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Give And Take: Achieving The Right Balance For Effective Data Governance

Data used to be something that you could count on – factual information used for reasoning. It’s not so simple anymore as data has become a hologram – it looks real but lacks substance. Data governance is about establishing trust and belief between the company and data stakeholders in a give-and-take relationship.
It wasn’t that long ago that “in 2004 … Facebook didn’t even exist yet, Twitter was still a sound, the cloud was still in the sky, 4G was a parking space, “applications” were what you sent to college, LinkedIn was barely known and most people thought it was a prison, Big Data was a good name for a rap star, and Skype, for most people, was a typographical error”, wrote Thomas L. Friedman in his best-seller book “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”.

And of course, there was no iPhone until 2007, the inflection point when data started to explode. If you add Moore’s Law (which postulates that computing power doubles once every two years) into the equation, then data has grown big and is now the new currency of the digital economy. Not bitcoin.

Companies collect and hoard an enormous amount of data, and through data analytics, have mined data for insights and sentiments, creating more data about data, or metadata. “Our social media
experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations” – the social media revolution has contributed to the data explosion by adding fake news, public sentiments, WhatsApp messages, carefully curated online personas and emoticons to the plethora of data that’s being generated.

It’s a veritable modern-day gold rush and with the same “free for all” mindset that comes with the territory. Corporate eyes are gleaming at the revenue opportunities and competitive advantage that they can dig up with data analytics. The spade used by gold miners has been replaced with complex computer algorithms. Data fever has gripped companies and blinded them to the need for data privacy and protection. And hackers lurk at every cyber-corner to heist your data and the dark web is the Wild Wild West (the wrong www.) where criminals trade in stolen data. The data genie has been let out of the bottle and it’s impossible to put it back in.

In the speech delivered as the first American president to visit Hiroshima on 27 May 2016, President Obama said that “Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

Indeed, a revolution is urgently needed on how data should be governed. “We are generating more information and knowledge than ever today, but knowledge is only good if you can reflect on it” Friedman writes.

Data comes from the Latin word “dare”, which means “to give”. This has evolved into the current definition of data as “factual information, such as measurements or statistics, used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation”. Obviously, this definition of data doesn’t pass muster any more, given the “free for all” environment where data grows unbridled with endomorphic proportions. There is a growing trust deficit over data as the line between fact and fake is being eroded.

How then should data be governed? The answer lies in both the idiom “give and take” and the timely introduction of a new section on stakeholder engagement in the recently revised Singapore Code of Corporate Governance.

“Give and take” means “lively two-way discussion; the exchange of ideas or conversation; negotiation”. An example of how the idiom is used – “The purpose of this meeting is to have a give-and-take session between stakeholders and management on the direction of the company”. Data should be defined not just by what the company gives, but also by what it takes from data stakeholders in order to establish a common belief in the data, factual or otherwise.

Who are the data stakeholders and how should they be engaged?
In the Malaysian Code on Corporate Governance, “ongoing engagement and communication with stakeholders builds trust and understanding between the company and its stakeholders.”

A “give and take” data governance framework will require the Board to establish policies on how to identify, manage and engage material data stakeholders associated with each data set. The material data stakeholders would include shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, regulators and the public. The “give and take” data governance framework is about establishing trust and belief.

In a data stakeholder engagement case study on Netflix, the American over-the-top media services provider, author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes in his book “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are” that “Netflix learned a similar lesson early on in its life cycle: don’t trust what people tell you; trust what they do.”

“Netflix stopped asking people to tell them what they wanted to see in the future and started building a model based on millions of clicks and views from similar customers. The company began greeting its users with suggested lists of films based not on what they claimed to like but on what the data said they were likely to view. The result: customers visited Netflix more frequently and watched more movies.”

“The algorithms know you better than you know yourself,” says Xavier A matriain, a former data scientist at Netflix.”

Data used to be something that you could count on:
factual information used for reasoning. It’s not so simple anymore as data has become a hologram
it looks real but lacks substance. Data governance is about establishing trust and belief between the company and data stakeholders in a give-and-take relationship.
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” – attributed to Albert Einstein, but in fact originated with sociologist William Bruce Cameron.e.’

This article was published in the January- March 2019 edition of the Corporate Vo!ce, the official journal of The Malaysian Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (MAICSA). Reprinted with permission.

Uantchern Loh CEO

Black Sun Asia Pacific

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