What is data governance? Best practices for managing data assets

Data governance definition

Data governance is a system for defining who within an organization has authority and control over data assets and how those data assets may be used. It encompasses the people, processes, and technologies required to manage and protect data assets.

The Data Governance Institute defines it as “a system of decision rights and accountabilities for information-related processes, executed according to agreed-upon models which describe who can take what actions with what information, and when, under what circumstances, using what methods.”

The Data Management Association (DAMA) International defines it as the “planning, oversight, and control over management of data and the use of data and data-related sources.”

Data governance framework

Data governance may best be thought of as a function that supports an organization’s overarching data management strategy. Such a framework provides your organization with a holistic approach to collecting, managing, securing, and storing data. To help understand what a framework should cover, DAMA envisions data management as a wheel, with data governance as the hub from which the following 10 data management knowledge areas radiate:

Data architecture: The overall structure of data and data-related resources as an integral part of the enterprise architectureData modeling and design: Analysis, design, building, testing, and maintenanceData storage and operations: Structured physical data assets storage deployment and managementData security: Ensuring privacy, confidentiality, and appropriate accessData integration and interoperability: Acquisition, extraction, transformation, movement, delivery, replication, federation, virtualization, and operational supportDocuments and content: Storing, protecting, indexing, and enabling access to data found in unstructured sources and making this data available for integration and interoperability with structured dataReference and master data: Managingshared data to reduce redundancy and ensure better data quality through standardized definition and use of data valuesData warehousing and business intelligence (BI): Managing analytical data processing and enabling access to decision support data for reporting and analysisMetadata: Collecting, categorizing, maintaining, integrating, controlling, managing, and delivering metadataData quality: Defining, monitoring, maintaining data integrity, and improving data quality

When establishing a strategy, each of the above facets of data collection, management, archiving, and use should be considered.

The Business Application Research Center (BARC) warns that data governance is a highly complex, ongoing program, not a “big bang initiative,” and it runs the risk of participants losing trust and interest over time. To counter that, BARC recommends starting with a manageable or application-specific prototype project and then expanding across the company based on lessons learned.

BARC recommends the following steps for implementation:

Define goals and understand benefitsAnalyze current state and delta analysisDerive a roadmapConvince stakeholders and budget projectDevelop and plan the data governance programImplement the data governance programMonitor and control

Data governance vs. data management

Data governance is just one part of the overall discipline of data management, though an important one. Whereas data governance is about the roles, responsibilities, and processes for ensuring accountability for and ownership of data assets, DAMA defines data management as “an overarching term that describes the processes used to plan, specify, enable, create, acquire, maintain, use, archive, retrieve, control, and purge data.”

While data management has become a common term for the discipline, it is sometimes referred to as data resource management or enterprise information management (EIM). Gartner describes EIM as “an integrative discipline for structuring, describing, and governing information assets across organizational and technical boundaries to improve efficiency, promote transparency, and enable business insight.”

Importance of data governance

Most companies already have some form of governance for individual applications, business units, or functions, even if the processes and responsibilities are informal. As a practice, it is about establishing systematic, formal control over these processes and responsibilities. Doing so can help companies remain responsive, especially as they grow to a size in which it is no longer efficient for individuals to perform cross-functional tasks. Several of the overall benefits of data management can only be realized after the enterprise has established systematic data governance. Some of these benefits include:

Better, more comprehensive decision support stemming from consistent, uniform data across the organizationClear rules for changing processes and data that help the business and IT become more agile and scalableReduced costs in other areas of data management through the provision of central control mechanismsIncreased efficiency through the ability to reuse processes and dataImproved confidence in data quality and documentation of data processesImproved compliance with data regulations

Goals of data governance

The goal is to establish the methods, set of responsibilities, and processes to standardize, integrate, protect, and store corporate data. According to BARC, an organization’s key goals should be to:

Minimize risksEstablish internal rules for data useImplement compliance requirementsImprove internal and external communicationIncrease the value of dataFacilitate the administration of the aboveReduce costsHelp to ensure the continued existence of the company through risk management and optimization

BARC notes that such programs always span the strategic, tactical, and operational levels in enterprises, and they must be treated as ongoing, iterative processes.

Data governance principles

According to the Data Governance Institute, eight principles are at the center of all successful data governance and stewardship programs:

All participants must have integrity in their dealings with each other. They must be truthful and forthcoming in discussing the drivers, constraints, options, and impacts for data-related decisions.Data governance and stewardship processes require transparency. It must be clear to all participants and auditors how and when data-related decisions and controls were introduced into the processes.Data-related decisions, processes, and controls subject to data governance must be auditable. They must be accompanied by documentation to support compliance-based and operational auditing requirements.They must define who is accountable for cross-functional data-related decisions, processes, and controls.It must define who is accountable for stewardship activities that are the responsibilities of individual contributors and groups of data stewards.Programs must define accountabilities in a manner that introduces checks-and-balances between business and technology teams, and between those who create/collect information, those who manage it, those who use it, and those who introduce standards and compliance requirements.The program must introduce and support standardization of enterprise data.Programs must support proactive and reactive change management activities for reference data values and the structure/use of master data and metadata.

