Government and commercial organizations are becoming much more interested in leveraging their data, establishing data labs and standing up self-service environments. Most start small and dream big. In the federal government, agencies are working toward meeting the President's Management Agenda (PMA) objectives in treating data as an asset.
The progression from small-scale implementation to an enterprise ecosystem, however, is not linear. As the organization scales up, it has to add a layer of governance. Governance is the key ingredient to enabling scale, and organizations that fail to consider it subject themselves to increased risk and costs.
Governance enables true business collaboration that leads to increased confidence in decision making which, in turn, increases innovation and growth. Often overlooked, governance can act as a powerful tool in supporting innovation across the enterprise, enabling cultural change, driving new capabilities and helping to better enable an organization’s ecosystem to serve its customers.
Unfortunately, many organizations still see governance as a finger-wagging roadblock, favoring control over flexibility. To an extent, that perception is accurate; the mistake lies in seeing those controls as a hindrance rather than a necessary guide.
In most agencies today, the business side—not the IT department—owns the data-centric and analytics initiatives. This shift makes governance even more critical.
Governance done right allows organizations to scale up more effectively and become more efficient.
The “done right” part of that phrase matters. Good governance is not just imposing a set of controls—the controls have to be chosen and tailored to match the specific parameters of the program to which they apply.
Consider these best practices that are achievable and can bring value to a successful governance program:
- Be non-invasive. Agencies should look to apply governance to existing processes whenever possible, rather than establishing new ones.
- Don’t over-engineer. Keep policies and procedures simple and outcome-focused to reduce internal frustration and conflict. This also usually reduces time to implement and increases buy-in across the organization.
- Dedicate resources. Resources are needed—especially in the beginning—to allow the organization to drive change and reach the maturity necessary to demonstrate business value. Automate governance wherever possible to reduce the strain on resources.
- Focus on collaboration. The focus is on data and analytical improvements to increase transparency and collaboration, not control. The goal is to provide quality data, analytical services and tools to the stakeholder community to improve their daily jobs and the overall ability to make decisions.
- Use change agents. Change agents and data stewards are the backbone of many governance programs. It is critical when selecting them to choose people who not only possess the necessary technical skills, but also know how to collaborate with people and build alliances.
Of course, the ideal approach will differ from one agency to another based on a given organizational structure, size and needs. Still, the above practices are common and frequently helpful across a wide variety of organizations.
Effective governance programs should—at a minimum—include accountability measures, best practices, trainings, communications activities and an action plan. The focus should be placed on workforce management and organizational change management as cultural challenges, not technology, often are the most difficult parts of creating sustainable governance.
Governance can’t solve all data-related business or IT problems. But it can establish a framework for agencies to more easily scale to meet user demands, become more effective and efficient in managing data as an asset and, most importantly, begin using analytics for confident decision making.
For more on the importance of data in digital transformation, download this fact sheet: Data solutions for federal digital transformation.