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Delivering on data governance

Making sure IT’s glass is half full

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Lab Data governance can be dismissed as ‘applied common sense’, or balked at as an impossible endeavour which once embarked upon, will never end. The fact that one end of the data governance spectrum can seem a bit frightening means many organisations tend towards the other, and wind up doing the absolute minimum in order to get by.

These days, the absolute minimum frequently involves some significant effort, thanks to various rules and regulations such as the Data Protection Directive, Basel II and Solvency II. For many companies, it is common to focus on the minimum standards required to achieve compliance, instead of seeking to incrementally expand the effort and reap the benefits of being compliant more broadly across the business. In a previous research note, we used the phrase ‘value driven compliance’ to highlight the difference between approaching regulatory compliance as a chore versus seeing it as a business enabler.

Independently of compliance, most IT managers acknowledge that their users experience difficulties in locating, accessing and presenting data as part of their day to day jobs, especially when it needs to be drawn from multiple systems. However, with the right approach and appropriate technologies, opportunities exist to tackle such problems and compliance simultaneously, shifting activity from a defensive to a value-oriented approach.

This all sounds great in principle, but who’s responsible for making it happen? In terms of making sure the business remains within the law, it’s ultimately the board’s responsibility. However this doesn’t get IT off the hook. In fact, this area presents a significant opportunity for IT to help itself by ensuring it is in position to help the business understand what is actually achievable from a technological point of view. A natural next step is to then help the business prioritise the areas which need remedial attention.

Ultimately, in order to help a business adhere to a data governance strategy, IT needs a voice at the point where policies are made. It is here that sensible and sustainable decisions are reached – or not – so it is crucial that IT is represented to make sure that requirements are objective and practical, and that the capabilities exist to deliver them effectively.

The question, as always, is where to start? On one hand it’s all common sense stuff, but as we know, common sense doesn’t scale and transfer so well once you have an organisation of more than a handful of people. The ability and temptation to break rules willingly or accidentally when technology is in the mix is significant.

By way of a practical entry point, IT can take a two-pronged approach, which is likely to involve extending or formalising things it has ‘always’ done. The first part is to get its own house in order, ie by making sure that all elements of the technology stack comply with policy and governance, including third party-procured services.

The latter point may provide the ‘bridge’ towards tighter integration of these kinds of activities across IT and the business. A few common areas exist which (should) create mutual concern, but are more likely to be things which IT is inherently aware of, and the business is not. For example, IT is already familiar with ‘virtual services’ and may think nothing of spinning up the odd virtual machine here and there on third party infrastructure for test and development activities, and be confident enough in its own technical and organisational abilities to make sure that everything that needs to be locked down or ‘turned off’ after the activity is finished is taken care of.

Business users, when faced with similar types of ‘free’ or easy-to-access services may not give a moment’s thought to practicalities such as whether or not providing corporate details or using potentially sensitive data in third party ‘cloud’ services is acceptable or even legal.

Hence, an opportunity exists for IT to make its mark in terms of guiding the business through this potentially tricky area. A good point at which to kick things off is by simply setting a good example (and making sure senior IT management are marketing that fact strongly internally) and being the early warning beacon to ward off any unnecessary risk-taking on the business side. ®

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