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Thursday, 20 June 2013

What do the Simple Folk Do?

The role of the Data Governance Function

Something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in this column is my long-standing love affair with the theatre, and musical theatre in particular.

For over 25 years now I’ve been involved in theatre of one form or another whether as actor, director or producer, and while these days my involvement is very much for love rather than money, I did flirt briefly with the professional stage at one point. (Although the sum-total of two paid jobs over 20 years ago can’t really be considered as a “career”. Never successful enough to be a “has been”, I’m now way too old to be a “WannaBe”, so I guess you’d have to describe me more or a “NeverWas”….)

Anyway, part of my obsession with musical theatre form means that over the years, I’ve built up a fairly extensive library of recordings from Broadway shows and film musicals. (well over 250 soundtracks and counting). In listening to Lerner & Loewe’s musical about the legend of King Arthur, “Camelot”, I re-discovered a song called “What Do The Simple Folk Do?” in which Arthur and his wife Guenevere give thought to what life must be like for the commoners without any of the responsibilities of ruling.

Perhaps perversely, this particular ditty put me in mind of the trials and tribulations of “responsibility without authority” that can be the lot of your humble Director of Data Governance. And while I don’t think anyone could ever describe anything that we get up to as “simple” (although you’d maybe want to think harder about some of the folk…), it occurred to me that in all my posts to date, I’ve never actually outlined what I consider the scope of the “Data Governance Function” to be.

As an overview, I’d boil Data Governance down to the following key capabilities:

  • Data Quality Management: championing shared understanding the fitness-for-purpose(s) of data content in the context(s) within which it needs to be consumed. This means co-ordinating the problem identification, profiling, root-cause analysis and issues resolution of data quality, as well as proactively promoting new and innovative uses of the information sets under consideration.
  • Metadata management & co-ordination od Data Definitions and Information Models: compiling and communicating a common semantic models of the organisation’s conceptual, logical and physical information models. This includes responsibility for ensuring that there is clear, explicit and unambiguous understanding of informational terms that align with the business context(s) within which the information will be used.
  • Information Asset Management: tracking the inventory of information holdings within the organisation – what information exists, where it is stored, in what format, who is responsible for it, and for whom is the information of relevance. This also includes establishing a regime of processes and protocols for tracking and assuring the integrity of the exchanges of information between repositories – integration, interfaces, system of record, Master Data Management etc.
  • Data Ownership and Stewardship: co-ordination and facilitation of groups of information creators and consumers, such that there is a whole-of-enterprise approach to capturing, correlating and communicating the informational content that exists within the organisation. This also requires that the Data Governance function acts as secretariat to business-oriented information fora such as Information Management Steering Committee, Business Information Boards etc.
  • Establishment, promotion and co-ordination of consistent and shared protocols that support all of the above, to be applied on a cross-functional basis (e.g. information policies, standards, guidelines, methods, processes and procedures).
Note that in this model, any operational delivery services such as information integration, data management, reporting and analytics are not part of the Data Governance mandate (although coaching and oversight of data integrity through these channels would be.)

For completeness, I’ve also attached a more in-depth example Charter for a Data Governance Function.

I’ll stress that this is a personal view of the role – others will no doubt offer other perspectives. But hopefully this brief outline will help prompt some thinking about what purpose you want Data Governance to fulfil within your organisation.

So, that’s what the ‘simple folk” do. Good luck!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

How do you slay a Hydra?

One head at a time (and make sure you burn the stump...)

In the ancient Greek myths, Heracles (Hercules if you’re Roman) was a great hero, the son of Zeus, and famed for completing twelve mighty tasks while indentured to the service of King Eurystheus. 

Many of Heracles’ trials involved the slaying or capturing of various terrible beasts that were ravaging the land - the Nemean lion, Erymanthian boar, the Styphalian birds and the mares of Diomedes. However, it Heracles’ Second Labour, the slaying of the Lernaean Hydra, that got me to thinking…

In the myth, Heracles is sent to Lake Lerna kill the Hydra, a monstrous, vicious and many-headed serpent with poisonous breath and blood, each head filled with teeth and jaws trying to tear you apart. Killing the Hydra was especially problematic, because if you decapitated one head, two more would grow back in its place. Meanwhile, just to complicate matters, the goddess Hera also sends a giant crab to distract Heracles (as if he didn’t have enough on his hands dealing with a multi-headed, poisonous super-reptile…).

Heracles eventually overcomes the Hydra by covering his nose and mouth with a cloth to avoid the poisonous fumes, before using a fire-brand to cauterise the Hydra's neck stumps after severing each head, while crushing the crab underfoot for good measure. (Easy…)

And slaying the Lernaean Hydra is just like Data Governance, isn’t it? 

You have to prepare yourself for the task and be ready for any poison, before engaging in the fight on multiple fronts. And unless you’re well prepared with the right tools and methods, dealing with the immediate issue only serves to creates more problems further down the line.

So go forth, bold heroes! Prepare your face-cloths! Sharpen your golden sword.

And don’t forget to bring a flaming torch so you can burn down the stumps before they grow back and bite you on the behind...