Getting Your Data House in Order
Getting organized is something that many people aspire to do, but is harder to actually achieve. Few can dispute that being detail-oriented and keeping our houses in an orderly state will make our lives easier. As busy as life can be, good organization is challenging but well worth the effort.
When we talk about getting our houses in order, sometimes we mean our financials, relationships, or our actual house. What about an organization’s data house? I see many correlations between data problems and companies’ lack of organization. When I talk about getting our data house in order, I am talking about the nitty-gritty of solid data governance practice.
Much has been written and discussed on the principles and frameworks of data governance, but sometimes the mechanics of making data decisions are overlooked. To me, it is a matter of embedded organization practice.
Over the years I have observed and learned some organization principles that can be applied in helping an enterprise of any size get their data house in order. As best as I can tell, there are several key principles to organization that can be applied to data governance:
1. Have an overarching strategy, but only work on one room at a time. A few years ago there were a few popular reality televisions where crews would show up at peoples’ houses and help them reorganize and redecorate one room in their house. Note, they only picked one room to do at a time. Granted the work had to fit in the span of the show length, but there are psychological reasons for only addressing one room at once—including building confidence in the process and dealing with the gambit of emotions associated with change.
In data governance, it is important to take a holistic view of the enterprise, but in the beginning you have to start small. Seek out easily identifiable wins within your organization. Ask yourself:
- Is there a department in the company whose individual culture would be receptive to governance practice?
- Are there certain managers or leaders who nod in agreement in meetings whenever data woes are brought up?
- Are there a few individuals who would make excellent data stewards, i.e., they possess the right desire, a helpful predisposition, an eye for detail and are not already overwhelmed?
Start there and work out building confidence and momentum as you go.
2. Know where everything is. In a well-organized house, you know where everything is stored and can go right to it when it is needed. I know of people who have repurchased items, because they have no idea where the original ones are. The decision to place things where they are is well thought out and logical, so coming right back to it is easy.
When it comes to data governance, decisions often have to be made about where data should be maintained. Many companies have so many disparate information systems that they aren’t even sure what is or should be the system of record for different key data elements. For example, if you can identify nearly a dozen different data sources for a single business process, this is not good. Also, if you are able to list something like, “Mary’s desk drawer” as a source of important data, this is even worse. In either case, you can benefit from better data governance and make decisions to consolidate some of your sources for key data collection and maintenance.
3. Get it together. Another key to good organization is to make sure similar items, or items that are often used together are placed logically nearby. You often see retail stores pair commonly purchased items together in a place where consumers can get them and buy two things instead of one. They may sell batteries on the same aisle as electronic toys or chips and soda pop together on adjacent shelves. The same is true for organizations.
While knee deep in governing data, make decisions to bring related data elements together keeping business processes, operations and analytics in mind. Start with a good taxonomy of your data by defining data categories, groupings, relationships and dependencies. If field A is maintained by one person and important to three other departments but meaningless to the others, make architectural decisions that diminish the path of resistance and shorten the distance to the data for the right partners.
4. Stay organized. If we work hard to keep our lives organized, it is certainly worth the ongoing effort to maintain it. Many organized households have rules to help them stay organized. For instance, if an important document comes in the mail, you might have a process to immediately scan and file it. Doing it right away prevents it from piling up. It takes some discipline and effort to stay organized, but in the long run it saves much more time and effort. This is the same hope for any data governance program.
Even after the initial buzz and interest has died down, you can still stay on the path to data governance and keep it going. One key is to define and establish data stewardship at the earliest possible stage. Your data stewards will ensure effective control and use of data assets, so choose carefully. They will carry on their shoulders the momentum of your governance program.
Another key to keeping a good governance program going is to make it a part of the culture. This is easier said than done, because a strong data governance culture is the underlying attitude and belief that we maintain and govern our data well. A strong culture identifies “data governance” and “information management” as strengths on their S.W.O.T. analysis, not weaknesses or threats. To achieve this requires consistency and ingraining into the fabric of the organization. Awareness is the beginning. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” When people see good data governance in action and perceive its benefit for them, they will get onboard, and nothing will slow that train down.
So as the year winds down and a new one begins, ask yourself if it is time for your organization to get their data house in order. If you do, know that it will require significant effort and discipline, but it will pay off dividends in the long run.
Disclaimer: This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.