Data Governance and Business Processes – “Governance is NOT Just for Data!”

By Anne Smith

Governance is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the continuous exercise of authority over and the performance of functions for an organization”, so “data governance” would seem to mean the exercise of control over data. However, it is not that simple, data does not exist in a vacuum; business processes act on, change and manipulate data. Therefore, when we discuss data governance we can’t forget the need to include business processes in the scope of items to be governed. Successful governance requires identifying the root causes that impede business effectiveness, implementing governance over business processes as well as over data.

“Include business processes”– how can data governance include business processes when the governance bodies (governance council and stewardship teams) have so much to focus on: meta data, data values, data quality, security, etc..? Once again, data does not exist in a vacuum, processes create and manage the data and meta data – they are inextricably linked together. By including a focus on process as well as data, the organization and the governance effort can start to reduce the silo approach to interactions between business and technologies. Adopting this holistic view of governance with attention to business processes as well as to data can give an organization an advantage in managing the totality of the environment it has created.

In a properly implemented data governance organization there are intersection points across business operations. Data governance offers the potential to give the business an understanding of the data it needs and how that data is used, focusing on the business operations versus focusing on IT applications.

There are several challenges to incorporating business processes in a governance effort. One is that the governance formation team (governance council) must recognize that processes are part of the governance landscape as well as data. Since many business processes have developed in an ad-hoc fashion, it may be difficult to include management and control of business processes at an enterprise level. The governance council must accept this challenge and include all fundamental business processes in the governance program. Why? Once again, data does not exist in a vacuum; processes create and manage that data!

Another challenge to including business processes is the need to identify stewards who are knowledgeable about both data and process for their subject areas.“Knowledgeable”means that they understand what the current state of the business processes and data are, what the data actually means and how it is used, and what processes are correct and which ones should be changed. Identifying the right stewards may lead to a significant elevation of influence and authority for those individuals who can answer the questions about the data and the processes. Discovering this set of knowledgeable people can extend knowledge sharing, continuous improvement and consensus across the organization – for both data and process. Frequently, poor data quality is the result of incorrect or broken business processes, and correcting / improving business processes often leads to improved data quality and to a deeper understanding of the“right”business process.

One way to discover the alignment of data and the processes that create and manage it is to model the current and desired business processes and develop meta data (definitions, common terms, etc.) for the processes. A business process model facilitates the alignment of business specifications with the data the process needs. A shared model can help to keep the process and its data synchronized and reusable across the organization. Although this is a major effort, similar to the development of an enterprise data model, governance programs find that the benefits to business process modeling far outweigh the investment of time and resources. Governance can establish common process architecture, modeling and implementation approaches for the fundamental business processes and the data needed for these processes, leading to the stewardship of both the data and processes important to the organization.

In conclusion, remember, governance is not just for data! Include the business processes to create a more robust and holistic governance approach for your enterprise.

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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