Monday, July 8, 2013

The Bookbinder, the Librarian & a Data Governance story

Over the last few years I have worked upon several high end Data Governance programmes and listened to several excellent (and even more awful) Data Governance presentations at conferences.  I have also had the honour of sitting on the panel of judges at the annual Data Governance best practice awards.

Two of the recurring themes, irrespective of Industry sector are:
1) How do you make the "business case" for Data Governance; and 
2) How best to encourage "the business" to take real ownership responsibility for data.

I intend to cover the first point in more detail in a separate blog posting, but for now the key thing to mention is to keep the case "real". Make it relevant to real business problems that are or have been encountered. Collect "horror stories" (note: please don't use the phrase "burning platforms" for horror stories if you ever intend to work in the Oil & Gas sector).  Armed with the horror stories develop strategies that demonstrate how the proposed DG approach would have trapped these (I like to use simple swim lane diagrams to illustrate these scenarios) and then develop interim transition organisation structures for the client to migrate to.

Moving to the "ownership" question, just how can you best encourage "the business" to take real ownership responsibility for data?  Firstly I hate the term "the business" but I'm not going to get all prissy and go on about that.
The challenge many people face regarding Business Ownership of data in the context of a Data Governance strategy is that most business folks either a) kind of assume its IT who do this anyway; and b) have little frame of reference as to what's actually involved ... what does the "own the data" really mean?  To many it sounds like extra work!

Trying to come up with a meaningful story or analogy relating to Data Ownership has proven difficult.
Then a few weeks ago whilst interviewing several CxO's during a DG strategy at a big Bank I had a light bulb moment.  In the fabulously lush offices were bookcases with some of the old ledgers from the banks early days.

During our discussions we reminisced about the days when the Accountants & Bankers would, using their best copperplate hand writing enter details into the ledgers in best double entry book keeping style.  They would also add to separate ledgers details of debtors and creditors.   Sometimes this would be done initially on vine vellum or parchment paper and then passed to the bookbinders to beautifully bind these together inside leather book covers and fabulous seam stitching.  Following this the bound ledgers would be filed by the librarians typically in date order but with additional customer index cards so that they could readily be accessed when required.

During our reminiscences, I said to the Bank CxO's "so it was the bookbinders who "owned" the data then as they controlled where it was stored?"
Light chortles ensued, so I replied, "well if not the bookbinders wasn't it the librarians who owned it as they were the people who controlled how it was indexed and archived to provide easy retrieval?"
No, no they said.  It's was the Chief Accountant or the Head Teller, or Account Manager who "owned" the data then as they were the real interface with the customers.

Ahhhh I smiled, so what's changed now?  Why have you passed "ownership" to the modern day bookbinders and librarians ie IT?

The "light bulb" revelation moment was priceless. At that point they got it.
Now I realise any analogy can be picked apart & before IT folks get too defensive I know there's more they do, however the analogy worked for these guys.
From this point on in our discussion, the concept of business ownership of data was firmly accepted. Following the CxO's endorsement of the DG programme the organisation structures, roles and responsibilities are slotting in nicely.  A key enabler to this program's success is getting the hearts & minds culture change message sorted and providing on-going mentoring to the Data owners.
IT are fully bought in & still "own" the technical systems environments whilst playing a major part in data custodianship.


  1. Hello ,
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  3. Data quality exists only when business users have a consistently high level of confidence in the accuracy,Adaptive products help organizations maintain high Data Quality and establish a “standard” root- cause identification process.

  4. Brianna, ISO 8000 defines quality data as portable data that meets stated requirements. Without a statemnt of requirements there is nothing to measure with.

    Chris, you may want to add copyright to your example (and it is a good one). The chief account would probably be horrified to learn that legally their data is a joint work and it can only be used subject to the terms of the application licence - yes the bookbinders really do own the data!

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  8. Great article. Data quality is important because without high-quality data, you cannot understand or stay in contact with your customers.
    In this data-driven age, it is easier than ever before to find out key information about current and potential customers.