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Data is a four-letter word. Governance is not.

“The world is one big data problem,” says MIT scientist and visionary Andrew McAfee.

That’s a daunting (though hardly surprising) quote for many in data-rich sectors, including higher education. Yet blaming data is like blaming air for a malfunctioning wind turbine. Data is a valuable asset that can make your institution move.

To many of us, however, data remains a four-letter word. The real culprit behind the perceived data problem is our handling and perception of data and the role it can play in our success—that is, the relegating of data to a select, responsible few, who are usually separated into hardened silos. For example, a common assumption in higher education is that the IT team can handle it. Not so. Data needs to be viewed as an institutional asset, consumed by many and used by the institution for the strategic purposes of student success, scholarship, and more.

The first step in addressing your “big” data problem? Data governance.

What is data governance?

There are various definitions, but the one we use with our clients is “the ongoing and evolutionary process driven by leaders to establish principles, policies, business rules, and metrics for data sharing.”

Please note that the phrase “IT” does not appear anywhere in this definition.

Why is data governance necessary? For many reasons, including:

 1. Data governance enables analytics. Without data governance, it’s difficult to gain value from analytics initiatives which will produce inconsistent results. A critical first step in any data analytics initiative is to make sure that definitions are widely accepted and standards have been established. This step allows decision makers to have confidence in the data being analyzed to describe, predict, and improve operations.
2.  Data governance strengthens privacy, security, and compliance. Compliance requirements for both public and private institutions constantly evolve. The more data-reliant your world becomes, the more protected your data needs to be. If an organization does not implement security practices as part of its data governance framework, it becomes easier to fall out of compliance. 
3.  Data governance supports agility. How many times have reports for basic information (part-time faculty or student FTEs per semester, for example) been requested, reviewed, and returned for further clarification or correction? And that’s just within your department! Now add multiple requests from the perspective of different departments, and you’re surely going through multiple iterations to create that report. That takes time and effort. By strengthening your data governance framework, you can streamline reporting processes by increasing the level of trust you have in the information you are seeking. 

Understanding the value of data governance is the easy part/ The real trick is implementing a sustainable data governance framework that recognizes that data is an institutional asset and not just a four-letter word.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series: The how of data governance in higher education. In the meantime, reach out to me if you would like to discuss additional data governance benefits for your institution.

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