What CIOs think about data governance

Data has become the life blood of organizations, but who should govern it?

multiple-exposure image combining businessmen with a city skyline, a global map, charts and data
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In my conversations with CIOs a couple years ago, there was a bit of shying away from the subject of data governance. However, much has changed in the last few years with the CIO role. This includes, of course, the emergence of the chief data officer.

IT’s role in data governance

CIOs say that part of the issue with data stewardship has been the debate over who owns the system versus who owns the data. CIOs say this is why it is an essential that the businesses and IT partner on data governance.

CIOs suggest there is a significant difference between data ownership and data governance. Some CIOs assert here that if the champion for a function is in another organization, this does not mean the CIO has shied away from responsibility. For these CIOs, IT should be a strong partner. They insist that all the CIOs they know are actively engaged in data governance.

CIOs claim as well that those winning in digital transformation know that ensuring quality, accurate, and secure data is critical. Once data and analytics became mission critical and required for competitive reasons, one CIO said, I think most CIOs increased their interest. But having said this, CIOs say that many still don’t have active data governance programs. CIOs add that there is very little data over which CIOs are “data trustees.” CIOs are more likely to be helping, advising and serving others in the organization.

CIOs believe that CIOs will pigeonhole themselves as technical CIOs if that do not get after what needs to be fixed with data. One CIO said here that not acting will cause somebody else to do all the cool stuff. Want to be a business leader and make a difference for your company? You must be involved in all things data.

Who should own data and data stewardship?

CIOs think that getting control over data governance is part of achieving better alignment regarding business initiatives/outcomes. They say, for this reason, that today’s IT organization must engage in data governance.

Unfortunately, many IT organizations are ill equipped to do so. Change for this reason is needed. CIOs believe data governance is the biggest opportunity for CIOs to gain strategic influence. At the same time, they believe that IT is technically best to lead the data governance charge. With this said, CIOs say data stewards need to be a business function of the data owners.

CIOs need to help create, educate and facilitate data stewards. CIOs need to be the champion for data stewardship. CIOs should write and shepherd the corporate policies. IT should maintain the data stewards’ identities and verify they are trained and included in the process. But IT once again cannot be the organization’s “data steward.”

CIOs say it is clearly a “good” thing for the businesses to view data as theirs. CIOs should want ownership. It is usually the business unit’s data, but IT in many cases in the past took a step to far and acted like the data owner.

Essential capabilities of data governance?

CIOs say that data governance should include the following things:

  • Policies of permitted use
  • Data quality
  • Data architecture
  • Catalogs and dictionaries
  • Master data and data quality efforts
  • Data integration
  • Cybersecurity
  • Privacy
  • Records retention
  • Traceability
  • Stewardship
  • Accountability
  • Analytics

At this point, former CIO Isaac Sacolick presented a diagram that summarized everything the group had discussed:

What is data governance? Data practices that address risk and drive opportunities. Isaac Sacolick

Source: “What is Data Governance? Data practices that address risk and drive opportunities.”

The CIOs really liked the diagram but suggested that the customer or business should be put in the middle. They said that these things often get overlooked in favor of process or policy. Other CIOs said they would add architecture and privacy as a super category called “information governance.” CIOs suggest here that terms like “owned by” be avoided. IT, they say, can best support things by influencing and supporting the right-weight for data governance and related tools, processes and policies.

CIOs believe that the business operating model matters. Is the organization, for example, relatively disconnected? CIOs should get out in front of business data governance. CIOs stress that except for those items for which IT is itself is the data steward, IT is a consultant, facilitator and helper in the data governance process. 

CIO say that they need often to be cat herders with data governance. CIOs should at the same time be inculcating a sense of duty: (1) to protect data, (2) to use data responsibly, (3) to ensure the integrity and viability of systems, and (4) to get people speaking with a common vocabulary.

The division of labor where a CDO exists?

CIOs suggest that CIOs and CDOs together should be part of a data governance board that sets data governance policies. Clearly everything in the end depends upon the CDO and the CIO. It is essential that there is agreement on vision, priorities and methodologies.

CIOs suggest that the fence between the roles be placed wherever these leaders feel comfortable. However, they suggest an environment where teams collaborate and don’t care about who gets the credit. CIOs say when leaders worry less about charters and ownership, they give themselves and their organization’s space and time to collaborate and get stuff done.

Where should CIOs put their energy in data governance

One CIO said here that as Diana Oblinger would say, our opportunity is to facilitate conversations. That’s the leadership role. Having said this CIOs recommend their colleagues start by looking at data access, cataloging and data dictionaries.

They stress that data governance often starts with existing data – reviewing its potential use, and then seeking its value proposition. They suggest that data quality, master data management, and data architecture follow from here. CIOs see data governance as a multifaceted discipline. It requires a governance board and not just the CIO running things in absentia.

New CIOs should put energy into understanding the state of data governance. They may need to start by educating business colleagues on why data governance is important. It seems clear that the capacity to make progress is dependent on institutional knowledge and culture. CIOs say that there are lots of variables but no straight path forward. Things that matter include institutional culture and the trust and respect garnered by the CIO and their team.

CIOs say it can be valuable to have external firms survey data usage, identified weaknesses and beef up the overall understanding of risks and mitigation for them through best practice aligned policies and end user training. While the starting point for data governance can depend, CIOs say it can often starts with data quality and ends with data life cycle management.

How valuable are data governance frameworks?

CIOs believe that frameworks are always a helpful starting point. They ensure everyone is thinking through the major areas needing to be addressed. CIOs say that any framework must be tailored to the organization. There should be, as well, the expertise to relate the selected framework to the organization’s business model. CIOs say as well that it is essential that the framework be helpful to all who are engaged in data governance. It is essential to be working from a common language to establish effective data governance.

Here, CIOs believe that they need to get and keep all stakeholders on the same page. It is key to clarify and sync on governance risk and compliance. This action should hopefully distill priorities and polices into an information governance layer that digests and syndicates executable polices for the data governance layer for data quality, transformation, etc. Data governance frameworks are believed for this reason to be only as good as the company’s maturity and ability to define and maintain a consistent approach to data classification.

Parting remarks

It’s clear that CIOs’ interest in data governance has grown over the last several years. Clearly, how fast CIOs can push their enterprises depends upon organizational and data maturity. At the same time, IT cannot be the only organization involved in data governance. And if there is a CDO, the CIO still has to be a cheerleader and a data stewardship champion.

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