrapped the words “to” and “data” around each identifying characteristic (the part of the definition that tells you how that term being defined is unique or different from other terms – I just learned that). This wrapper around the identifying characteristics of the word “govern” makes the definition easier to read, and it puts it in the context of data management.

The Definition of “Govern”

 [to] gov•ern [data]
   
v. gov•erned, gov•ern•ing, gov•erns
  • [To] make and administer the public policy and affairs [of data]

  • [To] exercise sovereign authority [in data]

  • [To] control the speed or magnitude [of data]

  • [To] regulate [data]

  • [To] control the actions or behavior [of data]

  • [To] keep under control [data]; to restrain [data]

  • [To] exercise a deciding or determining influence [on data]

  • [To] exercise political authority [over data
You could stop reading the article here, and you could dissect the eight “identifying characteristics” of the definition of the word “govern” on your own as it relates to understanding what it means to you to “govern data.” In fact, you can make a list of some random thoughts about each of the characteristics and then formalize them into a list that you can share when your management asks, “Why should we pay attention to data governance” and “What exactly does it mean to govern data”?

For those of you that continue, I will take a quick stab at walking through each of the eight characteristics briefly, and I will throw out a few bulleted thoughts regarding what it means to govern data as it relates to the specific characteristics of governing. Hopefully you can use this starter list to help people understand what it means to "govern data."

Identifying Characteristics of Governing

1. To Make and Administer the Public Policy and Affairs of Data
  • Governing data means that data policy takes the form of written, approved (this is a key point), corporate (or organizational) documents.

  • Governing data means that you have a data governance policy. That policy may be hidden under the name of Information Security Policy, Privacy Policy, Data Classification Policy (highly confidential, confidential, sensitive, public data) or something else.

  • Governing data means that your organization leverages the effort invested in development and approval of the policy rather than allowing the policy to become shelfware where very few people know how the policy is associated with the data they define, produce and use on a daily basis.
2. To Exercise Sovereign Authority of Data
  • Governing data means that there is a way to resolve a difference of opinion on a cross-business data issue.

  • Governing data means that somebody (or some group of individuals) is the authority or has the authority to make decisions on that data.

  • Governing data means that there is an escalation path from the operational to the tactical to the strategic level of the organization for decision making. Rarely does governing data require escalation of data issues to the executive level.
3. To Control the Speed or Magnitude of Data
  • Governing data means that data is shared according to the classification (confidential, sensitive, public) rules associated with that data.

  • Governing data means that the creation of new versions of the same data is scrutinized closely to manage and eliminate the redundancy of data.

  • Governing data means that people do not place critical or confidential data in harm’s way by quickly (and without knowing the rules) making copies of data that does not follow the same scrutiny and governance as the data in its native form.
4. To Regulate Data
  • Governing data means that the data regulations associated with your industry and business are documented and recorded in a place that is easily accessible to every person who defines, produces and uses data as part of his/her daily job.

  • Governing data means that someone has the responsibility to translate the regulations into appropriate and actionable behavior associated with the regulated data and that this behavior is communicated to the appropriate operational, tactical, strategic and supporting levels of your organization.

  • Governing data means that there are consequences associated with not following the behaviors associated with the regulations and that there is an appropriate network of people and responsibility in place to prevent, identify and enforce the appropriate behaviors.
5. To Control the Actions or Behavior of Data
  • Governing data means that appropriate processes are put in place and monitored to manage the definition, production and usage of data at all levels of the organization.

  • Governing data means that proactive and reactive processes are defined, approved and followed at all levels of the organization and that situations where these procedures are not followed can be identified, prevented and resolved.

  • Governing data means that the appropriate behaviors around data are brought to the forefront of your staff’s thought processes rather than being pushed to the back of their minds as an “inconvenience” or a “nice to have.”
6. To Keep Under Control and to Restrain Data
  • Governing data means that access to data is managed, secured and auditable by classification (confidential, sensitive, public, ...) and that processes and responsibilities are put in place to assure the access privileges are only granted to appropriate individuals.

  • Governing data means that all individuals understand the rules associated with importing data into spreadsheets, loading data to laptops, transmitting data – in other words, any activity that removes the data from its native source.

  • Governing data means that the rules associated with managing hard copy versions of data are well documented and communicated to those individuals that generate, receive or distribute those hard copies.
7. To Exercise a Deciding or Determining Influence of Data
  • Governing data means that the “right” people are involved at the “right” time for the “right” reason in order to influence that the “right” decision is made about the “right” data.

  • Governing data means that the information about “who” in the organization does “what” with the data is completely recorded, shared and understood across the organization. This provides the ability to get the “rights” right.

  • Governing data means that there is a formal escalation path for known data issues that moves from operational (business-unit specific) to the tactical (cross business unit) to the strategic (enterprise) to the person or people that are identified as the authorities on that specific use of that data.
8. To Exercise Political Authority of Data
  • Governing data means that somebody or some group of people has the authority to make decisions for the enterprise when it comes to data that impacts the enterprise.

  • Governing data means that the political nature of decision making is leveraged in making the tactical and strategic decisions that best benefit the enterprise.

  • Governing data means that there is a formal escalation path for known data issues that moves from operational (business-unit specific) to the tactical (cross business unit) to the strategic (enterprise) to person or people that are identified as the authorities on that specific use of that data.
The few bullet points I have listed under each of the identifying characteristics of the definition of the word “govern” have been provided to assist you in getting a jump-start on explaining what it means to govern data. Once you have answered the question of what it means to “govern data,” the next question they will ask is “What is the best way to govern data?” And to that question, you can answer … the “Non-Invasive Data Governance”™ approach.

For more information about “Non-Invasive Data Governance,” please click here.

Note: Non-Invasive Data Governance™ is a registered trademark of Robert S. Seiner & KIK Consulting


  • Robert S. SeinerRobert S. Seiner
    Robert (Bob) S. Seiner is recognized as the publisher of The Data Administration Newsletter, LLC – www.TDAN.com – an award winning electronic publication that focuses on sharing information about data, information, content and knowledge management disciplines. With 2013, TDAN.com enters its 17th year. Mr. Seiner speaks often at major data management and meta-data management, business intelligence and knowledge management related conferences and user group meetings across the U.S. He can be reached at the newsletter at rseiner@tdan.com or 412-220-9643.

    Mr. Seiner is the President and Principal Consultant of KIK Consulting & Educational Services, LLC – www.KIKconsulting.com.  KIK, celebrating its 12th year, is a company that focuses on knowledge transfer and consultative mentoring in the fields of data governance and data stewardship implementations, metadata management, master data management and data architecture. Beyond knowledge-transfer-focused consulting, Mr. Seiner offers two-day in-house and public courses on how to build and implement data governance / stewardship programs and metadata programs. Contact Mr. Seiner at KIK at rseiner@kikconsulting.com.

    Editor's Note: View his blog, more articles and resources in Bob's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel.
 

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