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Enterprise Data Governance: Challenges, Benefits & Best Practices

May 20th, 2022

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Data governance is foundational to being a data-driven enterprise. Data management will quickly descend into chaos without effective governance in place to ensure data is accurate, usable, and accessible.

A well-maintained enterprise data governance program helps large businesses make sense of the vast amounts of data they have at their disposal and maximize its value. But only a small cohort of enterprises are currently succeeding in this area.

Research from Accenture has found that 81% of enterprises still don’t have a data strategy. Even more alarming is that only one-third of firms trust their data enough to use it effectively and derive value from it. With the proliferation of Big Data in the enterprise, lack of proper governance will lead to mayhem and a widespread mistrust of the data at hand.

Challenges with enterprise data and how data governance can solve them

The biggest challenges of enterprise data management that can be solved with data governance include:

  • Disparate data stacks
  • Siloed tribal knowledge
  • IT redundancy / fragmentation
  • Slow-moving processes
  • Cybersecurity / privacy risks

Challenge #1: Disparate data sources and complex data stacks

Enterprise businesses often house data sources across multiple domains and operating units. And, with the frequent addition of new technologies and evolving data infrastructure, the number of data sources is constantly increasing.

This rapid pace of data collection and technology adoption inevitably leads to data silos in the absence of a strong enterprise data governance strategy. The technical challenges caused by silos also extend to the data stack itself.

Enterprises attempting to solve this challenge tend to compile data and metadata from a variety of siloed tools and store this information in a standalone data governance tool. Such misguided efforts to unite the data stack actually result in more silos and a significant lack of context from the other tools living within the enterprise data ecosystem.

Enterprise data governance helps unite data silos

Enterprises need a unified data governance framework that brings all of their disparate data sources into a single source of truth. Large businesses are beginning to favor data governance frameworks that include federated computational governance, a system that incorporates feedback loops and bottom-up input from data users to bring more flexibility to data governance.

To achieve this, enterprises need to leverage intelligent technology capable of automating all of the tasks required to bring context to and unite the data stack, including:

  • Data discovery
  • Data quality checks
  • Data profiling
  • Data cataloging
  • Data lineage
  • Data glossary creation

Netflix provides a powerful enterprise-level example of a fully integrated data governance infrastructure that leverages metadata for auto-discovery of datasets, auto-analyzation of database tuning, and auto-optimization of datasets when opportunities are identified. In the spirit of community-led, bottom-up data governance, the company is also working on a “centralized and pluggable policy engine that would allow [their] stakeholders to customize data policy rules for all datasets.”


Challenge #2: Tribal knowledge is hidden within certain roles or teams

Another silo problem associated with Big Data in the enterprise is the knowledge silo, aka “tribal knowledge.” If you’ve ever been on the hunt for a specific dataset only to be told that the only person who knows is Sarah in marketing, then you’ve encountered a tribal knowledge roadblock.

Many businesses have a select group of people who work closely with their data assets and therefore hold all the answers to understanding their full context. In other words, the rest of the organization — nontechnical users — have no insight into where the data comes from, its quality, its value, etc. There is an urgent need for better data communication.

Enterprise data governance fosters a culture of shared data knowledge

Data governance isn’t just about updating processes and technologies, it’s also about a mindset shift for your people. An effective data governance program should foster a data culture that enables and rewards data sharing across departments. After all, the full value of data can only be unlocked when everyone has access to it for the purpose of their unique role.

This is exactly the epiphany Airbnb had a few years ago when they realized each team and function had its own tools, dashboards, tables, and charts that weren’t being shared. To scale tribal knowledge and encourage a culture of self-service, the company worked with their staff to build the Airbnb Dataportal, a data search engine powering data exploration, discovery, and governance that enables employees to make smarter business decisions.


Challenge #3: Fragmented and redundant data management

It’s quite inefficient for data practitioners across the enterprise to have to perform the same tasks day in and day out, each time for a different user. Many data scientists and engineers spend a great deal of time preparing data for analysis, working with the same sources over and over to deliver data assets and reports to the various departments that request them.

Imagine the time and money that could be saved if companies were able to systematize and automate these tasks so central IT teams could focus their efforts on higher-value strategies.

Enterprise data governance fosters a culture of communication and knowledge

Data governance ensures data management efforts aren’t repeatedly and/or unknowingly duplicated across an organization by addressing foundational concerns, such as:

  • How can we reduce the number of errors in our database?
  • Where are the opportunities to streamline our data management efforts?
  • Why isn’t everyone defining and interpreting data in the same way?
  • What are the relationships between various assets?
  • How can we protect and reuse assets?

Enterprise data governance is about defining a unified way to govern data assets to reduce overall data quality issues so all data users have greater trust in the data at their disposal. This, in turn, will also free up IT bandwidth since they don’t have to dedicate so much time to making sense of jumbled data sets.

The IT staff of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) used to spend a lot of time scrubbing data in order to meet federal reporting requirements. In fact, they came to the realization that data was the third most expensive asset they maintained after roads and bridges.

To solve this problem, they partnered with Data Transfer Solutions to develop a tailored data governance framework and program to establish rules and guidelines for all enterprise data activities. Adopting a unified set of data standards has allowed ODOT to greatly reduce the amount of time and effort required to assimilate data by increasing data quality and consistency.


Challenge #4: Slow-moving approvals and access

Enterprise organizations must also deal with the red tape and bureaucracy that comes along with being a behemoth. Layered hierarchies and the sheer size of teams result in slow movement of approvals across the system, leading to drawn-out wait times when working on data projects.

Enterprise data governance accelerates the rate of innovation

Data governance is about making it easier for data users to find, evaluate, and confidently pick the best data for their day-to-day needs. Top-down, resource-intensive governance programs simply don’t allow that to happen.

An intelligent democratization layer helps enterprises stay agile and adaptive in the way they manage data. Check out this success story of how a Fortune 500 company established the foundation of a data-driven enterprise by creating AI-driven data governance protocols, unifying their data stack, and reducing their reliance on tedious email reporting.


Challenge #5: Security risk and failure to comply with privacy laws

Compliance concerns are what many people jump to when considering the challenges data governance addresses. With the average cost of a data breach rising to $4.24 million in 2021, maintaining proper data security remains a core data management focus for enterprises across all industries.

In addition to data security, data privacy also falls under the purview of data governance. Without strong governance, businesses run the risk of failing to comply with the increasingly stringent data privacy regulations being put in place across the globe. For large enterprises, the penalties can be severe: Amazon was fined a whopping $888 million for violating GDPR.

Enterprise data governance ensures compliance with regulations

Unified data governance essentially gives the enterprise a bird’s-eye view of all data activities. This allows data leaders to manage who has access to data as well as monitor who has modified data to reduce potential security breaches.

For data users, modern data governance provides automated guidance that helps them establish and follow clear processes for structured creation, usage, and deletion of data. Such guardrails prevent those “small slip-ups” that can have a long-lasting negative impact.

Enterprise data governance underpins data success

As you can see, data governance is fundamental to the success of virtually all data activities within the enterprise. Enterprise data governance helps organizations move efficiently and securely as they find new ways to derive value from the large amount of data within their data stores.

Check out Data Governance 101 for more information about the compounding positive effect that data governance has on the enterprise.


Enterprise data governance with Atlan

If you evaluating and looking to deploy best-in-class data access governance for the modern data stack without compromising on data democratization? Do give Atlan a spin.

Atlan is a Third-generation data catalog built on the premise of embedded collaboration that is key in today’s modern workplace, borrowing principles from GitHubFigmaSlackNotionSuperhuman, and other modern tools that are commonplace today.


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