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Common Data Challenges

Thought Leader
By Robert S. Seiner, KIK Consulting & Educational Services ( / Organizations faced with the delivery of formal programs for Data or Information Management (or Governance) recognize that there are several challenges they will face when getting started and as the program is operationalized. The challenges are not the same for all organizations. However, there are several that seem to appear more often than not, and I will share these with you.

Lack of Data Leadership

Data Leadership is a challenge facing many organizations. Organizations are slowly embracing that they need people to be responsible for their data, beyond the technology required to leverage and protect the data. That is the reason why the Chief Data Officer (CDO) is working its way up to the level of prominence reserved in the past for the Chief Information Officer (CIO). What do we do when we are lacking a CDO (assuming that governance is a big part of the CDO’s job) or have a CIO who is interested (or more adept) in directing technology efforts than in managing data and information? The first thing we need to help them with is understanding the business value of Data Governance. Read on.

Understanding the Business Value of Data Governance

Recently, several clients have asked me to define in a single sentence or short paragraph why Data Governance is important. I like to answer this with, “Look at the value you expect to get from the other investments you are making: transformations both digital and operational, artificial intelligence, business intelligence and master data, analytics and data science – and recognize that you will not achieve the expected level of return on investment if the data associated with the initiative(s) is substandard.” Investing in only the technology will do nothing to improve the quality and value of your present data. It will, however, highlight data deficiencies. Again, the data will not govern itself. This should be enough, but management seems to want more.

Recognizing the Need / Pain Caused by Data

Data Governance must have a purpose. You must be able to quickly answer the question as to the purpose of your Data Governance program. This is a challenge for many organizations that can be addressed by the development of a Data Governance Purpose Statement. One client defined their purpose to be “using strategic data with confidence.” Another defined their purpose to be “protect classified information.” These statements answered the why question. And then their programs went on to 1) select data that was critical and 2) improve people’s confidence in the quality and understanding of that data. The other organization inventoried their data and information, made certain the data was classified appropriately, communicated standards for handling the data, and educated the masses in how the data must be handled for the auditors to part with a thumbs-up.

Senior Management Support, Sponsorship and Understanding

I use two criteria to determine if something is “best practice” for starting and implementing a formal Data Governance program: 1) the statement has to be practical and doable and 2) the Data Governance program will be at risk if the best practice is not achieved. Both of these criteria have to be true for something to be best practice for your organization. Almost 100% of my clients use statements similar to “Senior Leadership supports, sponsors and understands the activities of Data Governance and results of governing data” as their very first best practice. It is a challenge to get your senior-most leadership to do all three of these things, and therefore, effective communications and a plan for communications are a staple in organizations that effectively address this challenge.

Budgets and Ownership

One of the challenges that most organizations face focuses on a budget that is available and the identification of whose budget Data Governance will land. Some people believe that your governance program will fail if it is budgeted (and therefore lands) under Information Technology (IT). I am known to say that “Data Governance’s primary cost is people’s time.” That time most of all includes the time needed to administer the program. All of the other time associated with Data Governance would already need to be spent on the data initiatives. The data will not govern itself. There needs to be ownership and budget to allow people time to govern data more formally.

People Think IT Owns the Data

There is a common belief in many organizations that IT owns the data and that businesspeople are just users of the data. This premise is false. IT has a lot of responsibility around the data, but defining, producing and using the data are not included in those responsibilities. IT, on its own, may have responsibility for making certain technology able to address the definition, production and use of data. But most practitioners will agree that businesspeople should be responsible for working alongside IT to define data and data requirements, produce high-quality data and use data for operational and decision-making purposes.

Lack of Data Documentation

What is the “right” amount of data documentation to require? What will people use that will make them utilize the data more efficiently and effectively? Ask anybody who effectively uses any source of data and they will tell you that their understanding of the data is what leads to its effective use. Metadata is a challenge for many organizations and it must be governed. Someone needs to be formally responsible for defining what metadata or data documentation needs to be collected. Someone also needs to be formally accountable for producing that metadata, and hopefully, somebody will be formally accountable for using the metadata.

Resources to Apply to Data Governance

In many cases the challenge is to find the “right” person, the “right” approach, the “right” amount of their time. Organizations that allocate dedicated resources that are evaluated on their success with Data Governance do better and move faster than organizations that find someone to take the responsibility beyond their other job functions and only allow a small percentage of their time to the program. Beyond the Administrator, there will likely need to be a Data Governance Council, Data Owners or Subject Matter Experts, stewards that define, produce and use data already. An effective Data Governance Administrator that addressing this challenge knows who these stewards are.


These are some of the biggest challenges organizations face when implementing a formal Data Governance program. When you are starting a Data Governance Program from scratch, you can almost count on needing to address these challenges and others head on. Remember … It’s all in the data.