Activity without purpose creates an illusion of progress while sabotaging all chances of real advancement.

Most companies want some form of Data Governance, even if the intent is not fully understood or without wide-spread agreement on what governing data really means to them.

What started as a control-agenda, has unfortunately largely remained as a control-function in many situations. Whatever the original driver was, the 7 reasons discussed here are still the primary cause of failure to do with anything related to data, including data enablement, data literacy and business transformation.

Do you know why your company embarked on the Chief Data Office / Data Governance initiative?

  • Someone high up in the company thought it was “cool” to start a function to manage data as an asset, because everybody is doing it?
  • Or maybe the unit was sprung up due to regulatory mandates.
  • Or your business leaders were tired of getting different numbers from different reports or even worse, different numbers when the same report was run multiple times.
  • Or your company truly recognized the opportunity that data can be used in an intelligent fashion to grow competitive advantage, gain operational efficiencies and be leveraged to run the business in a controlled, responsible and well-managed fashion. Kudos to your leaders for their foresight, if this was the original driver.

Usually it is a combination of several of the above list of items. But still, you find that somehow the CDO program does not seem to be delivering the intended results.

What are some of the most common hurdles that typically plagues large complex programs like a CDO initiative?

While there are numerous process, technical, funding, and complexity reasons that may cause failures, the most common reasons are foundational and many of them are related to people.

In working across several roles with responsibility for managing and governing data, I have seen time and again a few things that cause increased strain – like swimming against the current – when it comes to effective data management, governance and utilization. The hurdles are independent of the company, group, reporting structure etc.

Here is the list, in no order of priority.

1.      Lack of purpose

ProblemPurpose is clarity. Without a clear definition of the purpose of the CDO initiative / organization, the program is off to a doomed start. As the program matures, there could be expansion of responsibilities and movement of supplemental functions at any stage.

However, the “Why” needs to be clearly outlined and leadership must buy-into that Why, before the program kicks-off.

SolutionAs Simon Sinek states, “Start with Why”. Your why is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do. When there is clarity of purpose at the senior-most level of leaders in the company, the ability to squash all other challenges & hurdles is a given. Just don’t start because someone or some entity is stating that you need a CDO / data governance initiative.

If you already started, then at least now clarify the why, to make it easier going forward. If you don’t have a “Why”, you are better off not wasting valuable resources on something that is irrelevant for the company.

2.     Lack of Know-How

ProblemThere is enough drum-beat going on in the industry that CDO is a business-role. Which is great – to get the right visibility, support, funding and leverage, this needs to be a business role.

Most organizations promote or hire people who have been in one of the core business areas and move them to the CDO role. I have seen some people in PMO roles appointed CDO’s. Therein lies the problem.

The functions that a CDO need to support are not just the business side activities or rubber-stamp process items. There is a whole set of organizational design, business drivers, technology limitations, talent assessment, relationship building, capability assessment and understanding opportunities and limitations for data and analytics, vendor management, risk, compliance and regulatory aspects that relate to business processes, control gaps, data quality and finally the ability to bring up difficult issues and stand strong on good policy and principle to better managing data as an asset.

And it is a herculean task for any business manager to effectively get familiar with everything that the CDO role expects them to manage. That is an abyss of a lack of know-how that is hard to cover up.

SolutionFind a Business-Technologist to fill the role. Someone who can effectively understand and articulate general ledger, business strategy, risk exposure, customer royalty etc. and partner with the CEO, CFO or COO while also can understand the technology opportunities, needs and limitations and can effectively partner with the CIO and the technology organization. It is hard to find these folks who have been on both-sides, but the effort will be worth it.

Alternatively, if finding someone with the wide-range of exposure is the issue, hire a good advisor who can help partner with the CDO and the key leaders in the company, who can guide the program as it shapes up. That provides an opportunity to groom capable people from the internal pool, under the guidance of someone who has been there and done it.

3.     Lack of Visibility, Promotion and Ignorance / Indifference

ProblemMarketing for a new function is a tough activity. Being new, the CDO function is bound to attract a lot of questions, from across the organization, of the type “what does your team do? Or how can I engage you?”.

Poor communication and marketing efforts that fail to get the visibility for the program is a major issue. This challenge is intensified when senior leaders are either ignorant or show indifference to the program.

SolutionOver communicate and ensure your team members know what the objectives are and that they act as ambassadors of the initiative.

  • Organize small-group meetings as often as needed, engage teams across functions - data providers, processors, consumers - ask questions and seek help where they can get engaged.
  • Get as much air-time with the executives who need to understand the initiative’s purpose. Not all will understand, get involved or support directly, but it is still better to spread the awareness than let the ignorance hanging.
  • For those who are getting it and are showing interest, find ways to make them a champion for the program.
  • Help them realize their “What’s-In-It-For-Me” to support the CDO function better. Even with all these efforts, some people will not understand your efforts. You will have a bigger problem if those "some people" also happen to be power-players in the organization.
  • Above all, understand that large-scale change takes time and focus on small-wins - eventually, with the right support, change will happen.

