Data governance: Next steps
- A data governance plan is an investment to be protected
- It's important to set expectations
- Rules matter: communicate, revise, and enforce them
If you’ve successfully developed a data governance plan, formed a governance council, secured leadership buy-in and addressed people, policies, and processes, then, first of all, congratulations. This is a huge feat for any institution—one with a significant potential return on investment. So how do you protect that investment? How do you make sure your governance plan succeeds?
1. Manage expectations
As I described in the second blog in this series, data governance requires a large culture shift and wholesale change to entrenched systems and processes. Those things don’t happen overnight.
It’s important that, in internal communications, you describe data governance as a business practice, not a project. A project is implemented once. It has a completion date. Its budget, resources, and management are finite. Once it’s finished, people can “go back to their day jobs.” Governance, on the other hand, is now part of people’s day jobs. It’s a repeatable, core business practice being integrated across the institution.
It’s also important to manage expectations in the initial stages of putting your governance framework in place. Consider a phased approach to rolling out new policies, processes, and systems. Don’t over-promote the “big changes” occurring institution-wide if certain processes still need to be refined. If people understand the programme isn’t fully baked, they’ll be patient as you get things running smoothly. Consider piloting certain governance components in one area of the business before rolling them out on a wider scale. While the student information system is the most far-reaching on campus, it’s often a good place to start because it also touches the most offices. Fixing a few data issues here goes a long way.
2. Communicate the rules
Your governance plan lays out the rules and policies that will drive decisions about how data is used, shared, and protected. But the rules only work if people know about and understand them. That’s why you need a solid communications strategy behind the rollout—and continuous evolution of—your data governance plan.
Start by communicating what data governance entails and why it matters. Convey to faculty and staff at all levels that, in essence, data governance = using data to better “govern” the institution. You’re putting policies and systems in place to ensure they have access to the data they need to make sound business decisions and lead the institution toward success.
Next, educate people on the rules and policies that have been established, as well as what they need to do, in their respective roles, to comply.
Education should be ongoing, because the rules will change as:
- the amount of institutional data grows;
- new types of data become available;
- data definitions change and ensuring consistent usage becomes a challenge; and
- threats to data security evolve and accelerate.
Consistent communications and education are key to building a mature enterprise data governance programme.
3. Enforce the rules
Data governance sets rules to ensure data is used properly and effectively; to protect privacy and security; and to resolve conflicts around who owns, defines, accesses, and shares data across the institution. Your data governance framework is also the mechanism for enforcing these rules.
If your framework is clear, data owners and managers should be able to make decisions and resolve conflicts on a day to day basis. However, there will be many times when the framework is insufficient or no longer practical. That’s why you need your multidisciplinary data governance council to remain active and engaged long after you’ve developed and launched the programme. The council exists to resolve issues and determine whether rules, definitions, or ownership need to change because (a) business needs have changed or (b) there is insufficient clarity to empower data owners and managers to make day to day decisions.
Essentially, enforcement is about two things: (1) institutional leadership setting the expectation that people follow data governance rules and tying it to performance and (2) the data governance council and business unit leaders working together to resolve conflicts both proactively and reactively.
4. Continually revise the rules
I’ve touched on this theme multiple times throughout this blog series. The amount and types of data available to institutions of higher education is growing at a staggering rate. Threats to data privacy and security are also evolving rapidly. And business intelligence and analytics tools that allow us to use data to generate new insights are becoming increasingly sophisticated. In other words, it’s hard to predict the relationship institutions will have with data five years from now, or even one or two years.
That’s why you need to continually revisit your data governance plan. Be prepared to revise the rules, policies, and processes you’ve put in place, as well as the technology that supports them. Treat data governance like a living, breathing framework supporting the best and safest use of one of your institution’s most valuable assets—its information.
In the information age, data governance has become a business imperative and a mandatory core competency for every institution to develop. But let’s not forget that governance is also about enabling more innovation, greater connection between people and ideas, and the generation of new insights that can radically transform student and institutional success. As institutional leaders work to inspire adoption of new rules and systems, I urge them to convey all of these aspects of data governance and its value.