Getting Leaders Onboard for Data Governance

Pavel Vinnik/

Everyone from top to bottom should be working toward a culture of data stewardship.

Data is at the center of every business, making it one of its most precious assets. So, when it comes to data management, everyone from top to bottom should be working toward a culture of data stewardship. This culture is key to enhancing data quality and increasing the number of opportunities organizations have to use data for better insights and greater things. But how does it start?

Oftentimes the people working more closely with the data have a deeper and fuller understanding of the importance of data governance than organizational leaders may have. But how can they most effectively present a holistic data governance strategy to their superiors? When data managers start thinking of how to strategize their data governance, they can benefit from asking their leaders four specific questions:

1. What's most important in your organization's data?

2. Where is your organization's data stored?

3. How is your organization's data protected?

4. How is your organization's data secured?

Getting the Strategy in Front of the Right People

Before implementing the strategy, a chief information officer or chief data officer manager will need to take their ideas to their superiors. This could be the biggest challenge to implementing an effective strategy. While data governance seems like a no brainer at the data analyst and manager level, it may not always be crystal clear to the C-suite. The best way to communicate the need effectively is to present the strategy by leading through questions. Through questions, data managers are able to open the C-suite’s eyes to the most important information, particularly if they frame the conversation around risk and cost.

Making leaders aware that they are unaware about risks concerning their data can be the leverage you need to implement a sound data governance strategy. This takes us back to the four previously mentioned questions: 

What's most important in your organization's data? Presenting a leader with an open-ended question like this may result in a debate, but it is a necessary one. The discussion could center around a number of important topics, such as data around program beneficiaries, valuable research data or information related to policymaking. The discussion is more critical than the exact answers from the leaders, as it starts the dialogue around what data matters and how it should be properly governed.

Where is your organization's data stored? This question shouldn’t be too difficult: Most C-suite executives know their data is stored in a particular data center or cloud, but this will trigger more questions that become more challenging, such as…

How is your organization's data protected? Of course, if an organization has data, there needs to be a backup. However, understanding the backup and recovery process is typically where an executive leader may lack deep knowledge. In addition to not fully understanding the process, they rarely have a complete awareness of how many copies of the data exist or how long they keep the copies. It’s also possible these leaders don’t even fully know who all has access to the copies of data.

Effective copy data management is a necessity for good governance. Maintaining unneeded data is expensive and creates unnecessary risks and organizational leaders will be keen to learn this.

How is your organization's data secured? Follow up to see if they know exactly how the organization secures its data, whether through encryption, at rest or in transit.

For public sector organizations, this is especially important—data sharing between federal, state and local agencies is necessary but can create more challenges and concerns. Understanding how data is secured is only the baseline knowledge; leaders should also care about how trading partners protect it. The entire data supply chain must remain secure to prevent any sort of malicious attack along that data’s travels.

Let’s Start Governing

After asking these four questions, it usually becomes clear to the leader they do not understand enough about their data. The power now lies with the CIO and CDO to follow up with a discussion about the risk and subsequent cost of not having a data management strategy. Leaders may not understand how much it costs to store the data copies, especially outdated copies they no longer need. In addition, it’s critical to discuss the risk of sensitive information contained in that data, which, if lost, could bring negative consequences to the organization.  Assume every good leader will have more questions. This leads to the opportunity for more members of the team to contribute to a quality data strategy solutionLeaders may not understand exactly how, where or who has access to their data, but they do know they are responsible for it. Helping leaders understand that data management goes well beyond the IT shop can spark a conversation to create a strong culture of data stewardship across the organization.

Jonathan Alboum is the chief technology officer of public sector for Veritas.