How Data Governance Can Increase Confidence in Uncertain Times

By Tim O’Connor
Managing Editor

One of the challenges of getting accurate data on the COVID-19 crisis is that everyone seems to be using different numbers. There appears to be a lack of data standards and measurement practices among state health departments, leading to inconsistent information on patient attributes such as ethnicity, county, blood type, and other vital data for tracking the virus’ spread.

As the World Health Organization (WHO) collects and analyzes data from state and local governments across the globe, it must translate information across different languages and measurements units, while also assessing the quality of that data. Managing all that incoming information so that it can be turned into actionable insights on infection rates, community spread, and risk assessments requires good data governance.

The same challenge with data governance faced by the WHO is replicated at companies in every industry, says Joe Leithauser who leads the data governance and analytics practice of Infoverity, an Ohio-based provider of information management solutions. Every department within an organization often has its own language and own way of tracking data. That creates a need to translate that information for others across these organizations, which stalls the sharing of important data.

The other part of the equation is the quality and dependability of the data. If a department generates a report that is missing data the reader expects to be there, they won’t have confidence in the entire document. Further, differing data definitions can lead to situations where multiple people create the same report but come up with different answers. That undermines the confidence in data quality as well. “People need to trust the data you give them,” Leithauser says.

How Data Governance Can Help FEDA Members

Data governance can help companies address those issues. Effective data governance is more than a concept for managing data within an organization to improve consistency and avoid confusion; rather it is a lifestyle that works best when it permeates the entire company. Businesses that implement data management can see the flow of information and understand where that information comes from. If a conflict in the data does arise, they are also better equipped to identify where that conflict originated and resolve it.

FEDA is working with Infoverity to help members implement data governance, beginning with product information. That starts with understanding the definitions around a product when it is listed in a solution such as AutoQuotes. What does a product name mean and what format should it be in? What are its dimensions? If it’s a range, what kind of burner does it use? Knowing those answers enables distributors and channel partners to have a common vernacular and shared understanding of the product they are looking at.

For standardizing descriptions and vocabulary, Tom Morrissey, director of the Great Lakes Region for Infoverity, advises distributors to start by focusing on the details of a single set of products, such as cookware. He recommends picking 50-200 attributes that their team says they must know for every order. By working with manufacturers, FEDA members can set those standards across the various channels, making it much easier, faster, and more uniform when researching customer questions or identifying replacement parts.

Beginning Implementation

The benefits of a robust data governance program can entice companies to think big, but Morrissey urges organizations to start small with manageable goals. When working with clients, Morrissey starts by identifying who owns the data and who acts as the stewards. Those are the people who understand the tools and the quality of the data, and they often already have informal data governance programs in place. Those stewards can then be enlisted to develop a formal program and associated policies around data management that can be rolled out to the entire business.

“Many organizations already have informal activities in place that support data governance. What we do is formalize the informal stuff and fill in the gaps on what is not being done,” Morrissey says.

Notably, Leithauser says that data governance cannot be the exclusive domain of a company’s IT department. Company leaders from all functions must also be involved for it to gain momentum and become standard practice. “If this is an IT-only led initiative and the business folks aren’t involved it can fail,” he explains.

To avoid failure, there are six tenets of data governance that Infoverity believes every organization should follow:

  • Start small: prove value to the business and develop a reasonable roll-out plan
  • Formalize data governance: utilize established, time-tested processes to implement change
  • Think forward: create approaches today that are flexible to address needs of the future
  • Engage “the business”: bridge the gap between IT and business functions
  • Drive toward common definitions: understand different definitions across the enterprise and shift toward standardization
  • Configure the solution: find the right mix of centralized process management and decentralized process adoption to fit the company culture

From those tenets, companies can introduce the concepts of data governance and get their employees engaged. “People like to talk about and share their experiences with data that has been inconsistent,” Leithauser notes. Having those discussions, he adds, lets them know they aren’t alone and it doesn’t have to be this way. Poor data standards can be fixed.

“Those stories as people see the data improve are going to be incredibly powerful,” Leithauser says.