The director of data, analytics and insight at the Ministry of Defence, Tony Gosling, can certainly rise to a challenge. As he told the audience at the Tealium Digital Velocity Conference, he is currently undertaking the hardest job he has ever done in his life - making data governance a business priority for his organisation. He is having some success.
The data governance process was applied to assess the physical assets of the organisation back in 2014. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the part of the MoD responsible for building and maintaining the infrastructure needed to support defence, did not know how many buildings it had. The asset data was “owned” by a central admin team and it was thought that there were 150,000. Gosling’s first task was to clearly define a building - the term had been used loosely in the past and included flagpoles and smoking shelters. So he and his team set a data standard and went to all the facilities physically verifying every building. It turned out there were only 123,000.
He then trained 320 site delivery managers in the data standard so they could update the IT system with any changes related to property or buildings. Now the site delivery managers own the data for their buildings, Gosling’s team monitors any changes in data quality and the service delivery director owns the asset KPIs.
To achieve this result, Gosling applied a five-step data governance process. First, the data attribute is selected, then the ownership of the attribute is assigned to someone in the organisation. The third step involves gap analysis and the defining of the data. In the fourth stage, data quality is applied. The final step is choosing one of three courses of action - a data cleanse, process change or MIS delivery.
This whole process is managed by the data governance team and delivered by data owners and data stewards. Gosling explained that data owners must have a certain level of seniority as they decide how to balance risk and value when sharing or allowing access to data. However, anybody can be a data steward - they are appointed based on their current responsibilities and activities.
He explained that the data owners are responsible for ensuring data is defined and fit-for-purpose, as well as defining the data quality improvement plan and putting in place a compliance regime. On the other hand, the data stewards make sure the data is identified, they analyse data quality measurements and manage data quality improvement activities, defining and implementing a data quality improvement plan.
“This is a quite straightforward principle, but getting it really to work in an organisation is tough,” stated Gosling. He put in place a steering group chaired by the chief operating officer that acts as a gatekeeper to the data. If a business function wants a new piece of data, or data to be linked, joined or moved to the data warehouse, it puts in a request and the steering group decides who gets priority. “The data function and the IT function, we’re not deciding what the business gets. The business is deciding which data is sorted and the urgency and chunk through it,” remarked Gosling.
He also set up a working group to bring all the data stewards together and created a community of data guides and training material. In addition, he also created a central data governance team with “deep expertise” which works with the data stewards on implementing the data quality measurements.
The data governance process has also successfully been applied to people data and capital projects data. According to Gosling, getting data fixed is about getting the right people in the business to care and to understand that it’s often as much about people and behaviour as it is about IT systems. He said that now data is at the heart of how the organisation works.
He pointed out that there are still challenges as “plenty of bits of data” aren’t yet properly owned or structured and some functions still don’t “get it”. This is compounded by the complexity of the organisation. The DIO covers 1.8% of UK land mass, spends £3.5 billion a year and houses 250,000 people.
“I don’t want to try and claim that we’ve got this perfect. This is a really tough, long-term cultural and behavioural change to an organisation. It requires persistence,” he said. To visualise the difficulty of his job, Gosling likened it to climbing Mount Everest. He’s not at the peak yet but, with his achievements so far, he placed himself at the basecamp.