Best practices of data governance

Data governance strategies must be adapted to best suit an organization’s processes, needs, and goals. Still, there are six core best practices worth following:

Identify critical data elements and treat data as a strategic resource.Set policies and procedures for the entire data lifecycle.Involve business users in the governance process.Don’t neglect master data management.Understand the value of information.Don’t over-restrict data use.

For more on doing data governance right, see “6 best practices for good data governance.”

Challenges in data governance

Good data governance is no simple task. It requires teamwork, investment, and resources, as well as planning and monitoring. Some of the top challenges of a data governance program include:

Lack of data leadership: Like other business functions, data governance requires strong executive leadership. The leader needs to give the governance team direction, develop policies for everyone in the organization to follow, and communicate with other leaders across the company.Lack of resources: Data governance initiatives can struggle for lack of investment in budget or staff. Data governance must be owned by and paid for by someone, but it rarely generates revenue on its own. Data governance and data management overall, however, are essential to leveraging data to generate revenue.Siloed data: Data has a way of becoming siloed and segmented over time, especially as lines of business or other functions develop new data sources, apply new technologies, and the like. Your data governance program needs to continually break down new siloes.

For more on these difficulties and others, see “7 data governance mistakes to avoid.”

Data governance software and vendors

Data governance is an ongoing program rather than a technology solution, but there are tools with data governance features that can help support your program. The tool that suits your enterprise will depend on your needs, data volume, and budget. According to PeerSpot, some of the more popular solutions include:

Data governance solutionDescription and featuresCollibra GovernanceCollibra is an enterprise-wide solution that automates many governance and stewardship tasks. It includes a policy manager, data helpdesk, data dictionary, and business glossary.SAS Data ManagementBuilt on the SAS platform, SAS Data Management provides a role-based GUI for managing processes and includes an integrated business glossary, SAS and third-party metadata management, and lineage visualization.erwin Data Intelligence (DI) for Data Governanceerwin DI combines data catalog and data literacy capabilities to provide awareness of and access to available data assets. It provides guidance on the use of those data assets and ensures data policies and best practices are followed.Informatica AxonInformatica Axon is a collection hub and data marketplace for supporting programs. Key features include a collaborative business glossary, the ability to visualize data lineage, and generate data quality measurements based on business definitions.SAP Data HubSAP Data Hub is a data orchestration solution intended to help you discover, refine, enrich, and govern all types, varieties, and volumes of data across your data landscape. It helps organizations to establish security settings and identity control policies for users, groups, and roles, and to streamline best practices and processes for policy management and security logging.AlationAlation is an enterprise data catalog that automatically indexes data by source. One of its key capabilities, TrustCheck, provides real-time “guardrails” to workflows. Meant specifically to support self-service analytics, TrustCheck attaches guidelines and rules to data assets.Varonis Data Governance SuiteVaronis’s solution automates data protection and management tasks leveraging a scalable Metadata Framework that enables organizations to manage data access, view audit trails of every file and email event, identify data ownership across different business units, and find and classify sensitive data and documents.IBM Data GovernanceIBM Data Governance leverages machine learning to collect and curate data assets. The integrated data catalog helps enterprises find, curate, analyze, prepare, and share data.

Data governance certifications

Data governance is a system but there are some certifications that can help your organization gain an edge, including the following:

DAMA Certified Data Management Professional (CDMP)Data Governance and Stewardship Professional (DGSP)edX Enterprise Data ManagementSAP Certified Application Associate – SAP Master Data Governance

For related certifications, see “10 master data management certifications that will pay off.”

Data governance roles

Each enterprise composes its data governance differently, but there are some commonalities.

Steering committee

Governance programs span the enterprise, generally starting with a steering committee comprising senior management, often C-level individuals or vice presidents accountable for lines of business. Morgan Templar, author of Get Governed: Building World Class Data Governance Programs, says steering committee members’ responsibilities include setting the overall governance strategy with specific outcomes, championing the work of data stewards, and holding the governance organization accountable to timelines and outcomes.

Data owner

Templar says data owners are individuals responsible for ensuring that information within a specific data domain is governed across systems and lines of business. They are generally members of the steering committee, though may not be voting members. Data owners are responsible for:

Approving data glossaries and other data definitionsEnsuring the accuracy of information across the enterpriseDirect data quality activitiesReviewing and approving master data management approaches, outcomes, and activitiesWorking with other data owners to resolve data issuesSecond-level review for issues identified by data stewardsProviding the steering committee with input on software solutions, policies, or regulatory requirements of their data domain

Data steward

Data stewards are accountable for the day-to-day management of data. They are subject matter experts (SMEs) who understand and communicate the meaning and use of information, Templar says, and they work with other data stewards across the organization as the governing body for most data decisions. Data stewards are responsible for:

Being SMEs for their data domainIdentifying data issues and working with other data stewards to resolve themActing as a member of the data steward councilProposing, discussing, and voting on data policies and committee activitiesReporting to the data owner and other stakeholders within a data domainWorking cross-functionally across lines of business to ensure their domain’s data is managed and understood

More on data governance:

7 data governance mistakes to avoid6 best practices for good data governanceThe secrets of highly successful data analytics teams What is data architecture? A framework for managing data10 master data management certifications that will pay off

Big Data, Data and Information Security, Data Integration, Data Management, Data Mining, Data Science, IT Governance, IT Governance Frameworks, Master Data Management