Interview with Robert Seiner – The Guru of Data Governance

FIT Academy/ February 17, 2021/ ENG, Training/ 0 comments

In anticipation of the course scheduled for 25 and 26 February, which will be based on his book “Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success“, we wanted to ask Robert Seiner if he could give us some more information on the theoretical concepts behind Data Governance that led him to define his non-invasive approach, but also to understand its essence to become one of the world’s leading experts on the subject.

Let us start by asking you to give us a definition of data governance and explain why it is important for organizations today.

There are many definitions to data governance. My definition looks different than most people’s definitions. I consider data governance to be “the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data and data-related assets.” I word my definition strongly and to be honest, there are some people that do not like my definition very much because of how direct and strong it is stated. I truly believe that at the end of the day, organizations must execute and enforce authority – meaning that there must be order in how data is managed, tough decisions must be made, and that people may not always agree with the decisions, but they may still be in the best interest of the organization.”

What is the traditional approach to Data Governance?

“I compare the traditional approach to an American movie called the Field of Dreams. In this movie, the main character builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn fields because he keeps hearing the words, “if you build it, he will come.” The person builds the field with the expectation that someone will come and play baseball on the field. I compare this to data governance by pointing out that many organizations traditionally build data governance programs and expect that people will gravitate toward the program and begin to govern data on their own. People will not be told that they have to govern data. People will start to follow the program on their own and that people will start behaving the appropriate way toward data. The program is built, with the hopes that people will start to govern data. Traditionally, this works only a part of the time.”

Can you tell us how Data Governance can be “Non-Invasive”?

“Data Governance can be non-invasive if people are recognized into the role of steward based on their existing relationship to the data as people that define, produce and use data as part of their everyday jobs. People automatically are stewards if they are held formally accountable for how they define, produce and use data. The main premise of being non-invasive is that the organization is already governing data (in some form) and the issue is that they are doing it informally, leading to inefficiency and ineffectiveness in how the data is being governed. For example, people that use sensitive data are already expected to protect that data. The NIDG approach assure that these people know how data is classified, and they follow the appropriate handling procedures for the entire data lifecycle. You are already governing but you can do it a lot better. We are not going to overwhelm you with new responsibilities that you should already have.”

In your opinion, why do many organizations view data governance as a threat?

“The easiest answer to that question is that almost everybody looks at governance like they look at government. People think that data governance has to be difficult, complex and bureaucratic, when the truth is that it does NOT have to be that way. People are already governing and being governed within organizations, but it is being done informally. Change is always scary, so when people here about the fact that their data must be governed, their first thought turns to the idea that the discipline will be restricting and interfere with what they do. THAT is where the approach of non-invasive data governance comes into play. A friend of mine told me once that we should not call the discipline data governance because the data will do what we tell it to do. He told me that we should call it “People Governance” because the discipline really focuses on how people behave when they define, produce and use data. If we can help people to take these actions in a way that benefits the organization without upsetting their productivity (actually increasing their productivity), they will be much more willing to accept data governance as a practice and be less threatened.”

What are the main expected benefits for an organization with the “Non-Invasive” approach?

“The main benefit is that organizations will not be starting from zero (absolutely no governance). Organizations must recognize that they already govern their data (to some degree) or their organization would not have any opportunity for success (and thus could never be as successful as they have been – even though there is room for improvement). Another benefit is that, by following the non-invasive approach to data governance, we are not immediately handing people more responsibility or accountability, we are actually holding people formally accountable for things that they are already accountable for. For example, people that use sensitive data as part of their job (PII, PHI, IP, …), are already responsible for protecting that data and they may have informally been taught the rules associated with protecting that data. With the non-invasive approach, these people become thoroughly aware of the rules associated with protecting sensitive data and they are expected to follow the rules, even potentially being evaluated on how well they follow the rules. There are many benefits to the non-invasive approach including that people are told “you are already doing this” and that governance will be applied to processes rather than redefining how people do things. There are many more reasons and benefits that come from Non-Invasive Data Governance. People should read the book or attend training on the subject to learn those reasons.”

Who should be the person at the company that is most involved in implementing data governance and how can training facilitate the adoption of Data Governance?

“Best practice indicates that SOMEBODY must have the responsibility for defining, developing, implementing, adjusting, maintaining, monitoring and evaluating the progress of the Data Governance program. Without having the somebody to act in the role of the Data Governance Administrator or Lead, the program will be at risk immediately. So, without someone to steer the ship, you can expect to hit an iceberg or run aground in no time. That being said, the program must also reside SOMEWHERE in the organization. That place can be in a business area like Risk Management, Operations, Sales and Marketing, … or it can be located in IT (Information Technology) as long as the program is not viewed as being an IT initiative, and only good for IT. This information is also covered in the book and in the NIDG course.

To answer the second part of your question … the training, and reading the book, will help people to understand all aspects of staying non-invasive in the approach to data governance. This includes an introduction to the new Non-Invasive Data Governance framework (developed after the book was completed) that addresses all of the core components of data governance (data, roles, processes, communications, metrics and tools) from all of the organizational perspectives (executive, strategic, tactical, operation and support). Training also addresses how to assess your organization’s readiness for standing up a best practice Data Governance program, how to build a roadmap for success, how to define roles to match the culture of the organization, how to build and deliver on a communication plan, how to define and complete a proof of concept initiative and how that leads to successful operationalizing of a program, how the need for a formal program to senior leadership and convince stakeholders that the program is necessary, as well as many, many other topics. I strongly suggest that people that are focusing on implementing formal Data Governance programs attend the two-day training. You will not be sorry you did; it will be time well spent, and the course itself will save you a lot of time and provide you with a lot of things to consider when building a program and expecting that your organization will adopt a data governance culture as a way of managing your data as a valuable asset.

We are looking forward to seeing you during the course.”

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