What the Avengers Teach Us about Data Governance Strategy

April 25, 2019

7 minute read

Seven superheroes are shown, ready for battle.

Can the world be saved? Will the Avengers survive? What fate awaits the mighty God of Thunder? At Adlib, we’re huge fans of the Avengers and the latest sequel has us thinking – once again – about what the world’s greatest superhero team can teach us about data.

We’ve already covered how the epic battle between Thanos and Marvel superheroes ties into data privacy (be sure to give it a read here). But the latest sequel has us honing in on a heroic data governance strategy for digital transformation. Read on for the four big learnings from our favorite band of heroes.

1. Develop your battle plan for data governance

Saving the world from the trickster god Loki may require stealth and misdirection, but wins sometimes come from picking off the low-hanging fruit and sending in the Hulk to lay waste to everything within reach. Victory for the Avengers relies on formulating the right plan of attack before a hammer is ever thrown or a villain is ever smashed.

Digital transformation journeys are most successful when a business has clearly defined its goals and identified the right data governance strategy for achieving those targets.

A data governance strategy is a plan for how an organization will manage its data so that it’s accessible, usable, secure and of a sufficient quality to drive business results as part of their digital transformation initiatives. This entails some key components: 

The graphic mentions four pillars of a data governance strategy: discovery, storage, access, and policies and procedures.

An effective data governance strategy will prepare a company’s content stores to fuel a variety of digital transformation initiatives, including the following scenarios:

  • If a company’s goal is to improve operational efficiency and/or improve the customer experience using process Robotic Process Automation (RPA), their data governance strategy needs to address extracting data from documents that cannot be read by the bots (such as images and scanned files) and further converting all of their unstructured data into digital assets that are machine-ready for automation.
  • If risk mitigation and compliance are the goals, this requires putting a data governance strategy in place to automatically find and protect PII hidden in a company’s repositories. Here, data governance best practices should define how sensitive data is cleaned, converted, redacted and protected so that it no longer poses a risk.
  • For many businesses, competitive advantage is gained by increasing speed-to-market. In these instances, data governance best practices involve automatically extracting the necessary values from documents and modifying the metadata so that the content can be used to fuel analytics engines that will identify trends and opportunities for new product development.

Digital Transformation goals:

The graphic outlines the four goals of digital transformation, including improved operational efficiency, accelerated product and service development, an enhanced customer journey, and improved compliance.

2. Assemble your diverse data governance team

Alone, the individual Avengers are formidable—but, as a team they are invincible because they are able to leverage their different, but complementary skillsets. Iron Man and War Machine rule the skies. Black Widow and Hawkeye rely on stealth. While Thor and Hulk form an indestructible power duo. A data governance strategy is no different.

Successful companies harvest data from various enterprise sources and assemble multi-disciplinary data governance project teams.

All the structured and unstructured data hidden in repositories around the organization has the potential to deliver true competitive advantage, but to leverage the data it must first be assembled by removing access barriers, identifying and eliminating ROT, and transforming unstructured content into structured assets.

Furthermore, a successful data governance strategy brings together all the stakeholders who can provide different types of expertise and insight in a digital transformation project—harnessing the power of complementary skillsets in disparate departments. This creates a multi-functional group that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here are a couple of examples:

The graphic explains how data governance can be applied in the life sciences industry. The graphic explains how data governance can be applied in the insurance sector.

The graphic explains how data governance can be applied in the life sciences industry.

The graphic explains how data governance can be applied in the insurance sector.

3. Anticipate data villains

The Avengers saved the planet from Loki and the Chitauri armada, but the job is not done—before they know it, they’re fighting for their lives against Ultron and his army. It seems like it’s never enough: there’s always another villain threatening to undo creation.

In the business world, enterprises have to be vigilant against the hard-to-anticipate villains that can affect their data quality and derail a digital transformation project.

Defeating the three villains outlined below requires following data governance best practices to address:

  • Dark data: Unearthing content locked in fileshares and formats that computers cannot readily access, and converting them into process-ready, digital assets to drive business insight and power process automation.
  • ROT: Leveraging AI-based classification technologies that utilize machine learning to analyze documents, identify content and eliminate any redundant, obsolete and trivial information.
  • PII: Implementing a data extraction process to identify sources of PII so that the sensitive data can be appropriately dealt with according to policies and procedures that are updated when regulations change (as in the case of GDPR).

4. Regroup before the next adventure

At the end of the first movie, the Avengers are beaten and bloodied. Half of New York lies in ruins, but they have saved the world. This is when Iron Man, crawling out of the rubble says, “There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it.” They’ll be neck-deep in the next battle before long, but they take the time to celebrate their victories and capture lessons for the next sequel.

In many companies, this simple step is often skipped.

There can be pressure to jump into the next round of battle and the next innovative project right away, but it’s important for businesses to take time to reflect along their digital transformation journey.

These are moments when a business can acknowledge their hard-won success, and further measure and evaluate the results of their digital transformation efforts to ensure that their data governance strategy is not only delivering ample amounts of data, but that it’s also energized to deliver success.

Wrap up

Avengers Endgame may be the last time we see our heroes in their current form, but the franchise has much to teach us about implementing data governance best practices. The companies that will be most successful in their digital transformation journeys are those that develop a plan of attack, assemble their teams, eliminate the villains, and take the time to review and re-energize before engaging in the next epic battle.

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