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Gaining Executive Support for Data Governance

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Executive support is an essential, component of every successful program.  All data governance initiatives need executive sponsorship and continued support for success

At some point during the initial phase of the data governance initiative, the team charged with designing the program will need to solicit and receive executive support.  For many people this is a challenging prospect, and one that can leave managers and individual contributors wondering, “What do we do?”

Gaining executive support for continuing initiatives such as data governance is possible, but there are some important points that every data management professional should know and apply to secure and retain that essential element: active, continuing executive support.

Characteristics of Effective Executive Support

Executive support must be active.  Webster’s Dictionary defines “active” as an adjective meaning “characterized by movement rather than by contemplation or speculation” and “marked by present operation.”  When talking about executive support, the adjective “active” is most important, since it demonstrates that the support is practical (releasing money and other resources) and operative (something has been allowed to happen – formation or continuance of the program).  Many data governance initiatives have failed or stagnated due to the lack of active support.  The program was given passive support (e.g., nodding heads) but no actions occurred as a result (no sustained sources of funds were allotted, no staff committed to the tasks, no decisions implemented and continued, etc.)

It is crucial to identify the essential reasons for implementing data governance in the organization.  Jack Steele, of Active Strategy, calls this acknowledging the “Burning Platform” – a single, serious, complex, well-known business issue that negatively affects critical high-level outcomes.  Each data governance initiative will have one or two “Burning Platforms” and the team’s job is to identify it, articulate it and explain why the proposed data governance program will address / resolve that problem.  Without the “Burning Platforms” as impetus, the chances for garnering active executive support are slim.

Effective data governance programs focus on the strategic view, so that the solutions to the “Burning Platforms” demonstrate that the data governance initiative will provide long-term value and solve organizational challenges.

Successful data management and data governance efforts know their audiences.  The program teams research the perceptions, concerns and barriers to acceptance, and identify the existing levels of commitment or resistance to the data governance concept for each of the executives who will be asked to support the initiative.  This research is usually performed as part of a data governance assessment. Some leaders exhibit strong support, some will be resistant and most will be somewhere between the two extremes.  For each executive, recognize his or her perceived barriers to approving and supporting the data governance program – address each as clearly as possible and examine the costs of not implementing or not continuing data governance. 

Distinguish any benefits each executive may desire or perceive for the program – categorize them and estimate a value for each benefit.  Become acquainted with any competing organizations’ data governance program, in the industry or in respected organizations outside the industry.  List the reasons cited for their successful programs, including their “Burning Platforms” if they are published or discernible through discussions with subject matter experts.  Discover what each executive believes the organization’s successful data governance program would look like – and understand which parts of those visions would be included in the organization’s data governance program.

Marketing Data Governance to Executives

Productive data governance programs develop a marketing program for data governance with the executives as the audience.  Executives focus on financial and business issues, especially revenue generation and cost reduction.  The marketing to the executives should include points for each executive’s perception and concern, demonstrate the business and financial impact of the data governance program to the organization and outline the incremental view of establishing and sustaining data governance.  “Incremental” is important since 90+% of successful data governance programs are implemented incrementally – and not with a “big bang” approach.  Therefore, all communications with executives should stress both the benefits of the incremental approach and the fact that such an approach will require sustained support in funds and staff time.

 Articulate clearly the expected return on investment (ROI) for the program, and show how that ROI will be earned incrementally.  The tactical and strategic values of the data governance program may be evident to the planning team, but may not be clear to executives.  Explain why they should fund this program, possibly using funds planned for another initiative that involves data management, metadata management, data quality, etc.  The return on investment of data governance often covers several other enterprise data management domains, especially metadata management and data quality.

Concisely summarize what is needed from the executive team, and reasons for those needs.  Do not adopt a purely informational tone – ask for what is needed, specifically, every time someone from the data governance planning team has contact with an executive.  The planning team should identify exactly what is needed / desired and all requests for “support” should be stated with these concrete needs.

Remember that each chance to interact with one or more executives offers a chance to sell the concepts of data governance and express the successes the program has earned to that point.  Maintaining the executive support is one of the main responsibilities of the data governance program team, and should not be neglected at any point in the life of the program.


Following these points can lead to gathering and preserving active executive support for a data governance program.  In the final analysis, gaining and sustaining executive support is one of the most important activities for ensuring the success of a data governance program.


Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D.

Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of enterprise data management, data governance, data strategy, enterprise data architecture and data warehousing. Dr. Smith is a consultant and educator with over 30 years' experience. Author of numerous articles and Fellow of the Insurance Data Management Association (FIDM), and a Fellow of the Institute for Information Management (IIM), Dr. Smith is also a well-known speaker in her areas of expertise at conferences and symposia.

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