Data is a wonderful resource that, when used correctly, can make a huge difference to a business’ operations and strategy. But it can all come tumbling down without a data governance strategy – ever had a marketing email with the incorrect name? That’s a common example of data governance done wrong.
If data is the new oil, then data governance is all the safety equipment that stops it turning into a fireball. A data governance strategy outlines the overall management of a business’ data, from its use to its security. But it doesn’t just stop you from making a mess of your data. It can also be used strategically to help your business make the most of data and to create transparency between your business and the individuals whose data you’re using. To effectively use data, you need to ensure its always in the right place, for the right people, at exactly the right time. Data governance can help with that.
As the quantity and complexity of data grows in your organisation, a good data governance strategy isn’t an optional thing – it’s as vital as a hard hat is to an oil worker. Plus, it’s not just reserved to one corner of your organisation – it’s company wide.
But good data governance is difficult to come by. It’s not a checkbox activity, it’s one which fundamentally alters the way that your business processes and stores data. In the post-GDPR world, it could be the difference between your business staying afloat, and a €20 million fine sending it under.
Broadly speaking, a data governance strategy should always have:
Having a clear structure to your data governance is key. People need to understand who reports to who and what teams are responsible for what. That’s not just in the case of an emergency, but also for day-to-day reporting. Who owns what data, who is involved when using or changing datasets, and knowing exactly when data is altered.
Sound data governance allows your employees to access real-time information at urgent times. That could be anything from taking advantage of a timely opportunity, through to reacting rapidly to a crisis. With good data governance, you know exactly where your data is stored, its format, and how easily it can be transferred. Your data scientists don’t have to wait around to get data to train their models, but, at the same time, outside parties won’t be able to access the data without permission.
If the worst does happen, then your data governance strategy really comes in handy. Within your data governance plan, there’ll be all the data you have access to, plus what it’s worth, and what it’ll cost you in the event of a breach or data loss. Usually, you’ll have calculated the probability of losing that data too, through human error, hacking, and so on. If, when coming up with this calculation you realise the probability is quite high, then it’s a good time to strengthen your data storage to prevent that worst-case scenario from ever happening.
You’ve probably seen some of the fallout from the high-profile data breaches and hacks reported in the news. Data is big business, so it goes without saying that it’s watched very closely by everyone and that includes the media. Having a robust data governance program doesn’t just save your data from being lost, it also backs up your brand reputation. The consequences of data loss aren’t just about the physical loss of a valuable asset. If the data is personal, there’s potential fallout with your customers and a loss of trust that can take years to build back (if ever). Likewise, your business could suddenly become front page news if the loss is particularly bad. Not all press is good press.
The quality of your data also matters. If you give your car the wrong fuel, you can’t trust it to work properly. The same applies to your data. No matter how complex or clever your data models, if your data is incorrect, the results you’re going to get are also going to be wrong.
As part of this, your data governance strategy should cover processes that make sure data is collected in the right way (with consent for its use if needed). Make sure your data is managed correctly as well.
Now is probably a good time to discuss the differences between data governance and data management. Many people get mixed up when using these terms because they are closely linked. Data governance deals with the processes, people and technology involved with your business’ data; on the other hand, data management is how you put your data governance into action.
In the past, it was enough for a company to raise the drawbridge so-to-speak when storing and securing its data. Sticking your data behind a thick fortress might be good for keeping out hackers, but it’s not so great for efficiency. This method makes it tricky for employees to access and use timely data. Plus, you end up wasting resources protecting some data that isn’t really worth all that much.
The complexity of data today has also made effective data management a priority. There are so many different types of data, from structured to unstructured, low-quality (and low priority) data to trade secrets and patent information. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to storing all of this data, so your data governance (and data management) should reflect this.
When it comes to your data strategy, your data governance is the foundation that stops all your other plans from falling apart. With some careful planning and implementation, it is also the thing that will make your data strategy work really well.
Your data strategy holds all your hopes and dreams for your business’ data. In order to use that data, you’ll need processes in place to ensure that it can be accessed efficiently. That’s where data governance comes in.
All data changes over time. One sure way to irritate your data scientists is to suddenly change data sets and not tell them about it! Tracking and reporting changes regularly is the only way everyone can stay up to date about the quality, cleanliness, and quantity of data available. A data governance strategy helps with all of this.
The best-laid plans can go awry, but this is far less likely with good data governance in place. When looking to use your business’ data, your data strategy should come first, with data governance following closely behind. By creating a well-thought-out data governance plan, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle in the long term – and really give your data strategy an edge. With data governance, everything runs a lot more smoothly.
For more insights into building a data strategy, make sure to download our Data Strategy whitepaper.
Jason Foster, Cynozure Founder & CEO, named Entrepreneur of the Year at The Allica Bank Great British Entrepreneur Awards for the Services Industries in London
Cynozure named as the 14th fastest growing company on London’s 2023 Fast Growth 50 Index
Jason Foster, Cynozure’s Founder & CEO, recognised as One to Watch in The LDC Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders for 2023