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Data may be essential to the effective operation of every business, but not all businesses are created equal when it comes to the capacity to capitalize on data. As impressive as it may be to read about what Google or Delta Air Lines do with their data, a much smaller business will often lack the budget and people necessary to deliver similar results.

But company size shouldn’t be an inhibitor to effective data governance. Data governance sets clear standards for data processing while improving the quality and consistency of data within your company, which is something that companies of all sizes can master.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Database engineer (TechRepublic Premium)

The key to mastering data governance for a small business is actually the same as it would be for a large business: focus on the quality of data over quantity and use cloud-based solutions to minimize undifferentiated infrastructure maintenance. 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 the data’s lifecycle, from acquisition to disposal, as well as the different modes of usage in between. Though data governance involves tooling, it’s much more than that: It also involves the processes people must follow to ensure the security, availability and integrity of data.

If these things sound like they’d be useful for a small company, that’s because they are. At its most basic level, data governance ensures business leaders can access reliable data to inform their decisions.

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

Best data governance practices for small businesses and startups

Designate data stewards and other data leaders in your organization

As much as we hear about “big data,” the reality for most companies, large or small, is that their success will be correlated with data quality rather than quantity. In a smaller business, the number of data governance roles may shrink, but the data steward remains critical.

Data stewards are subject matter experts who take responsibility for the routine management of data. These stewards are on the front line for preserving data quality. Data stewards will be most successful if clearly delegated authority by the executive team to guide data use throughout the company.

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

Incorporate the cloud in your data governance plans

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

Differentiate between data governance and data management

It’s 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 come under the same person, but ideally, IT will operate data management tooling while business operations think through data governance.

Top data governance tools for small businesses

Strong data governance has more to do with people and processes than tools, but tools can be an effective way of complementing the right people and processes. I’ve written generally about data governance tools, but smaller companies shouldn’t fall into the trap of buying tools that are intended for their larger peers.

For example, Supermetrics helps companies manage their marketing data and has thoughtfully honed its product for smaller businesses, both from a pricing and UX perspective. Small companies need something affordable and streamlined. This is where something like DvSum may not meet the mark for small businesses: $5,000 per month likely costs too much for a smaller business’s data cataloging and quality needs.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Data Scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

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

  • Refuse to provide pricing upfront. “Request pricing,” as is the case with Netwrix, is a dark pattern of expensive tools that small businesses should avoid.
  • Require or extensively market professional services to implement, such as Profisee.
  • Do not offer a free tier option that enables a small business to get a feel for the product’s utility before buying.
  • Try to sell solutions based on technology rather than business value. For example, Infosolve’s OpenDQ talks primarily about its technology stack; that may be appropriate for an enterprise, but it’s not the right focus for a small business.

Small businesses should skip any data governance provider that doesn’t directly market to small businesses on its website. Here, Supermetrics shines, but most others fail.

This could be a clue that effective small business data governance may be best accomplished with strong data stewardship to guide and enforce policies and processes, using Excel or other common repositories for data. Or, as with Rencore, it could be a sign to buy SaaS tools that directly tie into the common tools — like Microsoft 365 — that a small business is already using.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB but the views expressed herein are mine alone. 

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Learn the latest news and best practices about data science, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, data security, and more. Delivered Mondays and Thursdays