On May 20, 2021 Noord hosted a multi-stream virtual boardroom in association with Talend. The event comprised an introduction by Antony Elliott, Regional Vice President of Enterprise Sales (EMEA North), and Darren Brunt, Pre-Sales Director (EMEA North), who were both representing Talend, followed by a discussion among senior IT professionals on the role of data governance in accelerating data-driven businesses.
Opening of the session
Darren Brunt began by describing the data governance ‘see-saw’, which refers to the balance that organisations must strike when applying data governance strategies.
While historically, companies may have taken a top-down approach, characterised by centralised governance and control, this type of approach can lead to data being over-governed and unavailable to the masses. In this kind of encyclopedia model – where data is authored and governed by high-level subject matter experts – the data has high integrity but is rarely used or adopted. Moreover, this type of model comes at a high cost.
Conversely, a bottom-up approach involves governing data which is highly accessible. Sometimes, governance has to be applied retrospectively to data which has been supplied by users – with Facebook mentioned as an example of this. This approach has the ability to democratise data governance without necessarily implementing controls at the point of data inception, but comes at a high cost. The data has high adoption levels but typically low integrity.
Anthony Elliott then presented the results of a survey that Talend had conducted. The research had shown that 78% of executives have challenges making data driven decisions, and 60% don’t always trust the data they work with. Moreover, half of respondents don’t know if there is a data-driven methodology inside their organisation, while 20-30% don’t know if their organisation has a data governance strategy in place.
With this quantitative feedback in mind, Darren and Antony were interested in hearing the first-hand experiences of attendees, and wanted to know what data governance meant to them and their organisations.
Reasons for attending and key challenges faced
Delegates came with a range of experience, including in global security, data management, cyber risk and compliance and enterprise architecture. Key challenges included handling increasingly high volumes of data in the shift to data-driven technologies, dealing with the often overlooked implications of data-driven programmes for security, and managing legacy data sets.
One challenge which sparked discussion was the misconceptions around data governance. For example, data governance is often perceived within organisations as a regulatory matter rather than a way of harnessing accurate data which can empower employees to make better decisions. Similarly, businesses tend to see data governance as an extra cost rather than a way of directing their strategies more effectively. The consensus among participants here was that organisations need to communicate the value that can be created from good quality data to all employees.
Changing the narrative around data governance
One attendee likened ownership of data as a ‘pass the parcel’ problem, emphasising that organisations must ensure accountability before decisions can be made. In the same vein, it was felt that without understanding the implications of a given data set, it is difficult to establish a data governance philosophy.
This idea of enacting culture change was picked up by several attendees, who noted that in an age of fast-paced innovation and digitalisation, behaviour change is often overlooked. A case in point was one organisation which had a vast amount of legacy data that was unsearchable and almost unusable. Senior executives seemed to employ the philosophy of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and had a sense of false security when it came to data governance, which acted as a barrier to change.
To change organisational culture, one attendee noted that their organisation had introduced data principles and had relied on their data protection officer to drive these principles home to employees, as well as on their board to ensure company-wide compliance. This idea of enshrining values from the top down was felt to be important, as was showing the longer-term value that data governance can bring to the business (at the expense of short-term profit). As another delegate put it, ‘the further up in the business you can gain sponsorship, the better’.
This led on to a discussion around creating understandable and relatable awareness programmes. One example of best practice was an innovative cultural awareness programme run at a leading UK bank. However, attendees noted that resistance to such programmes was not uncommon. In one case, a work council had been opposed to data being scanned for classification purposes on the basis that uploading data onto computer systems was too risky.
Enhanced data literacy
While the point was made that many employees are now keen to use data in innovative ways – with AI and machine learning having become buzzwords – it was felt that many did not understand that without first ensuring data integrity or quality, they won’t be able to fully leverage the data they are using. It was therefore felt that companies need to dedicate sufficient resources and effort to strengthening data integrity and quality. They also need to communicate that good data quality can only be achieved if data is managed in a governed way that everyone agrees to. In this respect, data governance was seen as a mark of a business’s maturity.
Improving data health
In order to give employees an indication of what ‘good’ data looks like, and what data they should be using, one company had created a master data set. Employees had then been encouraged to use this rather than relying on files stored in emails. This in turn meant that employees were less likely to use their inboxes as file storage and were therefore less likely to use data which fell outside of governance and control.
Redefining data governance for employees
It was felt that the phrase ‘data governance’ was often seen as a dull tick-box exercise. It was also seen as regulation-heavy, which put people off engaging with the topic.
To change the narrative around data governance, one delegate noted that they were rolling out a framework for their organisation, which contains the tools that employees need to self-assess. This kind of education piece was broadly welcomed.
Solving the challenges ahead
When asked what challenges they would like to solve in the next six months, one attendee wanted to see their organisation become 3D secure. Another wanted to have an effective training programme in place for employees, while a third wanted to see a lighthearted and relevant cultural awareness programme around data and cyber security.
In terms of more general observations, one delegate pointed out that it often takes companies seeing others being fined or suffering reputational damage to make changes themselves. Again, the point was made that companies are chasing ‘shiny’ technology applications rather than tackling the simple things, such as cleaning data and putting retention rules in, so they need to go back to basics.
Closing of the session
Summing up, Darren noted that organisations each face unique challenges in ensuring data governance. Any organisation starting out on its data governance journey should first focus on bringing the culture on board and then add data governance as an overlay. It should also seek out quick wins that add clear value. With the right planning and insight, companies can use technology to enable them to excel at data governance.