Create Your Enterprise Data Governance Strategy

“It’s all about the data.”

This phrase is as true today as it was when I first heard it as a recent college graduate. Despite all the new technologies introduced since then (and there have been many), the success or failure of our IT efforts often comes back to the quality of the underlying data.

We create more data today than ever before. Most organizations struggle with gaining visibility and insight into their data, specifically unstructured data. This type of data — including emails, documents and image files — expose organizations to increased risk, security vulnerabilities, and personally identifiable information (PII) leaks. This problem is intensifying. Our data grows at a rate of 49 percent year-over-year.

Once all of this data is created, you need to govern it. Equally important, the data must be protected and kept secure. These activities are why it’s possible for data to be available when needed. The lack of attention to these details delays projects and drives up the cost of IT.

Unfortunately, we rarely have good insight into our data. Most of the data in our organizations is “dark data”, meaning that we store it, but don’t know what it is. Sometimes we know what the data is, but it redundant, obsolete, or trivial (ROT) data. Studies show that organizations operate on only about 15 percent of the data they store. The storage and maintenance of non-essential data is a huge drag on budgets. It drives up operational costs, limiting our modernization efforts. Further, agency leaders routinely express concerns about data retention schedules and compliance risks.

There are no simple solutions to our data problems. However, a good starting point is development of an Enterprise Data Governance strategy. Enterprise Data Governance is a key part of the President’s Management Agenda. It’s discipline crosses multiple functional boundaries, including information technology, cybersecurity, records management, privacy, general counsel, human resources, and more. In short, Enterprise Data Governance is a team sport.

Best Practices for Enterprise Data Governance

Technologies that support data classification are an important enabler of Enterprise Data Governance. However, there are several actions that I believe are more important to success. Based on my real-world, customer experiences across government and industry, I offer the following data governance best practices.

  • Executive sponsorship is crucial. Securing an executive sponsor at the senior management level is key to successful a data governance program. Ideally, the sponsoring executive empowers the Chief Data Officer to work across the agency.
  • Creating a data governance committee is essential towards implementing a data governance strategy. This group is a multi-disciplined team from across the organization.  This group determines data risks, how compliant an agency is to existing regulations, and how to best retain data.
  • Using an Enterprise Data Governance framework or maturity model is helpful in assessing and guiding the program. Various models exist, such as The Principles from ARMA International for records management and the Information Governance Reference Model, which grew out of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model. Ultimately, organizations should customize a framework for their own purposes.
  • Defensible deletion or remediation of data that no longer has value is critical. Eliminating data debris regularly and consistently is a best practice. With a smaller information footprint, organizations can more easily find what they need and derive business value from it. However, you must have data governance polices in place and be able to prove that you follow them consistently to justify the deletion of information.
  • Enterprise Data Governance is not a project but rather an ongoing program. It must be a necessary, ongoing effort, like a workplace safety program.  Regular reviews must be conducted to ensure the program is followed, and adjustments made based on the findings. The effort never ends.

An organization that doesn’t manage its data is limited in its ability to do real digital transformation. I view Enterprise Data Governance, as described in the PMA, as our nation’s real first step to the digital government we deserve. Let’s get going!

You may also be interested in Trust but Verify: How Open Data Connects Gov and Citizens Should This Be the Future of Open Data?

Jonathan Alboum is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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