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Gary Allemann is MD at Master Data Management.Gary Allemann is MD at Master Data Management.

The recent ITWeb Business Intelligence (BI) Summit highlighted the different approaches to data governance proposed by theorists, and those proposed by experienced practitioners.

The theorists’ approach – similar to the ‘Terminator’ movies that feature destructive robots – appears to have been custom designed with one goal: to destroy the business benefits that the principles of data governance should deliver. I call this the ‘governator’ approach that promotes the principle of governing data to the destruction of the governance process. This approach is characterised by a focus on ‘big organisation’ – lots of people, lots of documentation, lots of process, lots of time and... lots of money.

My alternative approach to data governance is based on three simple principles:

1. You must be focused on the end goal of delivering business value. Every decision the data governance expert asks should be preceded by the simple question of: “Is this going to make us money or save us money?”
2. Less is more (or keep it simple). Further to point one, if you have a choice between a simple, cost-effective process and a bloated bureaucracy, then always choose the former. Yes, it is important to document critical standards, ensure a common data dictionary and definitions of terms, etc – but only in so far as data is supporting the objective of driving business value. Not all data is equally valuable and not all data is worth governing.
3. Make appropriate use of data quality and data governance technology solutions to support your process. Without meaningful metrics, your process will become subjective and both issue management and root cause analysis will be very difficult, if not impossible.

The theorist’s approach frequently comes across as costly, overwhelming and bureaucratic, leading to resistance from users, and in many cases, to the failure of the data governance process to achieve ongoing budget and support. The ‘governator’ approach should be discarded before it ‘self-destructs’.

Unfortunately, once a company has experienced the ‘governator’ approach, these businesses tend to distrust all attempts at data governance and it will struggle to regain credibility. This tarnishes data governance and the real benefi ts that it can bring to an organisation may be lost forever. Learn from the mistakes of early adopters, and like Arnie’s character in the movies, you’ll be back.