Alation State of Data Culture Report: The Conflict Between Growth and Governance

By Leslie Brand

Published on June 29, 2021

The fourth quarterly Alation State of Data Culture report was just released. As the economy continues to strengthen and organizations shift towards post-pandemic revival, the June 2021 report reflects organizations’ desire to capitalize on available growth opportunities.

Generating revenue ranks as the top business driver of data and analytics initiatives. That’s shown by the nearly two-thirds (63%) of data professionals who say enabling business growth takes precedence over protecting the business when it comes to their data strategy.


However, data professionals are challenged with balancing their data governance strategy; many are torn between enabling business growth and innovation and protecting the business. The result is that nearly all respondents (91%) are experiencing challenges, and nearly half (47%) say that it is very to extremely challenging.

This tension between data governance and empowering the business to use data isn’t new. For so long, companies have focused on the “defensive” role of governance, compliance, rather than the “offensive” role to provide trusted data that empowers business decisions to drive growth. But, it’s no longer an either/or decision, as there is room for both the defensive and offensive sides to governance, yet it requires democratization of data and the right tools.

Data Fuels Growth, but Only if It’s Available

The benefits for data-driven enterprises are real. Those that effectively leverage data to inform their thought processes make more confident, proactive, and cost-effective decisions. And, those better, data-driven decisions lead to a 30% annual growth rate, according to Forrester. But, you cannot create a data-driven culture without widespread access to data.

According to the Alation State of Data Culture report, however, enterprises are having a hard time getting data into the hands of their decision makers. While 63% say they’re focused on growth, nearly the same percentage, 59%, say organizational data silos and/or a lack of data democratization are obstacles to using data to drive business value.

And nearly all (97%) respondents cite negative consequences from inadequate data democratization. These include negative impacts on the bottom line (77%), innovation (67%), and reporting & forecasting (61%).

negative consequences company has faced due to inadequate data democratization

So, while growth is a priority, and data democratization clearly supports stronger growth, organizations continue to struggle with getting data into the hands of the workers who need it most.

Governance Protects but Must Also Create Trust

Workers need to trust data before they can confidently put it to use. But, just 17% of data leaders say their data governance strategy is fully effective in creating trust in data. The result is tension between those who need access to data to drive business growth and those who enforce data governance practices that tend to restrict data access.

Slightly more than half of data leaders say they use a command-and-control approach to data governance. This top-down model typically prioritizes enforcing governance rules over data access. It also does little to ensure that the data that analysts get their hands on is the right data to use, is the most up to date, etc.

companys approach to data gov

How organizations approach governance appears to map to the willingness to promote a data culture. The Data Culture Index™ (DCI) is a quantitative assessment of how well an organization is positioned to enable data-driven decision-making across three key disciplines: data search & discovery, data literacy, and data governance. Enterprises are ranked low-, mid-, and top-tier based on how widely adopted these disciplines are across the enterprise.

Top-tier organizations are those that enable data-driven decision-making.They seem to understand this balance between governance and trust, and are flipping the typical governance model to take a bottom-up approach.

Those in the top tier are more likely (53%) to use this federated or distributed data governance strategy instead of a command-and-control approach. When it comes to effective governance for trust, the 17% increases to 31% – about one-third – among top-tier data culture organizations that say they have a fully effective strategy for creating trust in data. In other words, they govern data with an emphasis on access over protection. They come from a perspective of empowering workers to find, understand, and trust the data they’re using to do their jobs.

That realization is taking hold in the market, too. Nearly 4 in 5 data leaders (78%) say it is very important or essential they shift their data governance strategy to better involve business users. This is echoed by those looking to foster a data culture, putting an emphasis on managing governance at the point of data use.

And, those with a top-tier data culture are more likely to promote collaboration between business and the data and analytics teams. Of course, Alation helps organizations forge a data culture that revolves around data governance, data democratization, and trust.

Balancing Growth and Data Governance With Data Democratization

This latest Alation State of Data Culture Report leaves us with a few major takeaways as we fly through the middle of 2021:

  1. Growth is the top data and analytics priority.

  2. Data is required to support that growth, but organizations are struggling to effectively democratize data.

  3. Data leaders are caught in a conflict between democratizing data to drive the business and governing data to protect the business.

  • Data Fuels Growth, but Only if It’s Available
  • Governance Protects but Must Also Create Trust
  • Balancing Growth and Data Governance With Data Democratization
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