This isa subject we often come back to, because it’s a hard problem to solve. Not impossible, but requires authenticity and organisational narrative wrapped in rigorous approach to creating the right content to engage, enthuse and – ultimately – convince your audience. The term ‘crafting’ feeling appropriate here- this is not a cookie cutter generic document that promises ‘data driven decision making’, ‘reduced costs’ or ‘improved risk management’. Rather it explains simply but coherently why managing data as an asset is integral and enabling to the success of the organisation, specifically in support of its stated goals and priorities.

Wow, that’s quite an ask isn’t it? Nicola Askham and I attempted to answer it in the Masterclass we virtually ran today. The webinar was inspired by both of us being asked this question on a weekly basis, and an excellent article from Neil Borge on LinkedIn. While it’s hard to summarise all the content we ran through, here are the main threads of the discussions:

  • Return On Investment is difficult to quantify. Framing the business case based on tradition cost/return is not our preferred approach
  • Complexity of the Data Ecosytem. The way data is held, managed and used is messy and complicated. Often this leads to  ‘we need a new system’ priorities.  We need to decouple data from systems to explain why Data Governance is the first step and technology follows.
  • Lack of awareness and understanding. Data governance is still a relatively new and evolving discipline. Many organisations do not fully understand its importance or how it can benefit them. It does not deliver ‘a shiny thing’, hence education is part of any business case.
  • Resistance to change. Operational issues do not always move the needle with senior staff. Their lived data experience is unsighted on the issues and frustrations their teams suffer every day. There’s often a big ‘it’s not broken, we don’t need to fix it’ mindset that needs to be overcome.

So how do you counter that? Simple question, complex answer. The one concept to keep in mind at all times is Data Governance MUST be positioned to support/enable/unblock the objectives the organisation is already committed to. It follows that the audience – at this stage – is the senior leadership invested in those objectives.  Rarely do we find an individual leader with mandated accountability for data. So we must demonstrate how data governance is measurably aligned to the objectives this group shares. To do so our business case must address:

  • Clarity on the purpose and scope of Data Governance: Clearly defining the objectives and scope of data governance ensures that the business case is aligned with the needs of the organisation. Don’t try and do it all, focus on critical data and show how the capability can scale up. Do not start with big bang!
  • Senior level  sponsorship: Having a (or preferably more than one) senior sponsor who champions the data governance initiative is critical to its success. It provides the necessary resources and support to ensure that the business case is implemented effectively. Take care when nominating a CDO (if you have one) as their tenure is often limited to less than the time it takes to embed Data Governance.
  • Alignment with organisation strategy: As previously stated (but we’ll say it again!) Data Governance MUST be linked to the overall business strategy. It should support some (but not all, remember the scope point above) of the organisations goals and objectives.
  • Benefits analysis. Moving away from ROI and generic ‘data enabled’ benefits that don’t pass the ‘so-what’ test. Authentic and specific benefits that address known operational issues AND enable stated objectives.
  • Measurable outcomes. These are outcomes that demonstrate Data Governance’s impact on the organisations performance. Measurable outcomes can help those senior leaders really understand the value and impact in ways they care about. The flip side of this is be honest about what can be measured and that qualitative outcomes also have value.

For all these points, two final bits of guidance. 1) Use the language of your organisation NOT tribal data language or technical terms and 2) Keep it short! If more detail is needed, it can be requested. A 20 page business case is about 15 pages too long!

Our experience with making the case for DG is it iterative. Taking an approach of shared risk with senior leaders is the right way to go. Build the capability, demonstrate how it supports the organisation, be honest about issues and missteps, ask for help, guidance and support and move on. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely possible and the benefits will become clearer as the capability evolves.

This masterclass generated so much interest, we had to introduce a wait list.  So we’ll be running  a second session on May 23, 2023 at 10am BST. You can book your place here

The ‘business case grid’ is included as an attachment. You are welcome to re-use for free but please cite us when you do.