Data governance and information ownership: Enterprise relationship issues with data

Even the best relationships have issues, and your organization’s relationship with data is no different.

Particularly problematic are questions of data governance. Does data belong to the enterprise that houses it, or secures it in the cloud? Do consumers have a voice in its uses and if so, how much of one?

It’s been a long-standing tenet – at least as long as the issue has been jockeyed around in the industry – that enterprise data is an asset to be managed – not “owned” by individuals.

But this has to be married with privacy laws, consumer expectations, consent and robust data management practices so you can get the most out of your information assets – without alienating your relationship with your end users.

Designating data governance stewards

Enterprises can employ a data ownership approach that addresses governance by deciding who has access to enterprise data, aligning that governance with typical information management processes that address retention, security, privacy and other components that account for policies on data limits – e.g., contact/consent models, collection, retention and so forth.

This model of assigning data ownership has a lot of moving parts – from assigning roles, aligning it with other enterprise compliance practices, to differentiating between “owners” versus “stewards.” As long as those parts are managed, however, this can be a simple approach for many small- to medium-sized enterprises.

Data governance on a larger scale

The relationship with data in larger organizations faces greater challenges, however – challenges that can prohibit effective governance using a simple “assigning ownership” approach. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for large enterprises to trace all types of data through all data flows to allow it to use a data ownership or stewardship model.

Are there better options?

Maybe. The federated responsibilities approach offers some advantages to larger organizations because rather than tracing all data through all data flows, governance is achieved by categorizing data paths into manageable segments – then assigning these segments to governance areas or groups.

This approach is more complex than its ownership/steward counterpart. It may require designating a “point person” for each accountability area – a person that often has other responsibilities who could feel overwhelmed with the complexity of the resources involved in that particular data segment area. But done correctly, it can be more effective.

In other words, your relationship with data is like any other relationship: There is no one, correct way to address your issues.