Gaining Executive Support for Data Governance

By Anne Smith

At some point during the initial phase of the data governance initiative, the team charged with designing the program will need to solicit and receive executive support.  For many people this is a challenging prospect, and one that can leave managers and individual contributors wondering “What do we do?”

Gaining executive support for continuing initiatives such as data governance is possible, but there are some important points that every data management professional should know and apply to secure and retain that essential element: active executive support.

  1.  Executive support must be active.  Webster’s Dictionary defines “active” as an adjective meaning “characterized by movement rather than by contemplation or speculation” and “marked by present operation”.  When talking about executive support, the adjective “active” is most important, since it demonstrates that the support is practical (releasing money and other resources) and operative (something has been allowed to happen – formation or continuance of the program).  Many data governance initiatives have failed or stagnated due to the lack of active support.  The program was given passive support (e.g., nodding heads) but no actions occurred as a result (no sustained sources of funds were allotted, no staff committed to the tasks, no decisions implemented, etc.)
  2. Identify the essential reasons for implementing data governance in your organization.  Jack Steele, of Active Strategy, calls this identifying the “Burning Platform” – a single, serious, complex, well-known business issue that negatively affects critical high-level outcomes.  Each data governance initiative will have one or two “Burning Platforms” and the team’s job is to identify it, articulate it and explain why the proposed data governance program will address / resolve that problem.  Without the “Burning Platforms” as impetus, the chances for garnering active executive support are slim.
  3. Focus on the strategic view, so that the solutions to the “Burning Platforms” demonstrate that the data governance initiative will provide long-term value and solve organizational challenges.
  4. Know your audience.  Research their perceptions, concerns and barriers to acceptance.  Identify the existing levels of commitment or resistance to the data governance concept for each of the executives who will be asked to support the initiative.  Some will be supportive strongly, some will be resistant and most will be somewhere between the two extremes.  For each executive, identify their perceived barriers to approving and supporting the data governance program – address each as clearly as possible.  Identify any benefits each executive may desire or perceive for the program – categorize them and estimate a value for each benefit.  Identify any competing organizations’ data governance program, in your industry or in respected organizations outside your industry.  List the reasons cited for their successful programs, including their “Burning Platforms” if you can discover or discern them.  Discover what each executive believes a successful data governance program would look like – and identify which parts of those visions would be included in your governance program.
  5. Develop a marketing program for data governance with the executives as the audience.   Executives focus on financial and business issues, especially revenue generation and cost reduction.  The marketing to the executives should include points for each executive’s perception and concern, demonstrate the business and financial impact of the data governance program to the organization and outline the incremental view of establishing and sustaining data governance.  “Incremental” is important since 90+% of successful data governance programs are implemented incrementally – and not with a “big bang” approach.  Therefore, all communications with executives should stress both the benefits of the incremental approach and the fact that such an approach will require sustained support in funds and staff time.
  6. Articulate clearly the expected return on investment for the program, and show how that ROI will be earned incrementally.  The tactical and strategic values of the data governance program may be evident to the planning team, but may not be clear to executives.  Explain why they should fund this program, possibly taking funds planned for another initiative.  Other articles will address developing an ROI for data governance more completely.
  7. Concisely summarize what is needed from the executive team, and reasons for those needs.  Don’t adopt a purely informational tone – ask for what is needed, specifically, every time someone from the data governance planning team has contact with an executive.  The planning team should identify exactly what is needed / desired and all requests for “support” should be stated with these concrete needs.
  8. Remember that each chance to interact with one or more executives offers a chance to sell the concepts of data governance and express the successes the program has earned to that point.  Maintaining the executive support is one of the main responsibilities of the data governance planning team, and should not be neglected at any point in the life of the program.

Following these points can lead to gathering and preserving active executive support for a data governance program.  In the final analysis, this is one of the most important activities for ensuring the success of a data governance program.

About the Author

Anne Marie Smith is a leading consultant in Information Management and is a frequent contributor to various IS publications. Anne Marie has over 20 years experience in information management for several corporate entities and has successfully led the development of data resource management departments within corporations and consulting organizations. Anne Marie is active in the local chapter of DAMA and serves on the board of directors of DAMA International, and is an advisor to the DM Forum. She has been an instructor of Management Information Systems (MIS) with Philadelphia, PA area colleges and universities. Anne Marie has taught topics such as: data stewardship and governance, data warehousing, business requirements gathering and analysis, metadata management and metadata strategy, information systems and data warehouse project management. Anne Marie’s areas of consulting expertise include metadata management including data stewardship and governance, information systems planning, systems analysis and design, project management, data warehouse systems assessment and development, information systems process improvement and information resource management/data resource management. Anne Marie holds the degrees Bachelor of Arts and a Master's of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from La Salle University; she has earned a PhD in MIS at Northcentral University. She is a certified logical data and process modeler and holds project management certification. Anne Marie can be reached at

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