Navigating data regulation: achieving data governance success in a post-GDPR world

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We are living in a world driven by data. It has become both a plentiful and invaluable resource that, despite its intangibility, is gathered, hoarded, analysed and, occasionally, stolen. Data – what to do with it and how to keep it safe – has become the preoccupation of individuals, businesses and policy-makers alike. As the government cracks-down on data protection and the public grows wary of how companies handle their personal information, businesses are being forced to navigate an increasingly tricky minefield of regulation and threats. 

While the importance of data protection shouldn’t need spelling-out, the importance of data governance isn’t always as intrinsic. In short, data governance describes the strategy a company has in place to ensure its data is secure and in compliance with regulation. While General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has essentially made data governance mandatory for any company interested in avoiding mammoth fines, businesses shouldn’t be tempted to simply do the bare-minimum to comply. 

Here at Hitachi Vantara, we believe that data governance isn’t just a box-ticking exercise to dodge regulation pit-falls; it’s a business imperative that, if done well, can also be a competitive asset rather than simply a burden to bear. Yet business both big and small, spanning across different industries, are still grappling with the same resounding question: “Where do I start?”. 

Find where you are, see where you’re going

The first step to getting anywhere is knowing where you are right now. As obvious as it may seem, often the place to start is simply knowing what data you have, where it is and who uses it for what. Worryingly, many businesses can’t confidently answer any of these questions. With most large organisations, data may be fragmented across departments, and even geographies, so the prospect of pinning it down may seem as promising as herding cats, but the exercise is absolutely worth the effort. 

This audit should help to paint an accurate picture of where your business sits on a data governance maturity scale, which should ultimately help to direct your entire data governance strategy. Does your company already have a strong data governance program in place, with a dedicated and experienced team driving it, or is your data management sporadic and reactionary? Addressing these questions as honestly as possible, and as early on as possible, will lay the crucial foundation for forging a path forward.

Take small steps to success 

As with any challenge, setting a clear goal and striving towards it, one step at a time, will make organising your company’s immense volumes of disparate data an infinitely more manageable task. Once you’ve surveyed your environment and established the bigger picture, diving into the details of your data will determine the best path of action to take. ‘Heatmaps’ are a handy tool for visualising your company’s data problem areas and identifying where to focus your efforts first. Setting short-term targets for tackling the low-hanging fruit and most pressing problems, as well as long-term goals, will ultimately keep your data governance program on-track and momentum going as you start ticking-off those key milestones. 

Have someone steer the way 

Appoint a data governance champion, with a deep and broad understanding of both regulation and your company. This individual should be a Chief Data Officer, or equivalent, capable of sitting amongst the C-suite and operating across the entire business. Some hear “data governance” and leap reflexively to this being an IT-specific agenda. However, as mentioned, data has become a vital business asset and should be treated as such. Data governance should touch almost every part of the business, from IT to marketing, and having a CDO capable of a birds-eye view of the entire company will be crucial to seamlessly rolling-out initiatives across practices. 

Of course, this is a tall ask for one person to undertake alone. To further promote synergy between IT and the wider business, a steering committee of data stewards with diverse skillsets ranging across disciplines will keep your company’s data governance strategy laser-focused and effective. Of course, the assembly of a new team of professionals is a considerable commitment for any business, requiring co-ordination with HR leadership and recruitment, as well as the endorsement of key stakeholders. However, particularly for large organisations, a dedicated data governance team is an essential investment to achieve a structured and successful strategy. 

Measuring success 

Although ‘data’ has become a familiar buzzword in almost every industry, data protection has become, for some, a cumbersome phrase associated with arduous regulation and fearmongering. When considering implementing an effective data governance program, and even enlisting a whole new team to drive it, engaging the support of stakeholders will be crucial.

Routinely proving the value of data governance, with tangible evidence, will ensure that your program maintains momentum and goes beyond fighting fires. Data governance is more than simply a solution to regulation, it is a proactive driver of business revenue that can help your company make better business decisions, faster. However, taking this rhetoric beyond a PowerPoint slide and into the minds of the decision-makers will require more tangible results. 

Getting serious about your metrics, and how to present results in an impactful and clear way, will help celebrate your wins and prove your program’s value. This will also help you to demonstrate true ROI, which can range from reducing risk to optimising spending and reducing enterprise expenditure. Implementing a structured reporting schedule as a way of presenting quantifiable ROI in a transparent and accessible way to key decision makers may mark the difference between a “doing-just-enough” data governance strategy and one that reaps genuine value for the business in the long-term.

Darren Barker, VP & GM UK&I at Hitachi Vantara 

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