Why You Need to Build a Data Governance Team Right Now

Modern marketing has increasingly become a data-driven practice by necessity. Any organization lacking a data strategy is lagging behind its technologically advanced competitors. The data that marketers use on a daily basis for market research and advertising decisions — consumer purchases, behaviors, and interests — has never been more important, nor has it ever been under greater scrutiny.

In today’s climate in which consumer and regulatory expectations change so quickly, data governance is increasingly becoming a necessary function for all businesses leveraging consumer data.

GDPR, CCPA, and future state and federal privacy laws force brands, agencies, tech vendors, and data providers to either comply or face fines and other legal action. Without a data governance team to operationalize and manage their consumer data assets, they put themselves at extreme risk of losing competitive advantage or of being put out of business altogether.

Of course, talking about data governance is significantly easier than executing it, as building a team to handle this critical component of your business can be a challenge. Here’s why it’s so critical to get this right — right now — along with some guidance on how to build a first-class data governance operation.

What does a data governance team do?

At a high level, a data governance team is responsible for overseeing how data is collected, analyzed, stored, and used by your business. It oversees the documentation, training, partner agreements, and retention policies related to data.

Why adopt data governance now?

While marketing and advertising teams have widely adopted data for their strategic initiatives, data governance and hygiene practices haven’t been adopted at quite the same rate. Those who haven’t caught up may continue to lose significant value from their data.

For example, when there is insufficient data governance, certain business activities may cease to occur because there is insufficient data to effectively engage in that activity. Other costs and risks to operating without proper data governance in place include missed (or slower-to-market) opportunities for new products or insight-driven marketing campaigns. As new federal and state regulations emerge, data governance would also allow better preparedness and agility in managing and addressing new policies.

Who needs to be on a data governance team?

Because data governance brings a unique combination of technological as well as legal and compliance challenges, it requires a multi-disciplinary team of strategic, business-operational, and implementation-focused stakeholders.

The data governance team would likely include representatives from:

  • IT, to manage the technical side of data collection and storage and to administer permissions to access data
  • Legal, to oversee the documentation, reporting, and compliance components, setting the foundation for data governance policies
  • End users across marketing, sales, and data science teams, to put the data into action across various business functions and strategic decisions

Basically, any of your internal teams that touch data need to have a seat at the data governance table. Not only do these stakeholders need to be part of a data governance team, but their interests must be well balanced to ensure that your data efforts can move the business forward. Over-emphasizing any one component may come at the risk of ignoring another, which can cause problems down the line and inhibit the use of data.

Depending on business size and resources, it may make sense for the data governance team to start as a selection of key players, wrangled by a project manager. The project manager can come from any discipline; there is not currently a single “right” answer as to who owns data projects.

For example, an IT team placed in charge can manage permissions, but that doesn’t guarantee compliance, nor does it ensure clean, quality data. It’s easy to limp along with poor data and harder to build a multi-disciplinary team that manages all aspects of governance. As the function becomes more defined and the organization more in tune to its value, you may decide to launch a dedicated data governance team to coordinate among stakeholders.

Getting up and running

The key to successfully building a data governance team within your organization is executive buy-in from all key executives across the organization. Without the full sponsorship of internal data governance from top leaders, it will be significantly more difficult to achieve your short- and long-term data governance goals.

Once a team is in place, it must first audit all the data within project scope: to understand where it comes from; where it resides; and who has access to it, both within the company and externally. If nothing else, the data governance team must document how the data is utilized and formalize the processes that use it. Oftentimes during this process, businesses are surprised to learn how many hands touch the data on its journey from collection to use, and how many opportunities for inaccuracy or data loss creep in.

Once the team unlocks better clarity into its data, the team is also responsible for maintaining a clean CRM file that is accessible, standardized, and understandable. More mature data governance teams will manage metadata, meticulously maintaining insights about the data itself, which is essential for further analytic or activation uses.

Data governance doesn’t have to be an onerous process nor a sea change at your organization. Many practices may exist already that just need to be identified, organized, and codified. More than anything, data governance is about having an internal consultancy that oversees the process and makes sure that all key stakeholders are represented. As the marketing and advertising worlds move toward data transparency, it’s critical that all parties uphold standards of privacy that build trust with customers and partners.

Nick Godlove is corporate counsel for audience solutions company Alliant.

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