4.     Stuck in Current-State, Resistance and Denial

ProblemCDO function, by its very intent, will challenge status quo. After all, when we take a closer look at all the ways data can be positioned as an asset for the company, it is bound to cause some changes on people, groups, processes, tools and platforms. Maybe the company is running on infrastructure, convoluted processing, practices, and architecture that is more than a decade old. Or there is lack of industry exposure to controls, governance and talent that is needed to manage data the right way.

Identifying the issues is one thing but realizing what needs to be done to fix the issues and acting on recommendations is totally a different thing. This is mostly the toughest area to overcome, as forces will be actively working against the initiative if there are pockets in the company who feel the program is detrimental to their long-standing job security or expert status.

SolutionAssess current state, analyze findings, formulate recommendations and Act. When you have people with know-how, the first three are easy to get through. It is a lot of work, but a comprehensive current state evaluation helps in establishing the baseline. Every company needs to know where they are now, to craft a realistic CDO program.

The last one, Act, however, needs leaders with fortitude and drive. Fortitude to accept the findings and recommendations and the drive to make a change for the good. Fortitude to acknowledge that what we have, served its purpose, but change is needed now to do what is right for the company. Drive to challenge teams and people and move them towards the future by leading through times of change. The right level of executive support is critical to break through the organizational barriers.

5.     Talent gap

ProblemIf lack of know-how is an issue, that is primarily because we have a talent gap. In the earlier decades, data management was handled as an IT function. Teams were tasked with building the infrastructure, developing code that moved data from files or systems into a database, data warehouse or a data mart. It was viewed as records in and records out. And the business users did what they wanted with the data.

With the increased focus on the CDO function, data management is being taken more seriously, and rightfully so. There is expectation for sound architecture, process controls, reconciliation, checks and balances, data security, privacy protection of customer data, adequateness of coverage, reporting controls around distribution, scope and frequency, data quality measurements, issue identification, logging, research & analysis, data and process remediation, and ensuring that executives know about the data that they own and manage with the expectation that they provide a stamp of approval for what is reported out.

Good luck finding people with the skill-sets to manage this in entirety.

SolutionIt should not be a surprise to know that we don’t have enough people with the right skill-sets. Three approaches have worked for me in this area. Firstly, be willing to go geographically wide in your search for talent.

Consider remote employees if you must. Animated movies are co-produced by people in LA and Bengaluru, there is no reason why your CDO team cannot function if the team members are in different cities / countries.

Secondly, pair-up employees as they work on different aspects of the CDO initiative. This greatly helps with cross-learning. This is also the way to ensure your people can cover more ground and you are not required to build a large team to handle different things as their skill-sets are very disparate.

Thirdly, partner with a good vendor who can help build core capabilities strength quickly.

6.     Misplaced Priorities, Dependencies & Constant Change

ProblemCDO initiatives add a new dimension to the already busy book-of-work that most companies have. There are new stakeholders, deadlines, mandates, priorities, fire drills and the inter-dependencies between these demands can get complicated that things move often and move again till a suitable working rhythm is attained.

CDO / data governance is a multi-year initiative and it needs adequate level of commitment and support even in BAU phase. There will always be changes and cross-impacts, and you can never avoid them as the business will need to move, change, modify and grow.

SolutionInstead of looking at this as a problem, try viewing it as an opportunity to address issues that were always swept under the rug. Maybe the “we have always done it this way” or “this is the only way we will handle projects going forward” approaches needs some rethinking.

We may need to introduce a hybrid approach, to handle these new demands, manage project inter-dependency, handle prioritization and allocation of budget and resources.

New demands need new ways of looking at things and it is OK to change the ways we use to manage the shop. The method is a means to an end and if the result is desired outcome for the company, embrace change.

7.     Many Masters & Many Crafters

Problem: “Too-many-cooks” problem is not good for the kitchen and not good for the food that you end up eating. By nature of the CDO initiative, if well planned, it will touch across the entire business. Due to that, many people from across the business functions are either pulled into the initiative or want to join in.

Participation is great, if it is from the right set of people, with good intentions and with the right skill-sets. Often, there would be too many people trying to provide direction, inputs, prioritization and “expert” advice.

SolutionOnce you have laid out the purpose of the initiative, appointed a CDO who has the know-how, defined the expectations, ensure that the role is provided adequate authority and get out of the way.

Executive support is needed to help secure budget, focus and to clear out hurdles that may come up within each of the business functions. Executives must help establish collaborative partnerships but also isolate and remove disruptions, free-thinkers without the relevant background and hard-bargainers.

This is critical because while many people can and must show support and interest, there cannot be many directors trying to develop the play.

If the organization is truly interested in reaping benefits from the program, adequate authority, funding and support is key as well as working actively to minimize turbulence from selfish interests.

What are some of the challenges/issues that you have come across managing or participating in your data governance program?

(Initially published on LinkedIn on Feb 15, 2017)

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