Jim Orr, author of “Data Governance for the Executive“, recently took time out to discuss a number of topics featured in his book.
The interview includes a discussion on the difference between data quality and data governance plus why Jim believes the term “data governance” is actually outdated.
Data Quality Pro: Thanks for taking time out to talk with us Jim. Let’s start the interview on a positive note so that we can capture the attention of any executives who may be reading this. Can you give an example of a company that has adopted the techniques provided in your book and were able to create tangible benefits?
Jim Orr: I once assisted a Fortune 500 company with a data governance initiative. The first gate we had to get through was to convince senior management of the need for the program. I followed the exact same process I outline in my book, which is to demonstrate the holistic value data brings to an entire organization. In addition, we devised a plan and structure for making it operational.
When we presented it individually to twelve executives (all VPs and Sr. VPs) we were well prepared to show them what data governance is, why it is important, the value it would bring to their organization, how we intended to make it operational, and what we needed from them. The company adopted 95% of our recommendations and went on to launch a data governance program that is still in operation today.
The benefits of this program, as validated by upper management, was determined to be about $1 million in year one and 2-3 million in year two.
Data Quality Pro: In the early section of the book you say that you actually despise the term ‘data governance’, why is that? It’s something I’m hearing from a number of practitioners so why do you feel the term has become outdated and what should it be replaced with?
Jim Orr: We have come to learn that data outcomes are influenced by more than just the data itself. To the contrary, outcomes are dependent on business process, business alignment, organization strategy, technology, stewardship, data policy, and more.
This requires that governance be applied to several dimensions of the business, not just the data. Furthermore, the industry touts that data needs to be treated like an asset, yet the term does nothing to rally support for the cause.
In the minds of many, including business leaders, the word data reflects a tactical, IT centric function. Governance reflects bureaucracy. The two together simply do not draw the attention and interest of business leaders. This is why I encourage organizations to adopt a more meaningful name for this discipline.
One name I like to use is Information Asset Management. Terms like this reflect what a governance practice is actually trying to accomplish and it resonates with business leaders.
Data Quality Pro: Great tip, thank you Jim. One of the issues I’ve seen in recent years is a blurring of the lines between data quality management and data governance. For example, most of the data quality tools now openly market their “data governance features”. I can see how executives who have invested heavily in Enterprise Data Quality Management programs may be confused when the idea of new investment for a data governance program is proposed.
How do you differentiate the two, particularly for an executive audience?
Jim Orr: I agree. It is unfortunate that the industry has exploited the term data governance.
When I speak with executives I represent data quality as being a term that identifies two things. One is a reference to the integrity or condition of the data. The second is the reference to the practice of implementing and maintaining data quality technologies.
The confusion comes because data governance and the practice of data quality both share the same goal; to improve data quality. The reality is that the practice of data quality is not governing anything, it is simply implementing data policy developed by the data governance process.
While I emphasize the important role of the practice of data quality, I show business leaders how data quality remains only one aspect of the data environment that needs to be governed.
Data Quality Pro: In the book you cover 3 Operational Components to Data Governance which are Administrative Data Governance, Business Data Governance and Technical Data Governance – which of these do you most often find lacking or poorly implemented in organisations?
Jim Orr: The answer is clearly the Administrative Data Governance. Far too many organizations focus on IT and the business working together and neglect the administrative oversight necessary to require them to work together. As a result, programs have no authority or accountability and eventually dissipate.
Data Quality Pro: You state in the book that that you believe “…less than two percent of all organizations actually attempt to measure quality and governance results against business outcomes…” – do you find this endemic lack of measurement places risks on the long-term future of these programs, particularly with so much executive churn?
Jim Orr: Absolutely. If a program cannot demonstrate business value then it either goes dormant or goes away altogether. The history of data quality is an excellent example of this. Organizations around the world have data quality solutions implemented in a single project but struggle to expand their data quality footprint beyond the first implementation. The reason, because they never measure performance against business outcomes.
