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What comes first, data governance or data strategy?

Data Governance, or Data Strategy - what comes first?

You want to get your data function off to a flying start, but what do you need to do first? Data Governance, or Data Strategy? Read on to find out more.

What's the problem?

In many firms, Data Management and Data Governance functions tend to “bubble up” naturally, growing out of the I.T. Department to try and tame their data beast. This makes sense, as the IT teams see cross functionally and understand the data bottlenecks and silos.

If your firm is just starting your Data Governance journey, you might be tempted to roll your sleeves up, learn data governance skills, and get on with your job. But is that really the right place to begin? Let’s start by defining what each term means.

Key definitions:

Data strategy

Data Strategy

A defined problem or opportunity statement that data poses for your unique situation, linked to coordinated actions that lead to your data ambitions.

Data Governance

The exercise of executive authority over business data. Specifically, setting the rules for how data is created, updated, read and deleted across your Enterprise.

Data Management

The "hands-on" work to implement the data rules set by the business. Implementing solutions that deliver great business data where it's needed.

What's a data strategy worth?

In our latest research, we discovered firms with a good data strategy outperformed their peers with bad data strategy by 35% in our Data Maturity Assessments

Bad Data Strategy

Good Data Strategy

So should I create a data strategy before setting up data governance?

In an ideal world, yes. Data Strategy dictates what our firm wants to get from the data on hand, which then directs what tasks and activities you need to perform to improve that data. Without a strategy, the Data Governance team does not have clear direction on what to do and why they’re doing it.

In the real world you might not have a Data Strategy. Only 2% of the firms we speak with have a good Data Strategy today, but all of them have someone responsible for Data Governance or Data Management.

If you are part of a Data Governance or Data Management team already without a Data Strategy then there’s no better time than now to create one. 

Steps to create a Data Strategy

9 ways data can drive business value
9 areas where data drives business performance

Who owns Data Strategy?

The Data Strategy in many firms is created and maintained by a Chief Data Officer, or CDO. In other firms, the CIO or CTO takes ownership. Given how important data is for modern business success, the Data Strategy should complement and support the business strategy and vision, meaning this work should be signed off by the Chief of Strategy or CEO.

This leads to a problem for many data professionals:

  • If you are buried a few layers deep in the IT team, how can you see the business strategy?
  • How can you get the business sponsors to share their goals and objectives if it’s not in your current job description to do this?
  • How can you earn your seat at the strategy setting table?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. 54% of the firms we speak to have senior stakeholders that are not interested in data improvements. Most of the time this is because the data team has failed to connect the dots between the work they do and the value the business will unlock. 

How data teams can take ownership of Data Strategy


Read your Annual Report

What is the stated business strategy? Where could data be used to increase revenues, cut costs, or reduce risks to these strategic ambitions?

Identify Data Problems

Talk to your colleagues in critical business functions and ask what information they use, what they need, and what their problems are.

Spot new opportunities

Are there areas where more data, better data, or 3rd party data could dramatically improve your existing business model? Let's find them and grow more quickly.

What do you do next?

Armed with ideas about where the business can improve with data, you’ve got to turn this into an action plan your firm can use. Here’s what you need to put into a winning Data Strategy:

Some of the coordinated actions you’re going to recommend will include Data Governance tasks. When you document the Problem/Opportunity statement you must define the “as-is” state – if your firm has weak Data Governance/Management practices today then your Data Strategy might need to focus on improving these capabilities before you target more advanced data usage projects like AI or predictive analytics.

How to pick up these skills:

How to Create Ironclad Data Strategy your Execs can't Ignore

Both the DAMA DMBoK and the EDM Council's DCAM tell us that data strategy is essential. Unfortunately, neither organisation tells you how to create one.

As a result, our research shows only 2% of firms align their data strategy with their business strategy.

Theory tells us Why we need strategy, Cognopia shows you How to create one using McDonald's as our central real-world example.


After taking this course, you will:

  1. Know the difference between Good Data Strategy and Bad Data Strategy
  2. Learn how to identify your business strategy even if you're locked out of the Boardroom
  3. Create a data strategy that your organisation can actually implement
  4. Be able to clearly communicate what you need your business to do to become data-driven
  5. Avoid common mistakes that technology teams make when designing data strategies

Buy now
Win with data

6 Easy Steps to Win at Data Governance

Perfect for beginners struggling to understand where Data Governance fits in their organisation.

We use real-world examples to show how bad data hurts your business, and what you can do to fix it.

The course is quick, with 3-5 minute long lessons that you can immediately put to use.

Where do I begin

After taking this course, you will:

  1. Be able to understand key data governance concepts
  2. Know how to persuade your management to invest in data governance
  3. Easily identify the root cause of data issues in your firm
  4. Understand the capabilities you need to bring your data under control
  5. Be ready to launch or relaunch your data governance initiative

Buy now

Learn how to build a data-driven business and make more money

We teach practical tips, tricks, tools and techniques to get data management flying. Leave the theory in the classroom and grab practical skills that work in the real world.

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