Political underpinnings of data governance

I asked Gwen Thomas, founder of the Data Governance Institute, how businesses’ data management plans were changing , and she started to explain why “The Tragedy of the Commons” summed up the politics behind a data storage plan, and the need for data governance.

“The Tragedy of the Commons,” in a nutshell, is the story of how villagers were given free rein over pasture land. Their cows could graze wherever, and whenever, they wanted on open fields. No one was in charge, and no farmer was incented to have his cattle or sheep eat less. This is a recipe for overgrazing, since a common ground approach only works if everyone understands their neighbors’ needs and are incented to do the right thing for their neighbors.

“A storage ecosystem is so much the same,” Thomas said. “If I’m collecting data for operational purposes, I have as small a budget as possible, which means I’m not excited about putting in metadata (which costs money to do) just so another group in the organization doesn’t have to spend an additional 30% later to find the data.”

In other words, people aren’t very neighborly when it comes to sharing the costs of data storage or the process of classifying that data so people can find it.

But that resistance is changing. Now people are suffering the costs associated with e-discovery, or compliance or search, and realizing that no one was paying attention to things like metadata and data classification, she said. “Once they suffer the problems of not being able to find information, they move from a management-by-technology approach to governance that brings together the business, information management and compliance.”

And as you put a data governance plan in place, be prepared for bruised egos. Some are simply going to believe that their own data is not as important as their neighbors’, because they get stuck with the least expensive storage technology and capacity. And they won’t understand why they need to incur the cost of putting in metadata, especially if the data is being used for the benefit of the entire business.

“Operations will ask why they should be charged for capturing metadata for the analytics department, and marketing won’t understand why they are being charged either, when the collective data is being used on behalf of the entire company,” she said.

Who knew data governance could be such a political hotbed, or that storage strategies could have so much in common with farming? On a side note, does the excerpt below by Garrett Hardin, the author of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” remind you at all of your own approach to storage?

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.
2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another. … But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit — in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing
Data Center
and ESG