Data Governance: From Jumping the Shark to Growing the Beard

Many have heard the phrase “Jump the shark,” which refers to the moment when a TV series has passed its prime and starts to go downhill in quality – fast. Those of us old enough to remember the TV series Happy Days know this term refers to an episode where Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis. For any millennials out there, try to imagine if Kit Harington from Game of Thrones – ummm – jumped over a dragon on water skis.

Data Governance

Less known is the phrase “Growing the Beard,” which is meant to capture the opposite experience – a time when a TV series suddenly hits its stride and gets significantly better. The term is derived from Star Trek: The Next Generation referring to when Commander Riker grew his beard out, which coincided with that show noticeably improving in quality.

Well, after much of my career focused on supporting and evangelizing data governance (DG) best practices and business value, I feel it has persevered through many moments where it almost Jumped the Shark and is finally in an extremely positive Growing the Beard phase!

Let’s be honest – data governance Jumped the Shark a few times

Here’s one of my favorites: when I was an industry analyst, I received many inquiries from customers asking me to help them rebrand their data governance efforts. According to these customers, they had tried and failed to roll out data governance too many times and it was now considered a ‘four letter word’ internally – so they needed a new name. Changing the name of DG without changing the approach? Jumping the shark.

I also attended a number of data governance-centric conferences and councils. While there were certainly many attendees who were trying to evangelize and deliver holistic data governance as a function across their organizations, the vast majority were only able to tie their efforts to a single departmental project – creating compliance reports, implementing a data warehouse, deploying a new CRM or ERP system, etc. DG that only survives for the length of an IT project? Jumping the shark.

I can also recall many white board sessions with customers – and even other analysts – discussing where IT Governance and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) efforts stopped and Data Governance began. Not knowing how to articulate DG as an independent (albeit complementary) competency? Jumping the shark.

Data Governance is finally Growing the Beard!

Fast forward to the past few years. Data is cool. Sexy. Relevant! Governments are talking about it. Venture capitalists are investing in it. CIO’s IT budgets are prioritizing it. Lobbyists are trying to influence it. Regulators are, well, regulating it. Even Thomas Friedman and Jim Cramer love talking about it.

This is all because every organization and industry on the planet is facing digital disruption, both by digital native entrants into their industries as well as nimble competitors who invested in transforming their business models, customer engagement models, products and services to differentiate and pull ahead.

Here’s why I think Data Governance is finally Growing the Beard:

  • The Chief Data Officer (CDO) role has been fully embraced. Most everyone in this role fully acknowledges and embraces that they own their organization’s DG strategy. Gartner estimates that 90% of large global companies will have a CDO by 2019, and that role is effectively balancing the need to mitigate risk with value creation and cost-savings and efficiency efforts. This enterprise focus on data governance today is a far cry from the one-trick pony, project-based DG efforts of years past
  • Technology innovations around big data analytics, IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning are forcing this conversation to the forefront. None of these will deliver any value to the business without trusted, secure data as their foundation. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old-school data warehouse or a next-generation AI-fueled recommendation engine – the conventional wisdom of Garbage In, Garbage Out will always hold true.
  • Data governance has become a mandate. Data-centric regulations like the GDPR are just the tip of the iceberg. Watching the mass of malevolent data breaches, as well as corporate-sanctioned data privacy “errors in judgment”, we should all expect a multitude of new data regulations at both the national and local levels to require DG processes and accountabilities.

I’d love to hear any other examples of how data governance either jumped the shark or grew the beard in your experience!