Data governance is rapidly emerging as a new discipline within many organisations. In the rush to exploit existing assets, data is being rediscovered – as are the issues and challenges involved. Data stewardship is becoming a critical role to ensure the protection, maintenance and distribution of information across a business.
For companies looking to put governance structures in place, or individuals wondering what it will mean to be a data steward, there is precious little material to go on, however. UK practitioners do not yet have a single course or qualification, for example, while most case studies and methodologies are proprietary to software vendors or management consultancies.
Into this space, The Data Asset – How smart companies manage their data for business success, has been published by Wiley. Its author Tony Fisher does also come from a vendor background, as president and CEO of DataFlux, but his book takes an objective view of what needs to be done and how companies at different places on the maturity curve can progress.
As such, it is a valuable starting point for anybody considering data governance. “There is material out there, but it tends to be more targeted towards the IT community,” Fisher tells Data Strategy. “The industry tends not to have done a good job of managing the fit between data governance and business, of getting the business and IT relationship to cohere.”
Throughout The Data Asset, Fisher makes the case that data is not a technology issue, but a corporate asset to be dealt with just like any other. He divides its role into three value-adding areas – revenue optimisation, cost control and risk mitigation. This trinity means that the approach and processes outlined will have relevance in all economic conditions, from the current recession through to the peak of the next boom.
“If you look back, at the end of the 1990s through to 2005, life was good. Businesses tended to concentrate less on some of the things that can improve how they do business, like data. The money is coming in, so why fix something that’s not broken?” he asks.
A break did occur between 2005 and 2007 when accounting scandals in the US introduced a raft of new compliance requirements. These triggered a lot of the current data governance projects, especially those underpinned by master data management, as companies sought a reconciled view of their true business by customer, product, sales or revenues.
“That woke people up and they had to tackle the data issues. They could get more compliant by organising their data, as well as getting improved sales and profits,” says Fisher.
By positioning data assets against those three core objectives, the book is futureproofed. “We see cycles time and again. Revenue generation was the primary driver, then compliance, then cost reduction. Those things will continue to cycle. We will see revenue generation return in three to four years,” he says.
One of the features of the book is the wealth of real-life examples Fisher provides. Given the recency of data governance as a concept and the low profile kept by many companies involved in such projects, it seems on first reading like he has scooped up every example going. But Fisher says there are plenty of other projects waiting to be discovered.
So what makes for a successful business in terms of data asset management? According to Fisher, “one of the most vital things is for organisations to approach it in manageable chunks.” Where companies have attempted to introduce an enterprisewide data governance programme, nine out of ten fail. Like the book itself, data governance is a big subject that has to be broken down into smaller elements. For anybody about to embark on such a data governance project, Fisher has provided what could be a vital catalyst.