Associate Vice President Cathy Bates and Senior Consultant Joanna Grama recently presented at the NACUBO National Meeting along with Augie Freda from Notre Dame and Rachel Serrano from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The following is excerpted from their presentation, “Dude Where’s My Data? Leveraging Data Governance to Improve Analytics.” This post authored by Cathy Bates.
What is data governance and why is it important?
Higher education institutions generate enormous amounts of data. The desire for more data-driven decision making has led to a surge in efforts to better use data for strategic planning and operational improvements. In order to get the maximum value from this data while safeguarding its effective use, it is critical to adopt a data-informed culture and develop processes to protect the data and manage its effective use.
Augie Freda remarked “data governance is a change agent for the institution. We learned that data matters in ways that we had never even considered. Data governance allows us to ask more precise and accurate questions about our data.”
Data governance is a framework for contributing to decision-making regarding policies, processes, and priorities for institutional data assets.
What this means in practice is that campus leadership needs to make data more usable and secure by:
- Promoting leadership, vision, coordination, and prioritization for complex and valuable data assets across the organization
- Prioritizing and marshaling resources to address strategic objectives and opportunities
- Facilitating campus-wide input on data challenges and strategic directions
- Supporting changes in institutional culture, ownership and accountability
These objectives are not easy. It requires an intentional and sustained approach to support new processes and remove barriers that have developed over many years. Leadership support is crucial for success. Rachel Serrano indicated that,” leadership helps by walking the walk–enforcing the governance decisions and promoting the use of data to the campus.”
Bust the barriers to effective data use at your institution
The volume and increasingly disparate forms of institutional data add to the challenge of effective use of campus data. Data exists in a myriad of student, financial, and environmental systems that store data on premise and/or in the cloud. The first step is to identify common issues and address them systematically.
These are three of the most common reported barriers to effective data use:
- We don’t know what we have for data
- We aren’t getting proper support for data use
- We’ve got many data fiefdoms
In order to better recognize and “bust” these barriers, it’s important to understand the symptoms, identify the diagnosis, and follow a treatment regimen:
Barrier: We don’t know what we have for data
|Acute Symptom||Lacking important data to support institutional performance metrics or other required reporting|
|Diagnosis||Data not treated as an institutional asset|
|Treatment||Establish requirements for institutional data assets|
A data governance charter is a foundational step forward toward a holistic approach to campus data usage. Rachel Serrano explained that, “a charter doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to specify roles and responsibilities.”
“A charter doesn’t have to be complicated.”
A charter can be used to define scope, roles, authority and responsibilities, as well as a data strategy for the campus. Use the charter to ensure that campus data is elevated to an institutional asset and can be managed as such.
Barrier: We aren’t getting proper support for data use
|Acute Symptom||Lack of information about available data and prescribed use|
|Diagnosis||Data owners are not prioritizing access, documentation, and education about the data|
|Treatment||Clear and easy requirements for access, an accessible data inventory and dictionary, and an education program to support effective and standard use of data|
A next important step is to complete a data inventory. Joanna Gramma suggests that, “the data inventory is a good chance for the CBO and CIO to work together.” Creating a data inventory will help campus users understand what data is available and how data relationships need to be properly handled to ensure quality usable data.
“The data inventory is a good chance for the CBO and CIO to work together.”
With an inventory in place, the next focus should be on data dictionaries to support the correct use of complex data and data management practices to address data quality. These are important efforts and will require significant coordination on the part of the data governance committee. Leaders need to ensure that the institution’s expectations on appropriate use of data are clear and understood, and that the campus users are appropriately skilled and equipped to appropriately use and analyze the data. Rachel Serrano advised that, “a data dictionary is more than a database definition; it is also a process definition.”
Barrier: We’ve got many data fiefdoms
|Acute Symptom||Units with data unwilling to make that data available to others|
|Diagnosis||The institution does not view data as an institutional asset to be invested|
|Treatment||Ensure that expectations on sharing and accessing information (and the associated accountability) are clearly established and understood.|
Setting institutional direction for data stewards is vital to removing data fiefdoms. All areas of the data inventory should have assigned data stewards. The role of data stewardship will likely need to be updated to support institutional strategies for data protection, while simultaneously promoting access and effective use for all appropriate users.
“A data steward has to be willing to question campus norms and assumptions.”
Augie Freda advises that “a data steward has to be willing to question campus norms and assumptions.” The data governance committee can work with stewards to facilitate processes to discuss and resolve common data quality issues.
What can you do to be a data governance hero?
Campus leaders should serve as engaged executive sponsors for data governance. Unified, proactive leadership ensures a successful data governance program by:
- Supporting the use of data for strategic planning and operational decisions
- Ensuring involvement of all campus leaders and stakeholders (all must play)
- Providing a clear strategy from institutional leadership
- Providing equal opportunity to leverage and use data
- Supporting campus-wide conversations on data challenges, opportunities, and strategic directions
Campus leadership has an important role to play in supporting the necessary changes to foster a collaborative, data-informed, decision-making culture and effectively implement a data governance program.