A Guide to Data Governance for Small Businesses

Implementing data governance is key to protecting your company’s sensitive data. Here’s how to include data governance when you’re a small business.

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Data can be critical to the efficient operation of every business, but not all businesses are created equal when it comes to the ability to capitalize on data. Impressive as it may seem to read what Google or Delta Air Lines are doing with their data, a much smaller company will often lack the budget and people to deliver similar results.

But company size shouldn’t be a barrier to effective data governance. Data governance sets clear standards for handling data while improving the quality and consistency of data across your business, something businesses of all sizes can master.

SEE: Recruitment Kit: Database Engineer (TechRepublic Premium)

The key to mastering data governance for a small business is actually the same as for a large enterprise: focus on data quality rather than quantity and use cloud-based solutions to minimize undifferentiated maintenance infrastructure. Learn more about the specifics of how you can get started with data governance in this small business guide.

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Is data governance right for your small business?

Data governance dictates how an organization manages its data throughout its lifecycle, from acquisition to disposal, as well as the different modes of use in between. Although data governance involves tools, it is much more than that: it also involves the processes people must follow to ensure data security, availability, and integrity.

If these things seem to be useful for a small business, that’s because they are. At its most basic level, data governance ensures business leaders have access to trusted data to inform their decisions.

It’s easy to assume that effective data management, with the attendant data governance, is big business. However, startups and small businesses are often at the forefront of data-driven innovation. Even if you don’t aspire to be the next Airbnb, effective data governance should be a priority.

Data Governance Best Practices for Small Businesses and Startups

Designate data stewards and other data stewards in your organization

Even though we hear about “big data”, the reality for most companies, big or small, is that their success will be correlated to the quality of the data rather than the quantity. In a small business, the number of data governance roles may decrease, but the data manager remains essential.

Data stewards are subject matter experts who take responsibility for day-to-day data management. These stewards are on the front lines of maintaining data quality. Data stewards will be more successful if they are clearly delegated by the leadership team to guide the use of data across the enterprise.

To be clear, yes, all organizations – large and small – should make enterprise-wide data literacy a priority. But that initiative starts with a central person or group of people who take data stewardship seriously and can communicate best practices across the organization. The most important best practice for data governance begins and ends with people.

Integrate the cloud into your data governance plans

Another best practice for data governance, especially for small businesses, is to embrace the cloud. Today, more data governance tools run in the cloud than on on-premises infrastructure. Add to that the reality that more of the data that requires governance comes from cloud-based applications, and it becomes critical to both store and manage data in and with the cloud as your backbone.

Differentiate between data governance and data management

It is also important to distinguish between data governance and data management. Think of data governance as the policies that outline the strategic use of data, while data management involves the execution of those policies.

READ MORE: What are the differences between data management and data governance? (TechRepublic)

In a small business, these two functions may fall under the same person, but ideally IT will leverage data management tools while business operations will think about data governance.

The Best Data Governance Tools for Small Businesses

Strong data governance is more about people and processes than tools, but tools can be an effective way to complement the right people and processes. I have writing typically on data governance tools, but small businesses shouldn’t fall into the trap of buying tools meant for their larger counterparts.

For example, Supermetrics helps companies manage their marketing data and has thought perfected his product for small businesses, both from a price and user experience perspective. Small businesses need something affordable and streamlined. This is where something like DvSum may not be suitable for small businesses: $5,000 per month probably costs too much for the data quality and cataloging needs of a small business.

SEE: Recruitment Kit: Data Scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

That said, small businesses should forward any data governance solutions that do the following:

  • Refuse to provide prices in advance. “Price request” as is the case with Netwrixis a dark pattern of expensive tools that small businesses should avoid.
  • Require or widely market professional services to be implemented, such as professed.
  • Don’t offer a free tier option so a small business can get a feel for the usefulness of the product before buying it.
  • Try to sell solutions based on technology rather than business value. For example, Infosolve’s OpenDQ talks mainly about its technology stack; this may be appropriate for a business, but it is not the right goal for a small business.

Small businesses should ignore any data governance provider that does not market directly to small businesses on its website. Here Supermetrics shines, but most others fail.

This could be a clue that effective small business data governance can be best achieved with strong data management to guide and enforce policies and processes, using Excel or other common repositories for data. Or, as with Reinforcethis could be a sign to buy SaaS tools that are directly related to common tools – like Microsoft 365 — that a small business is already using.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

Helen D. Jessen