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Alignment Reveals Value of Data Governance

Tony Brownlee
5/19/16 12:00 PM

The value of data governance is a question I’ve repeatedly been asked the last 10 years and it consistently comes up on panels, keynotes, and at cocktail receptions at different data conferences or events. Just last month I was talking with a respected industry expert about the value of data governance and data management assessments such as those that use either the DCAM or DMM models and the question came up again. What’s the value of doing a formal assessment?Data governance value

The classic answer to this question is to understand where your gaps are. These models provide a great, comprehensive framework for determining what practices, processes, policies, or standards being used may not be working well. Assessments tell you where to focus resources to make measurable improvement in your plans. Bringing in a third party provides you an objective point of view that Chief Data Officers can point at to prove their enterprise data management program is making progress. 

As my conversation continued with the industry expert, we hit upon one of the biggest sources of value. A well-run assessment does something very unique for a data program. The very best assessments bring together 10, 20, 30, or maybe even more people from across the organization and involve them in a process immersed and focused on the data over a few days’ time. This organizational cross-section is immersed in the top data issues together for a few days and the result is: alignment.

Alignment is the data governance secret sauce

I think an un-aligned data program is a lot like tug-of-war. Just last weekend I was at a community event and watched about 50 kids participate in a tug-of-war competition. About 30 girls and 20 boys all lined up on a beach and pulled with all of their might and inevitably the girls won. Both groups were working hard, but unfortunately weren't making it very far. They spent a lot of time pulling in their respective direction only to make a couple of feet of progress. Did they win? Sure, but it took a lot of effort and they were left with a group of folks on the other side that wanted to do it again and try to win. This is indicative of the challenges many data programs face, but assessments can help build alignment.

Alignment is the gift that keeps on giving. In talking with other data executives, they will often cite stories of key individuals halting progress because of disagreement with the data strategy, or others that undermine data projects because of competing priorities - a tug-of-war scenario. This disagreement can be very expensive. Let's say you have 20 people meeting once more a week over a three-month period to make key decisions on priorities. Your project not only wastes three months of everyone's time, it also squanders approximately $50,000 to $75,000 in staff time. Tack on $250,000 if this lasts 12 months. 

It costs time and wastes valuable budget. However, because assessments are conducted by third parties, they bring the relevant data-stakeholders together for a period of time as part of the same team. Sure, there are colorful heat maps and charts that are produced that show the strengths and weaknesses of the program, but the real benefit is the progress that can be made post-assessment simply because there is less disagreement. Less disagreement with the strategy, less disagreement with the priorities, and more commitment to making progress to turn those reds to green. 

The DCAM and DMM models are quickly becoming the tools of choice by data executives and I think we’re going to see this trend continue throughout the coming years. As you're working on that business case or 12 month plan, consider how an assessment can help you get more of the organization moving in the same direction to prioritize improvements and demonstrate progress faster.

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