Nov 02 2023
Data Center

Data Governance: What It Is and How It Enhances Data Management

Data governance ensures that state governments properly handle and protect critical data.

State government needs policies and procedures to ensure data is accurate and handled properly from the start. Data governance fills that role: It helps organizations define and manage the ways in which data is input, stored, accessed and ultimately deleted.

So, what Is Data Governance? Data governance represents “a set of processes, policies and practices that ensure an organization’s structured data is regulation-compliant throughout its lifecycle by assessing its quality, security and accessibility,” says Bill Rowan, vice president of public sector strategy and sales at Splunk.

The responsibilities of data governance include establishing the infrastructure and technology; managing processes and policies; and identifying those within that system who have both the authority and responsibility for handling and safeguarding specific types of data, according to SAP.

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Why Is Data Governance Important for State and Local Governments? 

Data governance is crucial for state and local governments “not only because we live in a world that is more data-driven than ever, but also because a great deal of confidential information flows through these institutions’ operational systems,” Rowan says.

Given the high value of state-held data, government needs strong controls. “Data governance is the key to preserving the integrity of data,” Rowan says. “Through an established data governance policy, state and local agencies’ data becomes more usable and protected, which allows them to make smarter decisions to advance their mission.”

Strong governance ensures state agencies can get maximum value from the information on hand. “We have so many disparate systems collecting data, sometimes redundantly across departments, across architectures. It’s really now about trying to bring standards together,” says Don Ingle, SAP industry executive adviser and former CIO of the city of Boulder, Colo.

Data governance also addresses security, “the handling of sensitive information, including personal and financial data on citizens,” Ingle says. “Any time that becomes part of the equation, it’s important to have security measures to classify data, to protect it.”

Good governance supports government compliance efforts and helps improve service delivery.

“Leaders in state and local governments are asking, how are we going to provide services to the citizens?” says Tom Scurlock, regional vice president for state and local government at data management company Talend. “You can’t modernize your systems without addressing data governance.”

DISCOVER: How counties upgraded on-premises data centers.

What Is the Role of a State Chief Data Officer in Data Governance? 

The state chief data officer plays a pivotal role in organizing and implementing data governance.

At a high level, “they set the data culture. They’re the conductor at the top, responsible for defining and deploying that strategy within the organization,” Scurlock says.

“The agencies in the states and cities that are at the forefront today have a data governance committee that includes a data steward, analysts and data specialists. The steward — the chief data officer — is the most important because that role controls everything within the policies and workflows of the data governance framework,” he says.

At the state and agency levels, the CDO “oversees how the organization manages its data strategy, which includes data governance,” Rowan says. “The CDO is also responsible for the success of the organization’s programs by securing approval for the assets needed to run a successful data governance program. This includes funding, staffing, assessing the program’s progress and advocating for it within the organization.”

The CDO’s role, in part, is to help others understand the value of data and the importance of strong governance.

“The data governance program must establish an organizationwide culture that says ‘learn and then love your data’ among the non-IT business units,” Ingle says. “The CDO needs to work with the CIO and functional department leaders to ensure that there is a positive people-and-process focus to data governance.”

The role of the CDO will vary from state to state. “Some will make them highly technical, focused on using automated tools to better integrate systems, things of that nature,” Ingle says. “The best definition is, it’s a person who synthesizes the technology, the people and the processes together. It’s really about creating a culture around data ownership, policy development and strategy.”

Bill Rowan
The abundant nature of data means it can be incredibly overwhelming in any given organization, but incorporating data governance practices ensures the consistency, reliability and overall security of a business’s data.”

Bill Rowan Vice President of Public Sector Strategy and Sales, Splunk.

How Can Data Governance Improve Data Quality? 

Data governance can improve data quality “by providing standards for data entry and information gathering that enhance the efficiency of the data collection process,” Rowan says.

“The abundant nature of data means it can be incredibly overwhelming in any given organization, but incorporating data governance practices ensures the consistency, reliability and overall security of a business’s data,” he says.

For both on-premises data and cloud data, “there are a lot of incredible data governance tools that exist right now that can help you handle the full lifecycle of data management,” Ingle says.

A data management platform “inventories and catalogs your data. It helps you with quality management,” he says. “It can help with security and access control. It develops workflows around data governance. If you’re going to allow a new data set to be part of your enterprise data model, a data management platform creates workflows for approving and making sure that you’re classifying data correctly.”

When you have better controls, “then your quality is going to improve, because you have visibility into it,” Scurlock says. “If you don’t have all of that, then you can’t trust the data.”

LEARN MORE: What agencies should know about software-defined data centers.

What Are Three Pillars of a Data Governance Framework?

A data governance framework “defines policy and standards, the roles and responsibilities of data governance, and the toolsets by which data governance operates,” Scurlock says.

“Data is a valuable asset; you can’t have operational efficiency without it. The framework is a playbook, a blueprint for managing the data inside the organization,” he says.

At Splunk, Rowan defines three pillars that constitute a data governance framework:

1. Policies and standards “are the components by which data utilization, quality, security and confidentiality are established. This is important for maintaining the accuracy, integrity and overall regulation compliance of an organization with sensitive data,” he says.

2. The roles and responsibilities of data governance must be clearly defined to properly manage an organization’s structured data. “A critical role in developing a data governance program is specifying a data owner who oversees the movement of data from a given domain across communication channels and businesses,” Rowan says. 

“Another important role is data steward, who is in charge of the daily administration of data to ensure it remains of high quality and is compliant with regulatory requirements. Data owners and stewards are then guided by a data governance manager, who is responsible for employing data governance protocols,” he says.

3. The tools by which data governance operates are important. Data governance relies heavily on automation, “so to execute a successful program, the team needs to ensure it has the right tools,” Rowan says. “Having the right tools in place can greatly improve program and workflow management, collaboration, policy development, process documentation and the generation of data catalogs.”

How Does Data Governance Differ from Information Governance?

In general, data governance can be seen as a subset of the broader function of information governance.

“Whereas information governance is broader and concerned with analyzing all types of information for the purpose of using it to improve a business or mission, data governance is solely focused on the policies, standards and roles guiding data usage,” Rowan says.

For instance, information governance might be used by an archivist. “It’s a broad area of document management, how documents are stored and archived, for example, to meet state requirements,” Ingle says. “Data governance is focused more on digital data, the quality of it, the integrity of it, and how it is managed, curated and secured.”

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