Whatever you do, don't lead with the data. Or the governance.

The term data governance can alienate business executives with implications of bureaucracy and inertia. Information management professionals should avoid discussing data governance, and instead quantify the negative impacts of unmanaged data.


Selling data governance to the business requires shining a light on the data defects hidden in your business, and using those defects to create a sense of urgency.

Mention data governance to a business executive and you will likely be met with a vacant stare. Talk about how data governance involves data profiling and metadata and the business people will walk out of the room assuming IT will take care of it.

But talk about the fact that payment from 14 percent of your invoices are delayed due to outdated customer addresses and you’re more likely to pique interest. Highlight the number of IT developers with access to the private financial data of your customers and ask what would happen if that data were breached, and you’ll get the attention of your security team. Note that your organization has dozens of different reports on “top 100 customers” and ask which team’s version is correct. That could spark a lively debate.

Many information management professionals know that poorly managed data impacts performance, and that a well-managed data governance program can prevent these issues. But many business executives remain oblivious to the situation. Worse yet, data governance has historically been driven and managed out of the IT organization with minimal success. Why? Because only business leaders own the business processes and decisions that rely on trusted, secure data. IT can ensure compliance, but the business must set the priorities.

Selling data governance to the business requires shining a light on the data defects hidden in your business, and using those defects to create a sense of urgency. Its successful implementation depends on focusing on the business impact, and not simply on the notion of governance itself.

Focus First on Specific Opportunities

To motivate real action, your initial data governance business case should focus on one or two specific problem areas, highlight the dire consequences of maintaining the status quo and outline the benefits of data governance. For example, highlight how data can impact:

  • Reduction in average handle time and improved first-call resolution in the call center
  • Increased marketing campaign response rates with fewer opt outs
  • Reduction in enterprise risk by protecting sensitive information

Your proposal should focus on concrete, pinpoint actions required to address those problem areas. This is not to say you should think only short-term, however. As an information management professional, you need to offer a vision of how data governance can move the organization toward its strategic goals over a three- to five-year span. (For a framework for making data governance an enterprise-wide priority, read the white paper, "Holistic Data Governance: A Framework for Competitive Advantage.")

As an evangelist selling the program to the business, use a phased approach grounded in specific objectives, concrete actions and documented wins. Talk about how you reduced order error rates or sped new product introduction, and you will get the business behind you. Leave business impact out and you will be talking to yourself in an empty room.

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