Last year I wrote an article for DLC on busting data governance myths. I do love myth-busting, so I’m back at it for round two. For every myth we bust there are probably two more to take its place, but I’m out here playing Whac-A-Mole doing it anyway. You’re welcome. 

MYTH #1: Data governance doesn’t require an investment. 

 It’s amazing to me that a.) this is a myth and b.) I can’t just answer it by saying “Yes it does” and move on. Alas, here we are. 

This myth might be related a bit to myth three, the misguided notion that governance programs run on their own, but best not to get ahead of ourselves. Let me paint a picture for you. I get an email, and it says something like “We’ve been trying to get our data governance program up and running for a while now and we just can’t seem to get any traction. Help!” I ask, “Who’s running it? What does your data quality program look like? What’s the relationship with your Information Security team? Can you give me any usage stats? Any tools that support data governance, like a data catalog?”

Without fail, the answers I get back are something like this: “No, no tools. We don’t have a data quality team and the one person we ‘promoted’ to be the data governance leader left. Can you start on Monday?”

Hm, okay. 

Look at it this way: at the end of the day you get out of data governance what you put into it. If you put one person on it, that’s what you get out of it: the efforts of one person. If you don’t document anything, don’t provide resources or even templates for people to use, don’t invest in tools to make scaling easier, you will not get what you need out of it. It really is that simple. 

There’s a corollary here. Perhaps you have invested some money into the data governance function. But have you also invested your trust? Taking those first few steps with a new data governance program can feel like a giant leap. Perhaps you don’t feel like you have all the answers (spoiler: you don’t), maybe it feels too much like the previous attempt or you just want to spend a little bit more time creating documents. You have to invest your trust, you have to start, you have to take that leap and know that the most important part of any data governance function is your ability to stay flexible, and one step ahead of where your business needs you.

To create a successful data governance program, you must make smart investments, track metrics that equate to value (not just metrics for fun), provide training and support. I know there’s a lot of pushback on the “value” of data governance (a myth for another day) but doing the minimum and expecting the maximum is not an equation that works out in the end. 

MYTH #2: Data governance is only a compliance function. 

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Organizations have it, too. You know that feeling when you change your password and for two days you keep accidentally typing in the old password? Well, that’s what organizations keep doing with compliance and data governance. 

Back in the early days of data governance, most organizations didn’t have a compliance officer – or a privacy officer or even an information security department. Most of these functions have come about with the advent of data privacy and protection regulations and legislation. Before then, the person closest to these non-functional requirements of the data, typically the data governance leader, would operate as the proxy. Friends, it’s a new world. A big one with lots of regulations and laws, big scary ones that can shut down companies or levy ginormous (real word, looked it up) fines. It’s critical that compliance is run by a professional who focuses exclusively on that, because it is a full-time job. Too much is changing too fast to leave it to a mid-level manager buried in IT. 

Data governance absolutely has a supporting role in compliance. But the operative word here is supporting. Think Dianne Wiest not Meryl Streep. 

MYTH #3: Once it’s set up, data governance runs on its own. 

Perhaps my favorite myth, like Santa Claus or the claims of over-the-counter retinol products. Your data governance program is not a crock pot. You can’t set it and forget it. Just like any function in your organization that you invest in (see what I did there) and expect value from, you have to continue to monitor the data governance function and allow it to change and grow as your organization becomes more adept at it. 

The problem with merely getting a data governance program rolling and stepping away is that it may, for a short time, run on its own. It may even get far and provide value but once your organization reaches a certain level of maturity or a business shift occurs (merger, acquisition, leadership change), the data governance function needs to adjust along with it. The streets are littered with stories of organizations that got data governance up and running then walked away. Every organization has a story about trying to do data governance but then not giving it the care and feeding it needed to continue to be a viable, resilient function. These programs need continuous care, and to be truly resilient they need to be able to adjust over time. Leave the “set it and forget it” to your evening meal.

Admittedly I have addressed these myths with a healthy dose of snark (a bit of a trademark), but these are serious topics. Data governance has never been more important. Your ability to think critically, act quickly, and protect your data appropriately will elevate your preparedness in our AI-crazed world. The best data governance program is the one that keeps evolving.