Governance and compliance are hardly the most glamourous aspects of analytics technology – a fact that was fairly openly acknowledged by one of Gartner’s experts on the topic, Thomas Oestreich, when he spoke at last week’s BI and Analytics Summit. But his claims that governance is ‘fun’ and even ‘exciting’ met with an appreciative audience in a packed seminar room at the event.
Away from this rarefied atmosphere, it may be harder to find such raw enthusiasm. However, Mr Oestreich was making a hugely important point, which is this: without a framework of governance that supports how an analytics programme should use data within an organisation, the capabilities of that programme will be severely curtailed.
This is not just a case of obeying the legal strictures dictating how companies may handle and use data – Mr Oestreich was very pointed in highlighting the differences between compliance, which entails obeying legal parameters, and governance, which refers to the businesses own policies. Simply obeying the legislation relating to the use of personal and financial data is rarely enough to ensure that analysis is accurate or effective.
As business intelligence and analytics technology continues to shift towards a more value-driven model, analysis will increasingly come to be based on a combination of financial and non-financial data. However the outcomes on which internal and external assessments of performance are based will continue to be described by financial metrics. This means that, while analysis deals with an ever-widening variety of data sets, the accuracy and precision that financial analysis demands will have to be extended to non-financial data sets as well.
More complex analysis means more potential for errors to be introduced into a calculation, so governance must be applied to all data that is introduced into the system. If it is not, then the integrity of financial outcomes may be compromised. And this process of data validation, auditing and sense-checking should be an integral part of the technology platform in use. If it is not, then governance will detract from the efficiency, and therefore, the usefulness, of the analysis itself.
Mr Oestreich finished his session at the Summit by using the analogy of a referee – just as a game of football cannot continue without the referee and the rules they enforce, so without governance, all of the value that analytics promises will be lost. It is the task of technology leaders and developers to make sure that governance is incorporated into technology in an effective, but streamlined manner, so the full potential of contemporary analytics technologies can be realised.