I’ve been asked whether there’s a similar data governance service to those offered in finance and IT.  The concept of a fractional IT or Finance director is well established, but I don’t know of anything formal within the Data Governance space.  I  would consider a number of my professional colleagues and myself to already offer this service, but we’ve never called it that.  So it seemed sensible to try and rough out what that might be and how it might operate. I’m very interested to get feedback and questions on whether this makes sense and/or there would be a demand for such as service in the Higher Education sector.

The outcomes of a robust, transparent and best practice data governance framework are often not well understood. If we think of data governance as ‘Proactively managing your data, to support your department and university‘, then the benefits become more obvious:

  • High quality, trusted data for improved operational efficiency and evidenced based decisions
  • A single source of data trusted throughout the university
  • An understanding of risks associated with data owned or data held on behalf of students
  • Improvement in a data driven student experience
  • Less time arguing about whose data is right, and more time having the right data at the right time

The issue with realising these benefits is, while data may be considered an asset, it does not have the same clarity of ownership, organisational structure, cultural behaviours and trained staff compared to other assets such as staff, finance and estates.

This makes designing, communicating, educating, implementing and sustaining data governance across the entire university quite a challenge. This lack of formal data governance qualifications and practitioner organisations make finding people who can do this a similar challenge.

Hence the need for ‘fractional data governance’. A good way to think of this is to consider how you would move house. Generally you’ll get advice to help you choose a new home, you’ll employ professionals in conveyancing, removals, etc. and you’ll have a set of processes to deal with changes of address, etc.

So here we have a set of skills we want to buy in for a specific purpose to help us accomplish a challenging task.

Fractional DG works like that. It helps the university translate its priorities around data – which should be visibly aligned to the objectives and goals of the university – into a framework to focus the management of that data. Like a house move, every fractional DG engagement is different. Universities are all individual and at different stages on their DG journey. A fractional DG professional will use their experience to take the building blocks of a generic framework and create something specific that can be implemented and sustained.

Once DG begins to take hold, the time required from fractional DG decreases. This is how it should be. A typical engagement would look to train someone in the institution to become the DG manager. These are rare skills and hard to find in HE, and our experience suggests taking an enthusiastic and knowledgeable individual from inside the university can work well when paired with an experienced practitioner.

While ever engagement is different, the types of services would include:

  • Development of a data strategy and an associated data policy
  • Development of an appropriate data governance framework which would consider:
    • Assessing the current data governance maturity level
    • Assessing the key requirements for data
    • Setting which data is a priority and why
    • How to set, measure and maintain data quality rules
    • How to report, triage and intervene on data quality
    • How to embed good data management into change
    • How an information lifecycle works and how to implement it
    • Identification of Data Stewards and Data Owners
    • Training and support of the above
    • Introducing and providing a maintenance process for a business glossary
    • Communication at all levels: how to sell DG and how to get everyone involved
    • Designing a data governance operating model
    • Training and support of a DG manager
    • Creating data models and other collateral to serve the above
    • Providing support for individual projects
    • Working with all parts of the university including IT on why/how DG should be implemented.
  • Ongoing support for the Data Governance manger and other individuals / teams
  • Advocacy for senior management to show the benefits derived by other university’s

As can be seen, many of these skills are only required at the start up and implementation phases. It would be difficult for a university to attract and retain these skills. A fractional DG approach supports the universities DG goals by filling in all the skills that have yet to be developed or are only needed for a short period of time.

There is no ‘standard’ engagement. However most universities will buy a block of days which can be used either remotely or on-site. They need is generally higher during the start/implementation of any initiative before reducing as the DG manager and the university become comfortable with the new way of operating.

The remit of fractional DG is essentially to help a university transition from data being a few peoples problem to everyones opportunity, without creating a bureaucracy or unsustainable structure.  It looks to formalise existing good practice, call out bad practice and add the additional skills and components to create a fit for purpose framework.