What is Data Governance?

What is Data Governance?

Data Governance is a collection of practices and processes which help to ensure the proper management of data assets within an organisation.

Data Governance often includes concepts such as Data Ownership and Data Quality to help a firm gain better control over its data assets. Implementation includes methods, technologies, and behaviours around the proper management of data.

It also deals with security and privacy, integrity, usability, integration, compliance, availability, roles and responsibilities, and overall management of a Firm’s internal and external data flows.

Data Governance identifies and treats with equal importance:

  • People (who have ownership and accountability),
  • Processes (how/when data moves through it’s lifecycle), and
  • Technology (how/what system(s) is/are used, middleware, ETL).

Why do we need a definition?

Before doing anything, it is essential to have a common understanding of the subject. The literal words ‘data’ and ‘governance’ are open to interpretation (separately or combined into a phrase).

By having a simple definition, we can be sure that the term is commonly understood and the meaning is clear to all stakeholders who engage with it.

It also stops people ‘Googling it’ – there are so many definitions on the internet that it’s hard to know which one applies to law firms. Most of these are long and confusing too.

Our definition sets out what data governance is, and more importantly, what it is not.

What are the most common Data Governance mistakes?

Leaving data governance to the Technology Team

If there is anything in the firm that is not IT’s problem, it is data governance. With the best of intentions, this team will focus on activities like data cleansing and buying more IT tools to do it for them.

Actual data governance is when business services and legal teams take accountability for their data – but getting them to do this relies on a well-designed change management program.

Trying to implement data governance as a project

If you’re not giving Data Governance to IT, you might hand it to the Strategy Team or the Project Management Office (PMO) instead. It’s a logical mistake to make because it looks like a simple implementation project.

This method focuses on checking tasks off a list with a defined deadline rather than embedding organisational change and making iterative improvements over time.

Adopting data governance works best when you create a new Centre of Excellence with a supporting cross-functional framework that improves transparency and communication between the teams which manage the firm’s data.

Focusing on the data, not the firm’s strategy

It is natural for stakeholders to retreat to familiar data habits when faced with challenges or changes. This behaviour is prevalent with the subject matter experts embedded in the firm’s data’s operational layer.

Consequently, there is a desire to focus on ‘their data’ and departmental objectives. It would help if you overcame this focus before managing data differently to help the firm achieve its overall strategy.

Your implementation needs to communicate the benefits of change to ‘their data’ and ‘their role’ because unless the stakeholders believe that data governance will help the firm achieve its strategic goals, they will disengage at best. At worst, tell other people it’s a waste of time.

Not supporting your people

It would be best to have a high-level understanding of how data is held and managed in your firm. Having a broad knowledge of the relationships between teams, data, and systems helps you get a sense of where cross-functional communication isn’t happening.

Data Governance goes deeper than stakeholder buy-in, it requires a change to the firm’s data management culture, and that’s not going to happen in a time and cost boxed project. The people empowered to manage your data better need guidance to understand what’s expected of them and training to develop skills and understanding that they may not have.

These framework group members will need training and support at every stage of data governance, not just in the adoption or implementation phases. You need to help them integrate the data governance framework and data management tasks into their daily activities to become a regular part of their day job.

Trying to sprint instead of running a marathon

Organisational change takes time to plan, implement, support, and embed. Since we’re trying to make data governance a regular part of peoples roles, it makes sense not to overload them with new projects, tasks, and initiatives from the start.

When you take a structured, phased approach to data governance, you are more likely to keep your stakeholders positively engaged. You can better effect meaningful, long term changes to the management of data.

The Iron Carrot definition of Data Governance

Data Governance is the framework that enables conversations between the right people to improve the firm’s strategic data management.

What data governance is

Data governance has the right roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities to support the firm’s people to better manage the firm’s data, which contributes to delivering the firm’s strategic goals.

There are documents, standards, best practices, etc., which can also help, but fundamentally it is about the activities of people, mainly how they work together cross-functionally.

What data governance is not

  • Data privacy – that’s the Data Protection Officer (DPO)’s or General Counsel’s problem
  • Data security – that’s the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)’s problem
  • Data retention – that’s the Record Management Team’s problem

Summing up and next steps

In short

Data governance is about supporting and empowering people to change how they manage data for the ultimate benefit of the firm. The focus of your implementation effort should be on planning, communicating, and managing this change.

Want some help?

We have developed a unique data governance road-mapping approach to help law firm leaders launch the proper foundation for data governance through our extensive law firm background.

Our five-step road mapping process quickly helps law firms deliver a complete framework and plan for assuring the governance and quality of their data so that law firms can realise their strategic goals.

If you want to learn more about data governance, our road mapping process, or how we can help you: