Information Empowerment: The Data Governance Movement

This morning my little girl climbed up on the coffee table and just looked at me, wondering what I was going to do about it. She is three and she knows that she is not supposed to climb up on the table. I have used many methods in the past to try to get her not to, but nothing works. She continues to climb up on the table. I was thinking about this on the way to work this morning and it dawned on me that I am not appealing to what she wants in order to discontinue the behavior. She does not want to hear threats from me about how she will fall and get hurt or that I am going to take away her toys. She does not care that I tell her I am sad or mad because of her behavior. Sending her to time out is just a game and there is certainly no benefit from her watching me shake my head in frustration. She only wants my attention, and whether it is good or bad attention, she gets what she wants.

Threats are often not very good deterrents. We see it with prison populations, we see if with crazy dictators and we see it with toddlers. Human behavior insists that unless the threat is sure to be met with a 100% result in an undesired outcome, the threat is fairly useless. People know that texting in their car can result in a ticket, an accident or even death. If there is no law enforcement around however, the texting commences. There is an acceptable level of risk one will take to send that text and fulfill their immediate desire.

Thinking about your data, what are the risks of not having a properly governed data environment? Inaccurate insights, contradictory results and delayed access to data come to mind right away and there are many more. But are those risks enough to persuade you to invest the time and energy needed to create a data governance practice? Not likely. There must be additional incentive to drive that investment. Perhaps greater threats such as the possibility of data getting into the wrong hands? Your security policy may take care of some of that, but I am betting not all of it. Nonetheless, that is still probably not enough to drive adoption of a data governance practice. Why? Because that outcome is still a possibility and as we have seen when we are dealing with possibilities, we humans are often willing to take risks.

What if we examine data governance from another angle? What if we didn’t even call it data governance and instead something like Insight Enablement? Or better yet, Information Empowerment, yeah, let’s call it Information Empowerment. When you empower something, you enable it. We want to enable the use of our data. In fact, we want to enable or empower the entirety of our information landscape. Not only our data, such as that housed in databases and spreadsheets, but our information as well. The documents, pictures, email and Intellectual Property that defines our organization.

How about we also leave the threats off the table for a bit and simply look at some of the benefits? For example, if you were to catalog your data source landscape, profile your data and create an inventory of your information organization, you could effectively refer to that for every data project to quickly locate and use that data in development efforts. We just saved the company a load of money for every project that requires interviews with data subject matter experts and the endless search for source data. That is also not a possibility, it is a certainty and we respond better to those right? Let’s take this a step further and define some policies around the use and storage of our data. We refer those interested in the data to this policy and bypass the gazillion meetings to answer all the questions around who can use the data and how. Wow we are really starting to make a difference here!

Okay, so all this talk of benefits has got me thinking about my little girl again. What if, tomorrow, when she gets up on that table, I tell her that if she comes down, I will read a book with her? She loves books and is always asking me to read one with her so I can only imagine she will jump at the offer…but hopefully not directly off the table, that would be bad. I am going to give that a shot and let you know how it goes.

Back to our data. If we go to your executive leadership (I am right behind you, I swear!) and illustrate to them, the benefits of building a taxonomy, I think they will begin to come around on data governance. You could begin by explaining to them that with a data taxonomy in place, they could take all of those terms in their company that mean the same thing (like customer, party, addressee, patron, etc…) and tie them all back to a single term with which to report on. Imagine the ability to give them the robust data analytics capability they have been begging for, all without impacting the various departments who actually create the data. There would be no need for the departments to change their processes or systems as we could map the existing data for them.

Consider too, a few simple efforts to profile and cleanse data prior to its use. By ensuring that the data we are using for our insights is complete, accurate and timely we gain the trust of leadership in the organization, drive positive company growth and cut down on the “hunting parties” every time something is reported that contradicts another report. Tell me you have never dealt with that mess and I will tell you I have never snuck downstairs in the middle of the night to eat a few peanut butter cups. Okay, maybe more than a few.

There are so many more examples of the benefit of a data governance practice but I think you get the picture. It is in our best interests to treat data like the valuable asset it is. Data is the new oil according to The Economist and it has never been more important to recognize that fact. By establishing policy around data usage and storage, aligning data across the enterprise and creating an inventory of our data landscape, we can lay a foundation for our data governance, oh excuse me, Information Empowerment practice.

As for your executives, please don’t tell them I compared them to my toddler. She is cute and smart and amazing for sure…but she is still a toddler.