Difference between data management and data governance

A law firm perspective

One of the most common misconceptions that I encounter is the confusion between data management and data governance. I’m sure that when you started considering a data governance implementation within your law firm, the people you talked to asked you something like

But doesn’t the data management team do data governance?

Why is this confusion a problem for you?

They might not say it, but it’s what they hear

Firstly, it’s essential to recognise that even if you do not hear this misconception verbally, you can guarantee it is what many people think when they hear’ data governance’. Of course, this is perfectly understandable. Many people consider management and governance to be synonymous, and therefore these terms are easily confused.

But the real cause of confusion stems from data governance being a relatively new and poorly understood concept within the law sector. For example, Shearman & Sterling were one of the first data governance success stories in the press, starting in 2018. So it’s fair to say data governance is not a widely adopted and understood term across the sector.

Lack of Stakeholder Support

Where there is confusion about data governance and whether someone is already delivering it, you invariably experience blockading and a lack of support. Without a clear understanding of the difference between data governance and data management, it’s too easy for stakeholders to point to other teams as ‘responsible for data governance.

Stakeholders only buy in to change when they understand the need for it and what the impact on their role is going to be. If they think someone else is doing it already, they will never accept that they need to do something about it.

If your firm isn’t on the same page regarding data governance and how it benefits the entire firm, you’ll find it far more challenging to build out your data governance roadmap. They will find a million and one creative ways to say ‘no’ if they don’t believe that what you are doing is needed by them (personally and for their teams).

So, what is the solution?

Write your own definitions

First, you need to define in clear terms what you and your team understand to be the difference between the terms ‘data governance’ and ‘data management’.

Getting to an agreed definition can sometimes be tricky because everyone defines them in slightly different ways. It also depends on whether you are speaking to someone from the IT Team or not.

If you turn to the internet for help, you will find many vendors and professional membership organisations definitions and explanations. The language used and roles implied in these suggestions don’t always fit with a law firm operational model. They usually reflect the shape of the big corporates and banks where these concepts originated.

These definitions need to be relevant for your firm. They should reflect the language that the firm’s people use. It’s always worth including some critical stakeholders in the development of your definitions.

A simple data management and data governance statement

Iron Carrot has worked with several law firms over the last few years. We know that it’s always easier to have people comment on a draft than to try and start the discussion with a blank page.

Using our experience, we have come up with a simple statement that you can adapt for your firm with that in mind.

Data Management is the collective term for all the operational activities that collect, store, look after, protect, use, archive, or destroy internal and client data.

Data Governance is the strategic cross-functional coordination of data objectives, accountabilities, and responsibilities to support transparency and clarity of (predominately) the firm’s data in support of the firm’s strategy.

This statement makes the distinction apparent. Data management is what gets done, and data governance is why and who is doing it.

Communicate with the broader firm

The next step would be to clarify the distinction in your communication with the broader firm so that everyone understands and buys into the value that you bring.

In our previous law firm engagements, we’ve achieved this by doing things like:

  • Making it the opening slide on workshops
  • Talking about it with the key stakeholders
  • Spelling it out on the Intranet page
  • Including it as part of webinar training

The outcome of delivering the definition through these forms of communication was resolving the confusion about the difference and getting far more traction and support throughout the firm.

Iron Carrot Top Tip

Once you have agreed with some critical stakeholders on the definitions of data management and data governance, spend some time thinking about how they will look to create consistency everywhere you use them. This consistency and the repetition of seeing the definitions in different places will make it easier to understand and remember the difference.

Think about questions like these to help you agree on how the definitions will look on documents, intranet pages and slides.

  • Are they separate sentences with a space between them or one paragraph?
  • Will we use bold or small caps to highlight the term names or other parts of the sentence(s)?
  • Is the text always going to be black, or will we use the firm’s brand colours?
  • Will this be text at all – or do we create a graphic?

Summing up and next steps

Data management and data governance definitions

An essential step to getting buy-in and support for adopting data governance at your law firm is making sure that everyone is clear on the difference between data governance and data management.

It would be best to write the definitions in your firm’s language, using terms that will resonate with your stakeholders. Your definitions need to explain that data management is what gets done, data governance is why and who is doing it.

How to get help

If you would like to find out more about the importance of definitions to stakeholder engagement or to talk about your data governance initiative, use this button to book a call with me.