Why achieving connected data governance is vital for business success but harder than it looks

by Steve Parry on 26th September 2018

It’s become almost a cliché these days that businesses need to be data driven. Managers imagine an almost nirvana-like state of data perfection, everything neatly catalogued and ordered, data firmly at the heart of their organisation’s decision making. The reality, sadly, is often far from this.

Back in 2016 Forrester found that, whilst 74% of businesses said they wanted to be data driven (which also begs the question of what the other 26% were thinking?), only 29% felt that they were actually good at connecting data to action.

Why is making your business data driven so difficult?

It’s not lack of data that’s the problem. Businesses these days generally have more data than they know what to do with. But turning that data into information, and then using that information to generate actionable insight, is much harder than it looks. It’s easy to assume that just getting access to the data is half the battle won, but that’s really not the case. Getting the data is easy. Using it is hard.

So what’s the issue here? Why is turning the data you already have into the information you need so tricky? The answer is connected data governance. Most organisations have vast volumes of data. What they don’t have is effective governance of that data.

Vast data volumes make connected data governance more important than ever

The volume of data with which organisations have to grapple these days is incredible, and growing exponentially. Statistica estimates that back in 2010 the total volume of data created worldwide was 2 zettabytes. In 2015 this had increased to 12 zettabytes, and by 2020 it’s estimated to hit 47 zettabytes. To get a sense of scale, it’s estimated that in 2009 the entire internet contained only half a zettabyte of data.

Go back a couple of decades and organisations would have most likely had one or two central data repositories, all effectively controlled by the IT department. Now, the sources of data and places that the data is held might easily run into the hundreds or even more. Think about the vast amounts of data that are available now – from transactional customer data and web behavioural data through to unstructured social data and data from the internet of things. In order to be useful, all that data needs to be catalogued, understood and controlled somehow.

Who owns your data?

An additional challenge comes from the fact that data is no longer centrally held in organisations. Now, each department has access to its own data channels and sources. Consider, for instance, a typical marketing department and the vast amounts of data to which they might have access and then multiply this by the number of different departments in an organisation to get a sense of the scale of the problem.

A friend of a friend works for a large university and sees issues of data governance played out across the organisation every day. The central university administrators are keen to use data to drive decision making – identifying students at risk of non-completion, communicating with alumni to develop their relationship with the institution, fundraising, understanding traffic on the website, looking for trends in grades, understanding the factors that drive the university’s performance in the national student satisfaction survey. The list is endless. However, the reality is that the university struggles to do any of these things effectively.

Why? The reason is poor data governance. There’s no clarity regarding who in the organisation owns which data. Take for example the data held on the university’s alumni. Does the alumni team own the alumni database and the relationship with those previous students? Or the marketing team? Or the faculty in which the students studied? Or the individual academics who taught those students? The question of who can use the data to communicate with the alumni and how they can use it is a constant source of dispute within the organisation.

In addition to ‘official’ sources of data the organisation also has a vast proliferation of ‘unofficial’ data sources such as individual academics with lists of students in spreadsheets. There’s no central oversight over this data. No one central record of who has what and how they’re using it. As you can imagine, GDPR compliance is a major headache for an organisation like this.

Most organisations know they have a problem but they don’t know how to solve it

This might sound like an extreme example but it really isn’t. At VIQTOR DAVIS we talk to organisations wrestling with similar issues every day. These days, most organisations know that they need to get a handle on their data but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve gone into an organisation to find that they already have this sorted. Often organisations already have a few failed data governance initiatives under their belts before they come to VIQTOR DAVIS.

Data governance projects can struggle to get off the ground because the question of project ownership isn’t clear. Who is responsible for data governance in the organisation? Is it the IT team or the business? Both are affected by data issues on a regular basis but tend to come at the problem from different angles. The key to achieving connected data governance is getting the IT teams and the business teams all pulling in the same direction.

When we work with organisations this is one of the things that we focus on getting right from the start. Data governance can’t happen in a silo. It requires communication and cooperation across the organisation and this can lead to some difficult conversations about data ownership, as well as people being told that they can no longer do things that they used to do as standard.

Sometimes the barrier can be a lack of political will at the top of the organisation. This might be because top managers simply don’t see the value of data governance or it could be because the organisation has previously invested in some poorly conceived data governance projects which didn’t achieve results (or at least where the organisation struggled to articulate the value of the project). These early setbacks can poison the well and make ongoing conversations about data governance difficult. At VIQTOR DAVIS we address this challenge by focusing on quick wins early on in a project to prove the value.

Connected data governance is critical to business success

Investment in connected data governance is often a distress purchase. We often speak to organisations who suddenly see the value of data governance because they’ve had a data breach or had to deal with a regulatory audit. Obviously, we’d always recommend putting in place a structured connected data governance plan before something like that happens. The benefits are numerous.

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