Data governance programs have a similar challenge. The capacity of an organization to start and sustain a data governance program is predominantly based on its ability to demonstrate economic value. This means measuring performance against business outcomes.
Data Quality Pro: Creating a Data Governance Centre of Excellence will obviously appeal to a lot of our member organisations. For Data Governance CoE’s that have been successful what did they do right? Are there any specific tactics you can share with our members?
Jim Orr: Organization’s that have success in establishing a CoE are known to start with a solid framework for which to cultivate it. In many cases, it means having a formal office of data governance. Once a recognized office is in place, key functions and activities are more easily centralized for the betterment of the organization.
Another key to success is to make sure the data governance body is operating at a high enough level so that the organization recognizes the opportunities for centralizing certain functions and intellectual property.
Data Quality Pro: I find it so frustrating that I speak privately to data governance and data quality experts all week long but only a fraction of these insights can be shared due to confidentiality agreements. It was interesting to read that you experience a similar situation so what do you think can be done to improve the awareness and benefits of data governance?
Jim Orr: I am at a loss here, and certainly share your frustration. When it comes to governance, organizations seem to shy away from airing their dirty laundry and sadly, their solutions. While there may be good reasons for this (competition, security, public perception, etc.) it makes for a difficult landscape to advance the data governance discipline. All we can do is keep encouraging companies to come forward. After all, almost every organization I know has a similar problem.
Data Quality Pro: In the book you provide a great deal of detail around the 5 areas of value for Data Governance – Program, Project, Data Management, Business Operations, Organization, Strategy & Policy – in your experience, which areas do executives show the most interest for sponsoring an initiative?
Jim Orr: The value data governance brings to business operations is at the top of the list. Executives always want to hear how you are going to increase revenues, reduce cost, and mitigate risk within traditional business operations. That is not to diminish the importance of the other four areas. The key is putting all five together to make a compelling business case.
Data Quality Pro: Having read the book it’s clear that it appeals to a wide audience but obviously your primary aim is to increase understanding of data governance within executive circles. What is the role of an executive in your framework for data governance? What is the reaction from executives when they learn of their role?
Jim Orr: Actually, it is less about their role and more about raising the awareness of how data governance drives overall business performance. I don’t foresee the role of the executive changing, I do see where the awareness will help steer executive decision making when it comes to data governance and managing information assets.
Data Quality Pro: On Data Quality Pro we’re increasingly seeing a lot of new members joining from mid-sized organisations which obviously points to maturity in this sector. Have you witnessed any uptake for data governance outside of large corporates?
Jim Orr: There is clearly an uptick in interest in data governance across the board. In addition to large corporations, much of it appears to be coming from mid-market companies as well public agencies at the local, state, and national levels.
Data Quality Pro: Are there any final words of wisdom (or warning!) you can impart to our executive readers who are about to embark on the road to data governance maturity?
Jim Orr: I encourage executives and other stakeholders to take the time to understand how this discipline affects business performance across the continuum of the organization, not just a single project. This alone will change your view of data governance and possibly the performance of your organization.
Data Quality Pro: Thanks for your time today Jim, best of luck with the book.
Jim Orr: No problem, I hope your readers find it of value.
Contributor Bio – James (Jim) Orr
For more than 12 years, Jim Orr has had a front row seat in the information management industry as both a leader and as a consultant. Jim’s management experience has been cultivated through his leadership positions at Firstlogic, Business Objects, Trillium Software-Harte Hanks, and Information Builders. His consulting experience comes from working with hundreds of mid-market, enterprise, and global organizations to develop and implement business and technical strategies for their data and information assets. Prior to his information management work he served five years in a leadership capacity in the healthcare technology space.
During his career, Jim has worked in nearly every industry vertical. He is a founding member of the Data Governance Professional Organization and is a frequent guest speaker at a variety of regional, national, and international forums and events.