Michael Daconta | The ROI of good governance

Michael Daconta

In a post-Enron, post-Katrina climate, the new meaning of ROI could be risk of incarceration. You could say it's a significant return on investment for senior executives and managers to stay out of jail ' just ask Eliot Spitzer. Perhaps I exaggerate somewhat, but reducing the risk of incarceration requires commercial and government organizations to operate at a whole new level of transparency, rigor and oversight. And that higher level of operation requires the formal governance of core organizational processes.

Governance is the combination of people, processes and technologies needed to effectively control an organizational activity.

The people part of governance involves a formal group given authority to make decisions about events, participants and artifacts in the life cycle of the activity being governed. For this body to gather, meet, discuss and decide, members must make a significant organizational investment of time and money. Running an effective governing body is not cheap.

The process part of governance is the definition and documentation of clear steps or procedures and quality control gates for the activity. The technology in governance involves one or more information technology systems to measure and track items as they progress through the process or are affected by it.

So although governance reduces risk, it is difficult and sometimes costly to do well. Here are three suggestions to help establish or improve your governance efforts.

Get the sequence right. Sound governance is an important measure, but it should not be your first step. Why not? First, governance is expensive. You don't want high-priced managers wasting time in meetings. Second, before you govern or control anything, you need to know what you are trying to govern.

An important corollary to that axiom is that you cannot govern everything. So defining everything as your scope ' whether it is all data or all development efforts ' is the wrong answer. This concept is often the most overlooked in our rush to do something.

So what is the first step? Architecture. For data, this is self-explanatory; for other processes, it means developing a scope through a careful design that accounts for the big picture. Think architecture before governance.

Get the tools right. To control anything, you need the ability to measure progress, record results, analyze trends and report findings to the governing body. In other words, there is an infrastructure investment associated with all governance.

One core tool for governance is a registry or repository of process artifacts, metrics and metadata. Unfortunately, these tools often do not interoperate so we have registries for enterprise architecture, service-oriented architecture, metadata, applications, security and more.

People often confuse registries and repositories. A registry has pointers to external items; a repository stores items internally.

To further confuse the issue, those functions often are combined into a single product ' which can be called a registry/repository.

So how do we get the tools right? First, you must have tools that achieve the proper degree of transparency and monitoring. Second, look for tools with robust import/export capabilities in a nonproprietary format, such as Extensible Markup Language. Third, design effective metadata to describe the salient features of your controlled items.

Make efforts interoperable. I work with customers to integrate their system development life cycle processes with data governance processes. They are keenly aware of the mutual dependencies between the processes and want an integrated governance approach.

They know that good system development includes data governance to eliminate system incompatibility. In the same way, stand-alone governance efforts increase costs, reduce collaboration and require rework or manual reconciliation for items that cross governance bodies.

The best start for integrated governance is to follow processes that are already tightly bound together, such as project management, system development and data management. Think of projects, systems and data as the holy triad of integrated governance. A one- or two-legged stool will not stand. So take a new, more holistic view of governance to reduce costs, make the most of natural synergies and reduce that new ROI.

Daconta (mdaconta@acceleratedim.com) is a former metadata program manager at the Homeland Security Department and author of 'Information As Product: How to Deliver the Right Information to the Right Person at the Right Time.'

About the Author

Michael C. Daconta (mdaconta@incadencecorp.com) is the Vice President of Advanced Technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former Metadata Program Manager for the Homeland Security Department. His new book is entitled, The Great Cloud Migration: Your Roadmap to Cloud Computing, Big Data and Linked Data.

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