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Are Enterprises Getting Serious About Governance?

Thanks to big data and self-service BI, enterprises might finally be getting serious about data governance.

Data governance has been a can't-miss issue in business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing (DW) for at least a decade. Sooner or later, vendors and industry thought-leaders have said, enterprises are going to get serious about data governance.

Trouble is, "sooner or later" has been a long time coming. Thanks to two trends -- big data and self-service BI -- it might finally have arrived.

In addition, we've seen a small uptick in governance-oriented products and services.

Last year, BI stalwart Information Builders Inc. (IBI), introduced a new data governance offering (as part of its iWay integration portfolio), while BI specialist QlikTech Inc. recently introduced its first governance-themed offering, the QlikView Governance Dashboard.

On the other hand, vendors such as Kalido and SAS Institute Inc. have fielded governance-oriented offerings for a few years now. For that matter, enterprise software giants such as IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., and SAP AG likewise market a variety of governance products and services.

These offerings have been available for some time, too. Even though governance isn't a new idea, proponents insist it has new or fresh urgency.

"It's absolutely something [customers are] concerned about," says Jeff Boehm, vice president of global product marketing with QlikTech. "We developed this product [i.e., the QlikView Governance Dashboard] because we think [QlikTech] customers should be able to use QlikView to understand QlikView," he continues, adding that -- from a governance perspective -- "one way [you do that] is to use QlikView visualization [capabilities] to identify problems with your data. You're using it to discover these [data governance] issues in your upstream systems."

What's driving this urgency? What's so special this time around?

Michael Corcoran, chief marketing officer with IBI, invokes two increasingly ubiquitous words: big data.

"Data governance is coming back," Corcoran told BI This Week at TDWI's World Conference in San Diego. "Look, [enterprises] know they're collecting more data, [and] they have more data coming through third-party [sources]. The inconsistency is a problem," he continued, noting that big data is as much about data breadth -- i.e., contextualizing data from a wide variety of (often third-party) sources -- as it is about other characteristics, such as volume.

Organizations and third-party suppliers won't always, or even mostly, use the same definitions for "customer," "profit," "resource," and so on, Corcoran observes. "The more people especially outside [the organization] who touch data, they tend to muck it up. So there are data quality challenges. There are master data challenges [with respect to] trying to find inconsistencies in the data. There are [data] integration challenges [with respect to] formatting the data."

Haven't Corcoran and others talked up governance's prospects before? Sure, he concedes. This time, though, it's different.

He compares the traditional market for governance solutions with the market for mobile BI -- circa 1997. "We did a cool integration with Blackberry in 1997, invested heavily in it, and ... sold 12 of them," he explains. "[Customers] weren't ready for it, but today it's exploding. The tablet made BI in [a] mobile [form-factor] not just feasible but exciting. Now we get questions about when are we going to marry Siri with [WebFocus]."

Big data, on Corcoran's terms, is -- or soon will constitute -- an iPad-like driver for governance.

His perspective isn't an outlier. Mike Wheeler, director of data governance solutions with Kalido, likewise cites the role of big data as a governance accelerator.

Kalido was ahead of the game -- relative, at least, to most other BI or DW players -- with its inaugural governance offering, Kalido Data Governance Director. It first shipped that product two years ago. This was before big data had big-time cachet. Ironically, says Wheeler, for all its present-day cachet, big data-related governance isn't yet a critical problem.

What's happening instead is that the sheer scope and scale of big data has helped to raise awareness about governance. In other words, the problems that organizations are now addressing -- e.g., inconsistencies, faulty controls, and inadequate policy, to say nothing of data management (DM) processes or technologies that simply aren't up to the task -- have little to do with "big data," per se; they're long-standing and endemic.

"Our customers are almost always surprised when [the data governance director] shows them how many [governance] issues they have in their environment[s]," he comments. "These [issues] aren't new things. They have been there for years, but now, because there's this awareness [driven in part by big data], customers are identifying them [for the first time]."

Wheeler points to another, more immediate driver: self-service information discovery.

This is the insurgent trend in BI -- e.g., the impact of discovery tools from vendors such as Tableau Software Inc., TIBCO Spotfire, and QlikTech Inc. Combined with new discovery-oriented product releases from most of the major BI vendors, Insurgent BI is forcing enterprises to get serious about data governance.

This isn't necessarily a reactive trend, Wheeler insists; in many cases, organizations are responding proactively to the challenges posed by discovery-powered users, who are bound both to identify inconsistencies, problems, or governance loopholes -- thus QlikTech's take on governance, with its new Data Governance Dashboard -- and to miss them.

The danger in the second case, Wheeler points out, is that discovery-powered users will consume unvetted, inconsistent, or faulty information, or -- worse yet -- use this (faulty) information to generate analytic insights. The latter scenario, he notes, could compromise the analytic "insights" that directors, analysts, and managers use to enrich (or in some cases to drive) decision-making activities, he explains.

Industry luminary Claudia Imhoff, a principal with Intelligent Solutions Inc., made a similar point at Composite Software Inc.'s recent "Data Virtualization Day" event in New York City.

Imhoff addressed the issue of governance in the context of expanded self-service, cautioning that self-service must ultimately be made governable, too. "In a self-service environment, what happens to governance?" she asked during a panel discussion. It certainly doesn't go away, she noted.

"Do we have to govern everything? Not everything needs to be governed. The key, though, is that someone, whether it's [enterprise] IT or the producers [of analytic insights] or [the] line-of-business [itself] -- someone has to have insight and oversight into what's going on in the self-service environment," Imhoff continued.

"If for example a business community does start to use ungoverned data for some pretty critical reports, or if a[n ungoverned] report becomes very popular and is used throughout the organization -- I don't know about you, but that causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand up."

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