The right data culture is a predictor of governance success

blog EMEA BARC survey

Getting business and leadership support for data governance programs – and building a data culture on that buy-in – remains a significant challenge in many organizations. Yet, having this support is a crucial success factor for these initiatives, according to a new survey.

The results of the new survey were presented at a Collibra event in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 2018 by Timm Grosser, head of consulting – BI and data management at BARC, a Teknowlogy Group company. The survey results have also been published in a new report.

With 3,045 survey responses, the findings revealed that having the right data culture is a key component to a functional data governance program. Below is a tutorial on how to overcome the challenges of building a data culture to set your business up for success.

Facing significant data culture challenges

It’s clear from the survey that companies continue to experience significant data challenges – often because their existing data culture needs improvement. Nearly half of survey respondents said their organizations suffered from inadequate data quality today, and more than one-third said this would be an ongoing problem in the future. These companies often have to put in quite a lot of manual effort to keep data at a level of quality the business can work with. This costs money and diverts human resources from other, more value-adding work. It also increases risk – sometimes poor data quality can even be responsible for the failure of revenue-generating projects undertaken by the business. Companies clearly need to have a common understanding of data quality standards across the organizational structure.  

More than four out of ten respondents indicated that their organization was ineffective at managing its data. Often data governance is not viewed as a strategic essential by the board and senior management, so there is no structured responsibility for data that reaches across the company. Each business team may have its own approach to managing data, with no individual specifically assigned with responsibility for data quality within the team and collaborating with others across the business who use that data.

Another common issue is a lack of knowledge about existing data or an inability to find relevant data – more than one-third of respondents cited these related issues. Often this happens when data governance is a project that only IT engages in. The business is left wondering where the data is, how to find their data, and who has responsibility for it.

Understanding the collaboration gap

In many companies, there can be a cultural view that data governance is not something the business should be engaged in. For example, only 29% of respondents said that their data governance program would affect all of their data environments. Most respondents – more than three-quarters – were focused on the impact it would have on their BI and data warehousing environment. In this way of thinking, data governance is an IT project.

There is also a tendency to view data governance as just a compliance project. In the survey, compliance was the top driver for the application of a data strategy or data governance of the survey respondents’ companies – 56% chose this option. The number selecting this answer was even higher in Europe – 64% – potentially because of new regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Viewing data governance as either just a compliance task or something for IT to do means that culturally speaking, organizations are closed to the opportunities that good data governance can bring, to drive value for the business.

Starting at the top

Building a culture around data has to begin at the top of organizations – with senior management and the board. Corporate cultures that view data governance as either something that IT deals with or as just a compliance issue, have these values because their boards and senior management teams do. In the survey, four out of ten respondents said their biggest challenges to implement either a data strategy or data governance measures were convincing stakeholders, obtaining management support, and getting the acceptance of business users and future stakeholders.

The new survey also shows that having the buy-in from both senior leadership and the business to building a data culture is crucial to the success of any data governance program. Respondents were asked how they rated the importance of data governance and having a data-driven culture. The results showed that companies considered “best in class” in terms of their approach to data management rated the importance of having a data-driven culture 7.7 out of 10 points, compared with laggard companies, which only rated the importance of this as 5.8.

BARC’s Timm Grosser suggested several ways in which data governance teams can engage collaboratively with the business:

  • Be sure to have business-oriented roles on the data governance project team
  • Uncover the business people who have data governance as part of their role. They have much value to contribute to the project.
  • Engage the business at the earliest stages of the project. Only the business can define what data is, where it is used, and the benefits of the data to the business.
  • Drive discussion about how compliance projects such as GDPR can actually deliver business value. Help the business to see the opportunities.
  • Consider starting with a data quality project – customer or product data that is shared between operational applications that feed different processes – because it will demonstrate the value this approach can bring to the business quickly.

In short, the challenges that data governance projects can often encounter within organizations are often closely linked to the state of the data culture within both senior management and the business. Getting buy-in from both of these stakeholder groups can significantly enhance the chances of success of a data governance program.