Monday, August 24, 2009

9 Questions CEOs Should Ask About Data Governance

When it comes to data governance, the one most influential power in an organization with respect to data governance is the executive team (presidents, vice presidents, managing directors, and CxOs). Sure, business users control certain aspects of the initiative and may even want to hold them back to maintain data ownership. It’s also true that the technology team is influential, but may be short on staff, short on budget and busy with projects like software upgrades. So, it sometimes falls to executives to push data governance as a strategic initiative when the vision doesn’t come from elsewhere.

It makes sense. Executives have the most to gain from a data governance program. Data governance brings order to the business, offering the ability to make effective and timely decisions. By implementing a data governance program, you can make fewer decisions based on ‘gut’ and better decisions based on knowledge. It’s an executive’s job to strive for greater control and lower risk, and that can’t be achieved without some form of data governance.

Rather than issuing edicts, a tactic of many smart executives implement is to ask questions. Questioning your IT and business teams is a form of fact-checking your decisions, understanding shortcomings in skills and resources and empowering your people. It ultimately allows your people to come to the same decision at which you may have already arrived. It is a very gracious way to manage.

Therefore asking questions about data governance is an important job of a CEO. Some of the questions you should be asking your technology leaders are as follows:



Do we have a data management strategy?

Ask the question to understand if your people have considered data governance. If you have a strategy, you should know who are the people and how are they organized around providing information to the corporation. What are the process for information in the organization?

Are we ahead or behind our competitors with regard to business intelligence and data governance?

Case studies on managing data are widely available on vendor web sites. It’s important to understand if any of your competitors are outflanking you on the efficiencies gained from data governance.

What is poor information quality costing us?

Has your technology team even considered the business impact of information quality on the bottom line, or are they just accepting these costs as standard operating procedure?

What confidence level do you have in my revenue reports?

Has your team considered the impact of information on the business intelligence and therefore the reports they are handing you?

Are we in compliance with all laws regarding our governance of data?

Executives are often culpable for non-compliance, so you should be concerned about any laws that govern the company’s industry. This holds especially true in banking and healthcare, but even in unregulated industries, organizations must comply with spam laws and “do not mail” laws for marketing, for example.

Are you working across business units to work towards data governance, or is data quality done in silos?

To provide the utmost efficiency, information quality processes should be reusable and implemented in similar manner across business units. This is done for exactly the same reason you might standardize on a type of desktop computer or software package for your business – it’s more efficient to share training resources and support to work better as a team. Taking successful processes from one business unit and extending them to others is the best strategy.

Do you have the access to data you need?

The CEO should understand if any office politics are getting in the way of ensuring that the business has the information it need. This question opens the door to that discussion.

How many people in your business unit are managing data?

To really understand if you need to a unified process for managing data, it often helps to look at the organizational chart and try to figure out how many people already manage it. A centralized strategy for data governance may actually prove more efficient.

Who owns the information in your business unit? If something goes right, who should I praise, and if something is wrong, who should I reprimand?

The business should understand who is culpable for adverse events with regard to information. If, for example, you lose revenue by sending the wrong type of customer discount offers, or if you can’t deliver your product because of problems with inventory data, there should be someone responsible. Take action if the answer cannot easily be given.

By asking these questions, you’ll open up the door to some great discussions about data governance. It should allow you to be a maverick for all of your company’s data needs. Thanks to Ajay Ohri for posing this question to me in last week’s interview; it’s something every executive should consider.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.