The white papers, blogs, taglines at events and even mainstream media are awash with opinions and discussions about data. Techniques, tools and strategies for governing data are feverishly discussed and dire consequences are predicted for any company that does not take data seriously and invest in data quality. So with all this attention, exposure and advertising, why hasn’t someone figured out how to get data to govern itself? Even better, why can’t data protect itself and be self-governing? The answer is simple – data is inanimate. It can do nothing because it is only a representation of objects, events, and ideas – a snapshot of reality at a point in time. When reality changes, the data needs to change. Similarly, data cannot protect itself because it only exists as an image of what is (or was) real at a point in time. Like a photograph, no matter how the image is stored (the orientation of magnetic particles, light and dark in optical storage, charges in a semiconductor, pigment on media, ink on paper, etc.) it must be kept in an environment that will both preserve and protect it. So – if data cannot protect itself or govern itself, what are some of the principles that should be the foundation of data governance and data protection? Here are 5 ways you can take control of data governance instead of hoping data will govern itself:
1. Connect the data to the business it feeds
Restaurants that are successful tailor their menu’s to their clientele. They price the menu based on what their customers are willing to pay. So the “meal” in the case of data is the information (KPIs and metrics) used to make decisions and measure success. If you connect individual data to these KPIs and metrics by drilling down from the formula for the calculation to the data fields that provide the values, you can prioritize and justify appropriate investments in the data. Just as a restaurant would go out of business if it continually ordered ingredients for items that just didn’t sell, data management initiatives go out of business by putting together menu’s for initiatives that don’t appeal to the taste buds of those who pay the bills.
2. Connect the data consumers with the data producers
“Farm to Market” is all the rage in the restaurant business these days with good reason – it provides a better quality product by putting those whose success depends on pleasing the consumer in direct content with those who produce the product. It’s a win-win; restaurants get first choice on the best products-for which they are willing to pay a higher price because they know they can charge a higher price and the products will be sold before they can spoil. Farmers get direct feedback on what sells and what doesn’t which helps them make better decisions on what and how much to produce. The same is true in business. One of the most successful data quality feedback tools I ever saw was at a company that made the identity of the originator of the data available to the users of the data. Nothing like a phone call or email from the consumer to the producer telling the producer exactly how much difficulty the “bad” or “missing” data caused the consumer to make it “real”.
3. Empower the "knowers"
Anyone with fundamental understanding of “efficiency” knows how wasteful it is to require data to be passed from the “knower” to a “recorder” to an “enterer”. Enabling the “knowers” to also be the “enterers” is often the ideal. A really good example of this is to enable suppliers, employees, customers, etc. to maintain their own data subject to some validity checking. Let’s use paychecks as an example. The employee or individual contractor being paid is the first to know when their personal email, mailing address or banking information changes. If you enable them to maintain this data, it will become almost “self-governing” because the “knower” is the “enterer” and even more importantly, the “knower” is also a “consumer” – if the address is not correct then their correspondence from the company doesn’t get to them. Banking information not correct – no direct deposit.
4. Sell insurance
The “Farm to Market” example talks about selling “food” or fuel to the business. Another product that the business values and will pay for is “insurance”. Whether it is business recovery capability (data backups, failover systems, alternate networks, etc.), protection (firewalls, encryption, anti-virus protection, activity/intrusion monitoring, etc.), archiving and deletion, or regulatory/legal compliance (taxes, mandatory reporting, data privacy, etc.), the business will buy insurance against these risks commensurate with the perceived risk to the business or the principals in the company (President, CEO, CFO). Because companies typically segment the legal, finance, human resources, production, sales and design components of the business, getting a clear picture of the total risk as well as coming up with an efficient approach to data protection is often very difficult.
5. Keep data in the news
Typical business communications tout achievements, new products, acquisitions, personnel assignments, community engagement, changes in processes and anything else deemed to be of interest to the employees that also promotes a positive image of the company. Data awareness is often restricted to reminders to take training and occasionally the rollout of a new system or solution. Data is rarely in the news and when it is, it’s “BORING”. Companies that are serious about data use the concepts outlined above to make data relevant and interesting. Creative “headlines” and a focus on answering “what’s in it for me” and “why should I care” are key to providing positive awareness of the importance of data.