Five Common Data Governance Misconceptions

Five Common Data Governance Misconceptions

I’ve been doing data governance for a long time now. And it’s safe to say that time and time again, from organisation to organisation, I come across the same mistakes and misconceptions that are limiting organisation’s chances of implementing data governance successfully.

But it doesn’t have to be this way – forewarned is forearmed after all! So let’s look at the five most common data misconceptions:

Number 1: Thinking there’s such a thing as a standard data governance framework

I’ve been asked many times over the years, ‘Where can I find a standard data governance framework?’ and, as with a lot of Data Governance questions, my answer is always the same… I don’t even know whether one exists. I have never looked into it because I know from my many years of experience in Data Governance that they won’t work.

If you think about it, a standard Data Governance framework has been designed as a theoretical exercise.  It certainly wasn’t designed for your organisation.  The only way to be successful with Data Governance is to first work out why your organisation needs Data Governance, and then to design and implement a framework that meets those needs.

I can (almost) guarantee that as any standard framework was not designed for you it is not going to meet your needs. It’ll very likely be too complex, too convoluted, and too focused on things that really aren’t appropriate for your organisation.

And the cost to your organisation when your standard Data Governance framework inevitably fails to get the desired results could be huge.

It won’t be well received, and you’ll have to start again. And if you’ve already put people’s backs up by making a mistake, it’s going to be even harder to get them to buy into the right Data Governance framework at a later date. And let’s face it, it’s hard enough to get people excited about Data Governance in the first place…

You can read more about this here.

Number 2: Thinking data governance is a one-off project

This common mistake is easily made because it seems logical to treat the implementation of data governance like any other project. Getting stakeholder involvement is essential to successfully implementing a data governance initiative and getting their buy-in. However, this is not something that can be simplified to a list of tasks.

Once you get stakeholder buy-in, you are then faced with the even bigger challenge of changing attitudes, behaviours, and even the culture towards data. I hope you can see that this is going to take something a bit more sophisticated than conventional project management.

When a data governance initiative is led as a project, it appears that progress is being made as tasks get completed. However, nothing substantial will change until the people change. And to change behaviours, attitudes, and culture, you must win hearts and minds. This is almost always overlooked when the success of the initiative is measured by deliverables ticked off a checklist. A proper change management approach is what is needed.

Without getting the stakeholders on-board, you will struggle to integrate your data governance framework so that it becomes business-as-usual. Without stakeholder buy-in, the organisation will eventually resort back to their old ways and the data will suffer…

In short, the whole initiative will have been a complete waste of time and money, and subsequent attempts to re-implement data governance will be resisted by stakeholders as they will assume that it’s a waste of time.

Number 3: Thinking it can be done quickly

This follows on nicely from the last misconception… Implementing data governance will take a reasonable amount of time!

In fact, I’d go as far as to say it will take a very long time to implement it fully across your organisation and to be honest, you probably will never get to that stage because as your company or organisation evolves and changes, your data governance framework will also have to evolve and change to match your needs.

This is not a short sprint. I wouldn’t even call it a marathon. This is just an ongoing activity that we will always have to be doing.

Number 4: Think you can DIY Data Governance based on internet advice

It’s true. There’s a lot of good advice on the internet on how to do data governance (I hope I’ve contributed to some of that myself) but I do urge you to be aware when you start googling Data Governance and ‘how to do it’.

There is a whole range of advice available ranging from the excellent and very practical, simple advice to very complicated and confusing, ambiguous advice… not to mention all the advice that is downright wrong!

And this wrong advice is usually the most dangerous because as you’ll find out as you embark on your journey there are a lot of terms and roles that can be easily confused if you’re not getting good advice.

For example, Data Protection (also known as Data Privacy) is often confused with data governance. It specifically revolves around the protection of personal information and although more recent Data Protection regulations, like GDPR, do have requirements that are more easily met if you have a Data Governance Framework in place, Data Governance is a separate discipline.

Likewise, Data Retention, which focuses on how long you should hold onto data before deleting it, is something which your Data Owners should be consulted on but is a fundamentally different discipline. And while these separate disciplines all carry value in their own right and can – and should – be aligned with your Data Governance framework, they are ultimately separate.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding the links between these different areas can feed into the misconception of Data Governance as a sort of grand, big Brother-esque surveillance program designed to watch business users’ every move with their data.

This isn’t the case at all! Data Governance is actually more about getting your business users to care about their data and its quality.

Number 5: Thinking you need to have a team of consultants to help you

Many people are put off implementing data governance because of this misconception and understandably so because this will be very expensive. And given what I’ve laid out in the previous point around the wide variety of advice that’s out there you can see why people might feel so overwhelmed that they endeavour to bring in someone who can take care of it all for them… but trust me, you can do this without bringing in an expensive team!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a data governance consultant and I think that data governance consultants can add real value, but be careful… as I’ve said before, this not a project.

You do not want a team of consultants on site for months or even years doing this for you. When the budget runs out, they will walk out the door taking with them all the knowledge and network that they’ve built up over time.

If you need help, make sure that you work with the consultants in a way that helps you to implement data governance and ensures that you get the skills and knowledge you need to run and support your data governance initiative yourself.

Next Steps

If you are just starting out in data governance, then this is a good place to start as it links to a number of blogs that will give you the basics:

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