Data Governance in a Social World — A Fresh Perspective

With the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in force, business leaders around the world are paying closer attention to how data is governed, collected and shared.

Data governanceThis is a good thing, especially when it comes to protecting customer information and improving internal data governance practices. It also supports a growing trend in which data is no longer considered an afterthought. Instead, it is the fuel for digital transformation across industries.

But while data governance is increasingly important, relying on approaches that worked ten years ago isn’t the best way forward. Organizations are collecting more data from more sources than ever, including huge volumes of social and transactional data. At the same time, social media has changed the way people access and interact with information, both at work and in their everyday lives.

So what can organizations do to adapt their data governance approaches in a post-GDPR, social world? Let’s take a closer look.

The current social landscape

Last time you researched which phone to buy, read the weather forecast or browsed holiday accommodation options, chances are you looked online first. Platforms like Wikipedia, Whirlpool forums, blog posts and social networking sites make up our rich social world of the present. Almost everyone seeks answers to day-to-day questions using social tools, and we expect to quickly and easily find the information we need.

Unlike in the past, where information was transmitted from one to many (such as an article printed in a single newspaper but read by millions), everyone can contribute to social platforms. You don’t need to be a leader to start or participate in conversations, and anyone is free to become an authority in their chosen domain. In the social world, we are given multiple contributions, which are often touted as expert advice.  Some internet facts that are in fact often completely inaccurate since there is no governing force ensuring accuracy and accountability for facts.

These changes have shifted people’s expectations for how they search for, locate and interact with information. Now, it’s time for organizations to adapt.

Why top-down data governance doesn’t work

Similar to the newspaper giants of yesteryear, the traditional top-down approach to data governance keeps information siloed and controlled by a select few. Only a handful of people can access, contribute or edit the data. This goes against the grain of the social world we live in, where collaboration and data democratisation reign supreme.

In my 22 years in the industry, I’ve noticed that some in charge of data governance initiatives occasionally carry baggage from the past. This has historically been due to failed attempts at data governance, or making large investments in projects that don’t live up to expectations.

Today, negative attitudes towards data governance often stem from attempting top-down data governance strategies that are, unbeknownst to the organization, no longer relevant. If this has happened to you or your business, there’s no better time to consider a fresh approach.

The way forward: governance meets action

I hold the firm belief that information about each data element – whether that’s customer, product, supplier, financial data etc.– should be shared or democratised across an organization. Every employee should have the opportunity to contribute in their own small or large way to the enterprise knowledge base.

Over a period of time, collective corporate knowledge ends up as a powerful platform for information sharing, curated and governed to ensure accuracy and accountability for the business.

But just building a powerful knowledge base isn’t enough for data governance to be effective. To facilitate meaningful change, you also need to harness the information in your knowledge base to take action. After all, isn’t governance without action just documentation?

Where to go from here?

I met with a customer the other week who had already aligned their data governance approach with the philosophy I’ve outlined above. It was refreshing to learn that organizations are already considering moving in this direction.

What I hope is that more business leaders recognise the value in evolving their approaches to data governance. This is not just for the sake of GDPR compliance, but also to support effective data-driven digital transformation in a social world.

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