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Succeed with Just in Time Data Governance

May 18, 2017 - More and more higher education institutions are implementing data governance to better document their data, and, from our experience, this usually means a large committee with lots of meetings. And, this often leads to a lot of time spent with little results when that committee focuses exclusively on data documentation. Our recommendation is to empower a committee to handle policy and vision, and empower individuals to handle simple and small day-to-day data governance tasks. We call this approach just-in-time (JIT) data governance.

There is a life cycle that data requests go through (request receipt, analysis of request, report details and data definitions, and report development and delivery). Usually, a good report leads to more questions and the life cycle is repeated. During the life cycle, there needs to be real-time, interactive exchanges between individuals, and great communication between the parties involved. When someone needs to build a report or fill a data request, he/she needs access to the appropriate data steward and definitions quickly, rather than months later when a committee meets.

There are 2 key aspects to successful JIT data governance:

  • having empowered data stewards

  • having a documented workflow for review and approval

JIT data governance needs empowered data stewards for the day-to-day decisions. Usually, there is a data steward in each functional area. A data requester needs to have a clear understanding on the contact details for their data steward, the process to contact the data steward and what to expect from the data steward.

According to an Educause Working Group Paper data stewards are:

"Individuals who are responsible for promoting appropriate data use through planning, policy, and protocols at your institution. Data stewards provide university-level knowledge and understanding for a specific data area (e.g., student data, financial data, HR data, or alumni development data). Data stewards are responsible for data quality and data integrity, including consistent data definitions and their application throughout connected systems. They collaborate with other stewards to ensure that overlap areas (e.g., student employees and employees who are students) work across the board and that system updates are scheduled reasonably and tested appropriately. Data stewards work with security, privacy, and compliance officers to ensure that data are classified appropriately and that appropriate training is provided to users who will interact with data. Example stewards are the registrar and HR director."

Having a tool like the Data Cookbook is a big help in the review and approval process because it provides the definitions and workflows necessary for successful data governance. Using workflows, data questions that come up during day-to-day operations are routed directly to data stewards for approvals, editing, or back-and-forth discussion. With every question that is asked in real-life situations, the data dictionary can be built, reviewed, and grown. This provides better answers when they are needed; it also prevents wasting the time of a room full of people with more important things to do. The answers to questions can also be stored in a shared knowledge base accessible by those who need the information. The workflows help ensure the appropriate data steward is notified at the appropriate time.

When reports are delivered, with JIT data governance, there is backup information on where the numbers came from which will achieve trust in the data.

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