Data Governance

In today’s environment, chances are that your data is one of the most important assets in your business. As your business grows, using best practices for data governance may give you a competitive edge. A good governance plan can help facilitate the transformation of data into useful information. The end result is a win-win with a higher probability to increase revenues, streamline operations, and mitigate risk and compliance issues. A well-formed governance framework which is suited to your business needs will help optimize the value of your data. Beginning with industry basics, is a good first step.

Establish a Starting Point

Defining, implementing, and sustaining an effective data governance framework takes time, tenacity, and patience; this is especially true for companies who are new to the topic of data governance. A ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach can be a practical one, especially in the beginning. For example, you may want to start with a small scope or pilot project then determine your next steps based on the outcomes. 

As a starting point, make sure to identify your vision, mission, and SMART goals. The scope, high-level milestones, funding mechanism, and key roles and responsibilities, including your decision maker(s), are also important. A Charter, which typically contains all of these elements at a high-level, is a useful format to compile the foundational information. Once the parameters are vetted and documented, make sure that they are approved. At a minimum, approval is required from your decision maker, who may also be considered your sponsor.

Identify your Stakeholders

Based on your starting point, you can identify your stakeholders. Many standard governance models identify two to four main groups. Maintaining clear and constant communication with these groups is a critical activity in order to obtain buy-in and work through business changes that will occur.

Decision-Makers: First are the decision-makers. These are people with the authority to make required decisions and help resolve escalated issues. Often times, they are also considered your sponsor or business data owners. 

Implementers: Next, are the implementers who have the responsibility to execute decisions that typically take the form of policies, procedures, and guidelines. They also have the responsibility to monitor the progress. Data stewards may be categorized in this group. The data steward’s role is tailored to your business needs. In general terms, data stewards may be either business or IT subject matter experts who have the responsibility to ensure that data-related work is performed within the policies, procedures, and guidelines.

Facilitators: Depending on the complexity of your data or company, the third component may be facilitators. For example, a company with a complex data structure may decide to use expert facilitators to review solution alternatives to help determine the rules of engagement.

Stakeholders: Lastly, are stakeholders who are not part of the first three groups but nonetheless are affected by the scope of data governance. They may range from internal users who create, use, or audit data to external customers and vendor partners. The list of stakeholders will probably be the most dynamic and may not always be easy to identify.

Determine Rules of Engagement

Establishing clear rules of engagement must be done upfront. This typically includes a definition of terms, standards, policies & procedures, guidelines, hand-off protocols such as service level agreements, metadata definitions, compliance, and security requirements. Whenever possible, rules should be crafted in a manner that can be measurable so everyone knows what success looks like. For example, a procedure may state that “Report X” be generated by a specific team on a specific day of the month from a certain database with specific data elements. As rules are made, decision rights must also be defined such as who is authorized to decide on procedures, make changes to terms, approve policies, etc. 

This is an opportune time to consider your current state with respect to the goal of the future state. For example, what are current pain points caused by data deficiencies and how can they best be alleviated? You will be in a better position to determine appropriate rules of engagement by identifying potential gaps and ways to address them.

A change management process should be defined. No matter how carefully your plan is set, unexpected internal and external factors will arise which will impact your plan. Your change management process should include the justification for the request, a description of the change, potential impact / benefit / cost of the change, and if approved, how the change will be communicated to those impacted.

Implement and Sustain your Plan

You are now ready to move to the final stage of implementing and operationalizing your plan. It is critical to continue constant and clear communications with your stakeholders to maintain engagement and momentum. A top-down and bottom-up approach has been known to work best. Encourage information sharing between IT and non-IT business functions. Remember that communication is a two-way street; if a stakeholder has questions or concerns, be sure to respond to them. 

Training is an important component, especially if this is your first formal implementation of a data governance plan. Make sure to include appropriate training for your stakeholders. Training for a decision maker versus a data steward will look different.  

Keep track of your progress with quantitative metrics and qualitative stakeholder feedback. Routinely measure yourself against your SMART goals and rules that were previously established. Reward good results to reinforce good behaviors and address areas that are deficient by either changing behaviors or with change management. Once implemented, remember to include a line item in your budget for ongoing activities. This will increase your chances of having a repeatable and sustainable process.


Defining, implementing, and sustaining an effective data governance plan can be a challenge for many different types of companies. If best practices are applied, you will have a greater opportunity to make the best use of what is likely one of your most valuable business assets. 

Looking to start, improve or implement your Data Governance plan? Ninestone has the experience to support you in this effort that fits within your business needs and budget.