TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

When It Comes to Data, Agility and Governance Are in Harmony

Most technology scenarios pit the agility needed by business users against the governance needs of IT. With data, this internecine conflict can disappear.

Despite their best intentions, business and IT are in conflict. This is both strange and unfortunate. Strange because modern business is fundamentally based on IT and as such the idea of business and the idea of IT have reached the point of singularity; unfortunate because the productive energies of the organizations are dissipated in internal conflict.

Although some organizations have done better than others, issues still persist. With data, however, it is high time we banish this conflict to the dustbin and explore what a harmonious structural relationship between business and IT can offer an organization in terms of growth, competitive advantage, and agility.

Defining the Conflict

For Further Reading:

How Agile Aids Self-Service BI and Analytics

Data Governance Doesn't Need to Be Gatekeeping

Adapting Data Governance to Big Data

For any business, speed and scale are necessary for success. Business users are driven by the "power of now" -- they expect contextual, timely, and comprehensive data instantaneously in order to use business intelligence to make good decisions. For IT, however, matters are not as simple. Issues of governance, security, access control, backlogs, and cost play a large role in IT -- and legitimately so.

In the perceptions of business users, these issues appear to be mere excuses to say no, but in fact, they are fundamental to the sustainability of any business. Both sides have legitimate imperatives and both harbor real risks -- if either fails, the organization grinds to a halt. What can happen in IT, however, is even more pernicious -- witness the myriad of security leaks that have been in the news the last few years. These leaks are both silicon and carbon problems.

If "agility" is the watchword for business teams and "governance" is the watchword for IT, is there an impasse? The answer ranges from "not necessarily" to "categorically no." In the world of data, this gap is easily bridged.

Coordination Between Agility and Governance

Data has been posited as "the new oil" or "the world's most valuable resource." As such, as goes data, so goes the organization. For most enterprises, if data is considered just another technology issue, then business users and IT will remain in structural conflict, irrespective of their intentions. If, however, data is framed differently, the conflict dissolves.

To understand this, it's worth deconstructing the two aforementioned terms, agility and governance. When understood in their full glory, the harmony between the two comes to light.

Agility implies an organization's ability to move quickly and easily and to make smarter and more meaningful decisions in increasingly short time periods. Responding to customer or market conditions, internal snafus, or newly unveiled opportunities at scale -- and doing so in short order -- is the hallmark of agility.

Governance implies the need to sanely and safely manage the exposure to, consumption of, and portability of information, data, or any material or dematerialized asset considered to be of value to the organization. Managing access to the company's most valuable assets is one element of governance that is relevant to the world of data.

Fundamentally, these two ideas are symbiotic twins. Agility is predicated on the proactive preservation of the organization's operational integrity so as to divert resources into proactive decision making versus reaction to external and internal threats. Governance does just that. Therefore, governance enables agility -- most significantly in the area of data.

An Illustrative Example

Imagine a scenario - -- perhaps simplistic -- but one that makes my point.

The organization's most valuable resource -- its core data -- is offered to everyone in any usable form. In this case, one disgruntled employee, or even one well-meaning but mistake-prone employee, can share what is tantamount to trade secrets with anyone and everyone. If agility is both predicated on and generative of "competitive advantage," then this sort of leak would be devastating. Governance rules ask us to consider this scenario and put some guard rails in place. As such, there is no agility without governance.

There are countless other scenarios in which one simply has to peek under the covers to understand the harmonious connection between these two concepts.

Overcoming structural impediments to this harmony is crucial for all organizations. The technologies and processes to do so exist.

About the Author

Romi Mahajan is director of Blueprint Consulting Services and CEO of The KKM Group, a strategy and advisory firm. In his career, he has spent the better part of a decade at Microsoft as is the Chairman of Data Infrastructure Partners. He can be reached via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/romimahajan/.


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