I know the title of this article is kind of silly. OK … Maybe it is very silly. But think about it. Is your company feeling any pain or suffering from the quality, protection or understanding of your data? The chances are that your organization is feeling the pain. The germs are all around you, the symptoms are obvious, and the treatment or cure may or may not be readily available. One thing I know is that the treatments include a healthy dose of data governance.

Pittsburgh's Data Guy, KIK Consulting
Bob Seiner, Pittsburgh’s Data Guy, KIK Consulting

The Germs

The germs of an unhealthy data environment come from the people, processes and technologies associated with the data. People need to do the right things when it comes to the data of your organization.

Specific people must have the formal responsibility to define the data effectively – meaning that forethought, strategic by nature, must be given to the definition of the data. If you don’t have people responsible for strategic forethought of data definition, then germs are bound to multiply. It doesn’t matter how much “data sanitizer” you use.

People must have formal responsibility to produce the data such that it can be used as a strategic asset and that it is fit for purposeful use.

People must have formal responsibility for using the data the way it is intended to be used. This includes protecting sensitive data and conforming to the rules and regulations set forth by their industry and the governments of their country (and every other country they deal with).

Without formal responsibility for the data, it can become sick very quickly.

Germs can come from any process that is not well defined or executed effectively. Process often requires involving the “right” people at the “right” time doing the “right” things. I often refer to this as the Bill of “Rights.” This bill lies at the core of effective data governance.

The Symptoms

How are you supposed to recognize the symptoms of the data flu? That would appear to be a core question that we want to ask ourselves. Symptoms of ill data include data that you do not trust, data that you spend too much time manipulating before you can use it, data that is hard to get, or data that “you know you can trust” from only your reliable sources. Believe me … the list is a lot longer than that.

Any or all of those symptoms require attention. And the thing is, you probably already knew that. The problem in many cases is that there is no one in the organization who has responsibility for fixing what ails you.

This problem is like not having any doctors. Your company has the symptoms, but you do not have anyone to turn to who will help you solve these problems. That is … until now. The people responsible for data governance are typically the symptom-solvers when it comes to recording, communicating and gaining awareness at the appropriate level of the organization – when it is sick.

The Treatment and The Cure

Treatment for all of what ails you, data-wise, may not be easy to come by and it often only solves parts of the problem. It is like the availability of the flu vaccine. The vaccine was available to many or maybe most. But even the flu vaccine was only partially effective.

One of the first treatments I recommend is that the organization create the function of data governance and give the “Doctor of Data” responsibility to someone. Perhaps your organization already has this function and you do not know of it. The next step for you to follow is … to ask.

The data governance function may exist under the office of data management (if that exists, but that is probably too easy or obvious) or perhaps the office of the chief data officer (CDO). Gartner Group tells us that 90% of large organizations will have a CDO by the year 2019.1 The year 2019 is not that far away. Another article for another day may focus on the need for a CDO versus the traditional chief information officer (CIO) role.

If you do not have a CDO and the data governance function is not a part of the CIO’s repertoire, you may want to look under the reign of anybody who has the responsibility for improving your analytical capabilities – or has the term data science associated with their group. These are all good people to ask. And they are good people to get involved with if you are suffering from data flu symptoms.

Simply stated, the data governance function is all about executing and enforcing authority over the management of data and data-related assets. This function does not naturally happen without a formal responsibility to make it happen.

There are three basic approaches to building the cure … the data governance function. There is a command-and-control approach that requires the organization to assign people into roles that they don’t already play and feels over-and-above people’s existing work load. There is a traditional approach that echoes the words of “if you build the data governance function, they will come.” And finally, there is the non-invasive approach to data governance, which assumes that people already have relationships to data that can be formalized in a way that doesn’t feel as … invasive. I’d use the last approach if I were you.

Conclusion

When you, personally, do not feel well or you have the flu, the recommendation is that you stay home and take care of yourself. You may even call the doctor. That’s probably a good idea.

When your data is not … well, you should probably do something about that too. Staying at home will not solve the problem.

The data governance function is the way organizations are addressing their data flu problem. The data governance function may be hidden under the name of something else (“data management,” “information asset management,” “data asset management” or … organizations have been known to get creative) but the data governance function needs to exist if your organization is going to get healthier.

By Bob Seiner, Pittsburgh’s Data Guy, KIK Consulting