How To Create a Data Governance Council

A data council is a team dedicated to improving outcomes, ensuring strategic alignment, holding people accountable and setting up a cross-functional forum.
Last updated
May 2, 2024

If you want to be a leader in analytics, you’ll need to ensure that your organization is making the best possible, data-driven decisions. The most effective mechanism for aligning teams on the most important Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) is a regular and recurring company KPI meeting. It’s during this time that these indicators are continually and iteratively discussed, then agreed upon.

Creating a Metrics-Driven Culture

Creating a metrics-driven culture typically means taking objective, transparent measures of business outcomes to influence them. When this isn't the case, people make poor decisions based on faulty judgement and the loudest person in the room's opinion. In response, there is a natural tendency to do the opposite - make all the data available to everyone. When done haphazardly, this approach could result in a scattering of KPIs, inconsistent measurement and use of the data, and stakeholders who do not trust or believe the conclusions made, often because the data lacks structure and does not represent a coherent narrative. In its place, Analytics leaders should implement a holistic KPI system.

Why Data Governance Councils Matter

You've probably heard of data governance, but you might not know exactly what it is. Simply put, data governance is the set of policies and practices that ensures your company's data is consistent, accurate and well-managed.

The goal of a data governance council is to ensure that your business uses its data in a way that complies with government regulations and industry standards. Since many companies face the same regulatory issues—like HIPAA for health care or GDPR for businesses with customers in the EU—they can benefit from having a strong set of best practices to guide their decision making around their usage of customer or employee data.

A data governance council can also improve your business's operations by helping you make sure your staff are using the right data sets and tools. For example, if there's conflicting information between two different databases, this could cause major problems if employees use inaccurate information to make important decisions about staffing or product development. The council can help identify these types of issues early on so they don't have a major impact on productivity later down the line

How to Form a Data Governance Council

  • Choose the right model. Data governance councils come in many different shapes and sizes. They can be small, focused groups with tightly defined responsibilities or large, inclusive forums that tackle a wide range of topics. The right model for your organization will depend on your current needs, but will also have to consider the future state of the organization as well.
  • Identify and recruit to individual council roles. There are several key roles to be filled in order to ensure your data governance council is successful:
  • Co-Chairs—Typically senior executives from both IT and business line (marketing, finance, operations). The co-chairs set the vision for data governance, provide strategic direction and oversee day-to-day activities of the council
  • Members—These are individuals who represent each line of business within the enterprise who will participate in discussions about how data is used throughout the organization
  • Secretary—The secretary takes minutes at meetings, maintains documentation and assists with communication efforts
  • Database Administrator—DBA staff can help move projects forward by providing technical expertise regarding database design and implementation

Step 1. Get Buy-in from Senior Leadership and Stakeholders

As a data governance executive, you might think that the easiest way to sell data governance to senior leadership is by simply showing them how much it will cost. But while cost is certainly important, understanding the value of data governance is essential before any budgetary numbers are put on the table. The business leaders in your organization need to understand that implementing a sound data governance process will be beneficial for many reasons:

  • It’s an enabler for other initiatives such as GDPR compliance or value-based reimbursement models
  • It’s an effective strategy for improving stakeholder satisfaction
  • It enhances the decision-making capabilities of your organization by providing trusted insight into infrastructure, operations and performance metrics

A good way to help make this case is by citing examples from similar organizations. For instance, if your organization operates in healthcare, Pharma Data Governance has a list of healthcare organizations that have successfully adopted data governance strategies. If you work in finance or insurance, you can find examples at The Data Warehousing Institute's Data Governance Community of Practice site (DGI).

Step 2. Choose the best council model for your company

As you build your data governance council, decide if you want a centralized council or a decentralized council. In a centralized model, one central location houses all of the company’s data governance responsibilities. This is more efficient but less flexible. A decentralized model distributes the decision-making power across different departments within the company. This is more flexible but less efficient and more expensive. Your decision will depend on your business needs and goals for your data governance council.

We have included examples of both centralized and decentralized councils in our data governance best practices guide to help you choose the best one for your organization and set up your own data governance council with ease.

Step 3. Identify and recruit to individual council roles

You'll want to recruit two to four members for each role, depending on the size of your organization. Additionally, you'll need a sponsor — a senior leader who's highly respected and influential throughout your organization. As with all council members, he or she must be committed to supporting data governance.

As you identify potential recruits, keep in mind that it's best to choose people with good interpersonal skills who have the ability and fortitude to think strategically and tactically about their roles. A background in IT is optional but helpful. If you do opt for IT professionals, make sure they're willing to work collaboratively with other team members. You may also want at least one member who has an operational mindset and isn't afraid of process improvement efforts involving data management practices such as cleansing or enrichment; he or she can help lead such initiatives within the context of data governance activities. Finally, choose people who are well-respected within their own groups so they can act as credible advocates for data governance efforts when working with stakeholders from those areas.

Step 4. Define the charter and list of services clearly

Your council's charter and list of services should be clear and unambiguous. The charter should be specific purpose statements rather than generalities. For example, a good charter statement is "to improve the quality of data on the registration system." This is a specific purpose, whereas "to ensure all data are correct" is not specific, as it leaves many things open to interpretation. The list of services should be clearly spelled out in the charter. In addition, the charter should be written in simple language for easy understanding by all participants without any special knowledge about data governance or IT. It is imperative that you use plain English to describe each initiative so that you will have meaningful buy-in from all stakeholders.

Step 5. Get set up for success

  • Kick off the meeting by setting out the agenda for attendees and reminding them of its purpose.
  • Introduce any new members and give everyone a chance to speak. Remind everyone of the council's mission and values, and invite feedback on how it's doing.
  • As with any meeting, you'll need to keep things on track, which means guiding discussions appropriately. This will mean setting time limits on topics being discussed and encouraging people to get to the point if they're going off-topic or talking too much. In general, though, most people appreciate brevity—so don't be afraid to remind those involved that they should be aiming for fewer words rather than more!

A data governance council can be the key to your enterprise data strategy, but it takes time and energy to create one effectively.

A data governance council can be the key to your enterprise data strategy, but it takes time and energy to create one effectively. Here are some steps to help you plan.

  • Identify what your current problems are and how a council could solve them
  • Organize a group of people who will be affected by the changes
  • Talk about what their responsibilities will be and what they will get out of it
  • Pick someone from that group who is technically skilled to lead the team

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