Thursday, May 17, 2012

Data Governance and the Not So Thirsty Horse

What's that old joke? The one about the deeply religious man caught in his house as flood waters rise around him.  Early in the piece as the waters are only a few feet deep a dingy arrives to take him to safety and he refuses, saying "I'll be fine, the Lord will look after me". Later, as the water rises and forces him to the house's upper story, a bigger boat arrives and those on board implore him to leave his house and come with them. Once again he answers "I'll be fine the Lord will look after me". Some hours later as he is perched dangerously on his roof with water lapping at his feet a helicopter descends and those on board urge him to leave before it is too late. But the man is insistent - "The Lord will look after me, I don't need you to save me". Not long later the waters rise again and the man is swept away to his death. Arriving in Heaven he is confused and, on being granted an audience with God, asks Him "Lord, I put my faith in you. I trusted you. Why didn't you save me?". God looks at him somewhat incredulously and asks "what more did you want? I sent you a dingy, a boat and a helicopter!"

On more than one occasion in my career I've marvelled at how much that joke paralleled what was going on around me. You may have even experienced this yourself at some time - demands coming from all sides, requests for clarity around data meanings, master data rulings, demanding to know why you don't know the ins and outs and business rules of obscure pieces of data that is about to be touched by some project or rather, and complaining because there's not enough documentation and other collateral in place - forcing them to have to spend more effort and dollars inside their project.  If this was indeed all missing then I could understand the consternation, but when a data governance framework exists and the business users understand and acknowledge that they (and not the IT group) steward the data and are the ones with the true knowledge of that data, then I start to bristle a bit. Maybe not the first time, or even the second or third time you walk people through what's available and how to make best use of, and leverage it, but sometime thereafter it's sure to come. I've noticed similar behaviour in other industries across my career, but it does seem to be remarkably pronounced amongst those working in IT.

Often I've put this down to some form of Not Invented Here Syndrome and accepted that some individuals will just not use what is put before them, be it through lack of acceptance, understanding or whatever. I'm sure that the phrase "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" has passed my lips on numerous occasions. But lately I've started to think that perhaps this is not the answer. The horse really needs a drink, he just doesn't know the water is good yet! I've written before  about the need for persistence and tenacity when implementing data governance programs. Perhaps this situation offers an opportunity to create greater acceptance of data governance, data stewardship and the like. Meeting those IT folks placing demands on you half way may well work - give them a little of what they are asking for, do a bit of "their" work for them.  Sure, it's re-inventing the wheel to some degree, but nudge them toward what's already in place, shepherd them into the data governance framework and show them (via a few small wins) how they can leverage the data stewards working within it. My initial findings suggest that where those people begin to see that it can make their jobs easier they start to be more accepting of it and begin to use it to augment their other activity and in some cases make it first port of call. Given enough time I'm convinced we can make data governance advocates and champions of at least  some of these people.

I'm keen to hear from you if you've experienced (and leveraged) similar issues as I'm sure I'll encounter many stables full of horses who don't know they're thirsty across the rest of my working life!

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