Good Data Governance Finally Taking Hold

Enterprises finally seem serious about grappling with what makes for good data governance.

Could 2011 finally be the year data governance is finally addressed? It's possible. Perhaps even likely -- especially if public- and private-sector organizations are finally ready to get serious about data governance.

Most of the pieces in place -- including branded MDM entries from mainstream software vendors such as IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., and SAP AG, along with dedicated data goverance offerings from traditional MDM practitioners such as Kalido and DataFlux (a SAS Institute Inc. company).

More important, enterprises finally seem serious about to grappling with a problem -- data governance -- that simply refuses to go away.

Some in the industry have been talking up a data governance break-through for years now. Industry veteran Jill Dyché, a principal with the former Baseline Consulting, which was acquired by information management specialist DataFlux in February. Dyché has never predicted a soon-and-inevitable sea change in the way shops approach governance, but she nonetheless has done all she can to draw attention to the shape of governance in many organizations.

For starters, Dyché says, shops are finally ready to take what might be called the "organized" MDM plunge. This interest in MDM is concomitant with (or stems from) a new and more serious focus on governance. The upshot, says Dyché, is that shops are again digging into governance.

"At the end of 2010 and beginning of this year, we're noticing a shift in that, movement from organizational conversation over to the tactical conversation -- the process conversation," said Dyché in her keynote address at the TDWI World Conference in Las Vegas. As shops start talking about process -- or practice -- as distinct to planning, they're likewise tackling long-standing organizational pain points. "[They're actually putting] policies and processes in place -- the tools, the mechanisms, the enabling work-aids … to actually govern data in a sustainable way," she said.

This isn't to confuse MDM with governance. It's rather to observe that interest in the former invariably precipitates (or draws attention to) discussions about the latter.

This is a theme that resonates with DataFlux CEO Tony Fisher, too. "There is a bit more formality to MDM now in a lot of organizations, where it has not tended to be terribly formal. If there's an equivalent to the [timeless] data mart versus data warehouse argument in [the] MDM [world], we've seen a lot of homegrown MDM implementations. Now we're starting to see more of a distinct focus on data governance," Fisher observes. "Business issues are driving that. If you look at successful MDM [implementations] versus unsuccessful [implementations], you do see the theme of governance first. [Adopters] who put governance first tend to be successful."

Fisher argues that enterprise are jettisoning homegrown or ad hoc MDM systems -- which (according to Dyché and other experts) often consist of little more than an operational data store -- in favor of packaged solutions. At the same time, Fabiszak concedes, one can't buy "turnkey" MDM. Successful MDM recipes include several ingredients (such as executive, stakeholder, and IT support; process or organizational restructuring or optimization; and -- of course -- people management issues) that can't be packaged into a "solution." This is one reason why consultants like Dyché are such champions of MDM: it's as much a services proposition as it is a technology proposition.

DataFlux's own services arm has expanded significantly, thanks to interest in MDM, data governance, and other related practices. "In the last couple of years, our services revenue has just been skyrocketing. A lot of it is organizations looking to people like DataFlux to help them deliver on something like [data] governance. They realize that they can't just buy the technology -- that they need the [services] expertise, too," Fisher says.

DataFlux isn't the only vendor talking up a rising MDM and data governance tide.

"If you take a step back from MDM, what you're really doing is enforcing a policy around what you want the data to be in terms of cleanliness and quality and accuracy. Companies … have no place to really document policies and enforce them -- [i.e.] to make sure that they actually get implemented and then to enforce them," says John Evans, director of marketing with data warehousing specialist Kalido. Kalido has a long-standing focus on MDM and last December announced the first release of its Kalido Data Governance Director.

Data Governance Director isn't a technology prescription, Evans explains. It's rather a business-oriented tool that's designed to make sure that all stakeholders -- at every level of an organization -- are talking about the same things.

If you're missing the essential ingredients of a successful data governance push -- chiefly, strong top-down support along with the active (and enthusiastic) involvement of business stakeholders -- Data Governance Director isn't going to be of much help to you. If, on the other hand, you have both executive backing and the interest of business stakeholders, Kalido's new offering could be just what you need.

"[The idea is] to help companies make their data governance programs operational through data policy management. [To that end] it provides a transparent data policy layer that helps you align your policies with your business objectives," Evans explains. "It also gives you [a] monitoring [capability], so that you can assess overall compliance with your policies."

Kalido says it developed Data Governance Director largely based on feedback from customers. "The people are basically saying, 'Look, we've agreed that we need to do this. We've agreed that we've got to have certain standards or business processes, but we're struggling with how do we actually implement that," according to Evans. "Our goal [with Data Governance Director] was to provide an environment where you can document these things, set a scope, identify the business processes that are immediately effected, hook them into the business process, and connect them to a data quality tool."

Traditionally, data governance has been an even more ad hoc proposition than MDM, argues Lorita Vannah, director of marketing communications with Kalido.

"Data governance [teams] exist, but they often have a hard time justifying their existences," she says. That's changing, Vannah acknowledges. At the same time, many shops are trying to use ad hoc tools to manage their data governance efforts. If ad hoc usually doesn't fly for MDM, it almost invariably doesn't work for data governance, Vannah suggests.

"Prior to this sort of organized data governance push, people were managing things in [Microsoft] Word or SharePoint, so somebody's got a version of the official policy -- but it's on their hard drive. No communication is made to the stakeholders about when the policy changes. [Kalido Data Governance Director] is meant to help automate a lot of those processes and the program itself is designed to shepherd the participants through each of those stages [of a data governance initiative] and to determine the next step."