Data governance is a defined process an organization follows to ensure that high quality data exists throughout the complete lifecycle. The key focus areas of data governance include availability, usability, integrity and security. This includes establishing processes to ensure important data assets are formally managed throughout the enterprise, and the data can be trusted for decision-making. Often the processes used in data governance include accountability for any adverse event that results from data quality. Data governance also describes an evolutionary process for a company, altering the company's way of thinking and setting up the processes to handle information so that it may be utilized by the entire organization. It's about using technology when necessary in many forms to help aid the process. When companies desire, or are required, to gain control of their data, they empower their people, set up processes and get help from technology to do it.
Organizationally, a data steward role exists (or is created) to ensure data governance processes are followed, guidelines enforced and recommend improvements to data governance processes as part of the continuous improvement frameworks. The objective of the data governance and data steward role is to use and improve processes for preventing and correcting issues with data to improve data quality available for decision-making.
According to one vendor, data governance is a quality control discipline for assessing, managing, using, improving, monitoring, maintaining, and protecting organizational information. It is a system of decision rights and accountabilities for information-related processes, executed according to agreed-upon models which describe who can take what actions with what information, and when, under what circumstances, using what methods.
Data governance encompasses the people, processes, and information technology required to create a consistent and proper handling of an organization's data across the business enterprise. Goals may be defined at all levels of the enterprise and doing so may aid in acceptance of processes by those who will use them. Some goals include
These goals are realized by the implementation of Data governance programs, or initiatives using Change Management techniques.
While data governance initiatives can be driven by a desire to improve data quality, they are more often driven by C-Level leaders responding to external regulations. In fact, in a recent report conducted by CIO WaterCooler community, 54% stated the key driver was efficiencies in processes; 39% - regulatory requirements; and only 7% customer service.  Examples of these regulations include Sarbanes-Oxley, Basel I, Basel II, HIPAA, GDPR, cGMP, and a number of data privacy regulations. To achieve compliance with these regulations, business processes and controls require formal management processes to govern the data subject to these regulations. Successful programs identify drivers meaningful to both supervisory and executive leadership.
Common themes among the external regulations center on the need to manage risk. The risks can be financial misstatement, inadvertent release of sensitive data, or poor data quality for key decisions. Methods to manage these risks vary from industry to industry. Examples of commonly referenced best practices and guidelines include COBIT, ISO/IEC 38500, and others. The proliferation of regulations and standards creates challenges for data governance professionals, particularly when multiple regulations overlap the data being managed. Organizations often launch data governance initiatives to address these challenges.
Data governance initiatives improve data quality by assigning a team responsible for data's accuracy, accessibility, consistency, and completeness, among other metrics. This team usually consists of executive leadership, project management, line-of-business managers, and data stewards. The team usually employs some form of methodology for tracking and improving enterprise data, such as Six Sigma, and tools for data mapping, profiling, cleansing, and monitoring data.
Data governance initiatives may be aimed at achieving a number of objectives including offering better visibility to internal and external customers (such as supply chain management), compliance with regulatory law, improving operations after rapid company growth or corporate mergers, or to aid the efficiency of enterprise knowledge workers by reducing confusion and error and increasing their scope of knowledge. Many data governance initiatives are also inspired by past attempts to fix information quality at the departmental level, leading to incongruent and redundant data quality processes. Most large companies have many applications and databases that can't easily share information. Therefore, knowledge workers within large organizations often don't have access to the information they need to best do their jobs. When they do have access to the data, the data quality may be poor. By setting up a data governance practice or Corporate Data Authority, these problems can be mitigated.
The structure of a data governance initiative will vary not only with the size of the organization, but with the desired objectives or the 'focus areas'  of the effort.
Implementation of a Data Governance initiative may vary in scope as well as origin. Sometimes, an executive mandate will arise to initiate an enterprise wide effort, sometimes the mandate will be to create a pilot project or projects, limited in scope and objectives, aimed at either resolving existing issues or demonstrating value. Sometimes an initiative will originate lower down in the organization's hierarchy, and will be deployed in a limited scope to demonstrate value to potential sponsors higher up in the organization. The initial scope of an implementation can vary greatly as well, from review of a one-off IT system, to a cross-organization initiative.
Leaders of successful data governance programs declared in December 2006 at the Data Governance Conference in Orlando, FL, that data governance is between 80 and 95 percent communication." That stated, it is a given that many of the objectives of a Data Governance program must be accomplished with appropriate tools. Many vendors are now positioning their products as Data Governance tools; due to the different focus areas of various data governance initiatives, any given tool may or may not be appropriate, in addition, many tools that are not marketed as governance tools address governance needs and demands.
A number of major conferences relevant to data governance are held annually:
At the inaugural Data Governance Conference in Orlando, Florida, in December 2006, leaders of successful data governance programs declared that in their experience, data governance is between 80 and 95 percent communication. Clearly, data governance is not a typical IT project.