Keeping an eye on your data
As the volume and complexity of data continues to grow, organisations must put in place governance processes to protect their data and ensure its efficient and responsible use.
By Dr. Jonathan Reichental, Professor and Author
"Quality data at scale can contain remarkable answers and insights."
Every business today is a technology business, each generating vast amounts of data. This has created remarkable opportunities and challenges.
The datasphere, the term for all the data we’ve created so far, is around 100 zettabytes and it’s going to double in about three years. A zettabyte, a term unfamiliar to many, is a large number. It’s one followed by 21 zeros. To put this in perspective, you’d need one billion terabyte hard drives to store one zettabyte of data. This scale of data and the velocity in which it is being created is consequential for every organisation.
Data is the most valuable asset
A consensus has formed in the business and data communities that data has now reached a point in which it is the most important asset in every organisation. My own research validates this.
Quality data at scale can contain remarkable answers and insights. With the right skills and tools, organisations can leverage data to enable improved decision-making and optimised operations. They can use data to drive competitive advantage, unleash innovation, and solve a wide range of intractable problems for business and society.
But achieving these results with data doesn’t happen without deliberate effort. The power of data is only realised through skillful governance.
The importance of governance
Whether we call it data governance or not, every organisation has some form of oversight for the data it handles. It could be as simple as knowing that data is being backed-up, or where certain data is located and who has access to it. Data governance, informal and formal, spans a wide continuum of approaches. However, it all comes down to this: is data being fully managed in the organisation and is its value being realised?
So, what does this actually mean in practice?
"The governance and management of data has become an actual science."
Defining data governance
At a high level, we can define data governance as data that is managed well. In aspiring to achieve high performance in managing data, we must ask to what degree are there agreed policies and processes for handling, for example, sensitive, legal, and regulatory data requirements? Are there documented accountabilities, formal decision structures, and enforcement rules for data? The right talent, processes, and technologies must exist. These are some of the many core attributes of good governance.
Today, the governance and management of data has become an actual science. There’s a wide range of data science professions and supporting educational programs. Software for supporting these professions has exploded in recent years, including incredible solutions for analytics, visualisation, and more. Increasingly, they are being powered by artificial intelligence.
Governance is a choice
In the absence of quality data governance, an organisation will never fully realise the potential of data and in fact, may subject itself to increasing levels of risk over time. These risks include inadvertently using bad data, experiencing privacy challenges, and suffering from the consequences of weak cybersecurity.
The demand for high-quality data governance and its promise is quickly making it a core function of an increasing number of organisations. Data can create important value for every organisation and to achieve this in an optimum fashion requires high-performing data governance. If it’s implemented well, it can be transformational.
Dr. Jonathan Reichental is a multiple-award-winning technology and business leader whose career has spanned both the private and public sectors. He’s been a senior software engineering manager, a director of technology innovation, and has served as chief information officer at both O’Reilly Media and the City of Palo Alto, California. Reichental is currently the founder of advisory, investment, and education firm, Human Future, and also creates online education for LinkedIn Learning. He has written three books on the future of cities: Smart Cities for Dummies, Exploring Smart Cities Activity Book for Kids, and Exploring Cities Bedtime Rhymes. His latest books include Data Governance for Dummies and a Cryptocurrency QuickStart Guide.
This article was published originally in QS Insights Magazine 05.