November 20, 2023
Information Insight

Data Governance Policies – Real-World Guardrails for Effective Data Management

In the digital realm, the term “data policy” is frequently mentioned, but what exactly does it mean? Data policies are formal documents or sets of rules that outline how an organization collects, stores, manages, shares, and disposes of data. They are designed to ensure that data is handled in a secure, efficient, ethical, responsible, and compliant manner.  

Data policies serve several critical functions: 

  • Protecting Privacy and Security: By establishing clear guidelines, data policies help protect the privacy and security of sensitive information.
  • Ensuring Compliance: Data policies help organizations adhere to laws, regulations, and industry standards.
  • Enhancing Data Quality: By setting standards for data collection and management, policies help ensure that data is accurate and useful.
  • Facilitating Data-Driven Decision-Making: Good data policies foster an environment where quality data is accessible and usable, leading to better decision-making. 

    While the foundation of a Data Governance Policy is undeniably crucial, it’s important to acknowledge that policies alone are not sufficient to inform or enforce behavior effectively. Although these carefully crafted legal documents play a significant role, they do not substitute for practical, real-life guardrails that tactically enforce behavior at the point of data entry and use. 

    Before we dive deeper into the intricacies of data governance and the practical tools that support it, it’s essential to establish a clear understanding of what data policies are.  

    Defining Data Policy and Data Governance 

    1. Data Policy: A data policy is a set of principles and guidelines that dictate how data should be governed within an organization. It covers aspects like data quality, access, security, and compliance with legal and regulatory standards. 
    2. Data Governance: This refers to the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity, and security of the data employed in an organization. Data governance encompasses data policies, as well as the processes and people that ensure effective data management. 

    The Limitations of Data Policies 

    Policies, by their very nature, are often informed by single perspectives or motivations, which can lead to a narrow focus that doesn’t always align with the day-to-day realities of data management. Furthermore, they can be static documents, sometimes lagging behind the fast-paced evolution of data technologies and practices.  

    Materializing Data Management Policies into Actionable Guardrails 

    The best guardrails within data management are materialized as business rules, data validations, and informed employees who are properly incentivized. These practical measures ensure that the principles outlined in the policy are actually implemented and adhered to at the ground level:  

    1. Business Rules: These are specific, actionable directives that guide how data should be handled in various scenarios. They translate the broader policy into everyday actions. 
    2. Data Validations: At the point of data entry or when data is used, validations act as checkpoints to ensure that the data meets the quality and integrity standards set out in the policy. 
    3. Informed Employees: Employees who understand the importance of data governance, understand that this is “with and for” them rather than “to” them, and are motivated to adhere to its principles are a critical component of effective data management. Training and incentives are key to fostering this environment. 

    Leveraging Data Contracts for Effective Data Governance

    An innovative construct that facilitates extraordinarily practical data policies is the use of data contracts. Data contracts structure how data is exchanged between two parties, whether in data pipelines, between applications exchanging information, or even in less sophisticated formats like file transfers. 

    Data contracts are a fantastic point of cooperation between business and technology. In our experience, they promote the involvement and investment of business in data ownership and quality, while also providing technology with specific, simple instructions to inform their needs. Data contracts serve as the crucial link in this relationship, embodying the principles of the data governance policy in a practical, actionable format. 

    Data governance clauses embedded within a data contract provide clarity on security and privacy constraints, allowing you to verify your data products’ adherence to relevant standards. 

    Take, for example, the practice of anonymizing or masking certain attributes, which dictates their permissible uses. Likewise, any Personal Healthcare Information (PHI) or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) contained within the product must be managed in accordance with stringent data privacy and security regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, among others. 

    Typically, data governance guidelines in a data contract cover the following areas: 

    • Designated user roles with authorization to access a data product 
    • Duration of authorized access to a data product 
    • Specific columns or fields that have restricted access or visibility
    • Columns or fields that contain sensitive data
    • The manner in which sensitive data is depicted within the dataset 

      Additional details such as the data contract’s version, and the names and contacts of data stewards or owners serve as living documentation for your enterprise. 


      In sum, while a Data Governance Policy lays out the vision and framework for data management, it is the real-world guardrails—business rules, data validations, informed employees, and data contracts—that bring the policy to life. These tools ensure that the policy doesn’t just exist on paper but is woven into the fabric of the organization’s daily operations. By bridging the gap between policy and practice, organizations can ensure that their data is not only managed according to the highest standards but also leveraged to its full potential. 

      If you’re ready to take the next step in the implementation of Data Governance Policies or have questions on the benefits of Data Contracts in your company, connect with one of our consultants to learn more.

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