Data Governance &
the Perils of Language

The word governance often invokes a negative emotional reaction. Employees are keen to get on with their job and are naturally resistant to controls and constraints. The temptation in data circles is to substitute governance with a weaker word, such as enablement. However, these weaker words imply that data assets are less important than other assets.

The typical finance department has no hesitation using the word governance and the term financial governance is accepted and understood.

Everyone knows that if an organisation fails to have controls around its financial assets it will quickly go broke. Audit Committees are in place for the top 200 listed companies in Australia and the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) requires all listed companies to have the systems, processes and controls in place to ensure high quality financial reporting.

Unfortunately, the term data governance is not accepted or understood. A Data Governance Committee is often viewed as an unnecessary burden on an organisation that already has too many committees.

Sometimes it is suggested that terms such as ‘Governance’ and ‘Committee’ are the problem as they invoke the idea of mindless bureaucracy. This has led to suggestions of re-naming the Data Governance Committee to the Data Enablement Team (or some other upbeat term). Admittedly enablement is an attractive concept, however no-one suggests renaming the Audit Committee to the Enablement Team.

Names are important. Terms such as committee, forum or group have different meanings in different organisations and care needs to be taken on using the correct name. The word governance is powerful; other words do not convey the sense of formal controls over an organisation’s assets.

Effective data governance requires authority. Unlike knowledge management, where a non-binding community of practice is often sufficient, data governance needs to mandate and enforce controls over data assets. If data is misused then there must be consequences and the governing body must invoke penalties. For the sake of clarity the word governance is a useful part of the name for all governance committees including the data governance committee.

Data governance is a key element in the MIP Data and Analytics Framework.

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