The Red Queen, Data Deluge And Master Data Governance

Article by Tania Armstrong | Published on February 10, 2017

In 2016 one of my favourite directors is to bring 'Alice - through the looking glass' to life. It will be the second Lewis Carroll outing by Tim Burton and will star his fantastically talented ex - Helen Bonham Carter along with the perpetual crowd pleaser - Johnny Depp. Both will work their on screen magic as they reprise their roles of the Red Queen and Mad Hatter. I loved the books as a kid and like others was mesmerised by the catch-22-esque of it all. There were also some fantastic quotes and none as poignant and memorable as those from the Red Queen*. The one that currently springs to mind and is ponder worthy is - 'It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place'. William Barnett and Elizabeth Pontikes, both business writers and strategists have taken inspiration from this quote and coined the term 'Red Queen Syndrome'. In business speak this relates to successful companies being very good at what they do in their market niche, but when looking at an 'adjacent' buy out 'business as usual' keeps them running to a standstill, there is no expertise or resource left over to really consider what they are doing with those new opportunities. The end result is an over stating of the benefits of such a move which leads in turn to a failed outcome. That analogy aside, I'm going to steal and modify this term for BI as it perfectly sums up the ongoing battle many of the companies we work with have with creating and consuming ever increasing piles of internal business data.

Companies suffering from the Red Queen BI Syndrome are those that are have possibly realised that the power of IaaS, SaaS, DaaS, have started to leverage cloud applications and have outsourced key services. Many will see the absolute necessity of re-deploying staff to work with the business to close the gap between business need and IT enablement. Many have embraced the all-encompassing world of mobility and see it as an ongoing technology story relevant to their end users. There may be a data warehouse and it may already be delivering some benefits to the business. Regardless of industry, initiatives and IT maturity, most businesses inadvertently set in motion ways to exponentially increase their internal data creation with an over enthusiastic and generous view of how the business will manage this as resource as the business matures. What starts out as a data trickle quickly develops into data deluge. More and more internal bandwidth is then focussed on running on the spot to keep up with ever increasing floods of data rushing in from line of business systems. The end result is that a business suffering from a dismal dose of Red Queen Syndrome and has an IT team running to a standstill - expending all the energy it has to keep the lights on a with no strategy to ensure that the data being collected is fit for purpose, will be used, delivers value and is an asset worth spending money and effort on. More often than not, the outcomes include increased use of manual manipulation or convoluted and outdated processes to derive some values. Examples of this are far and wide – businesses making decisions from macro intense spreadsheets, board reports which require multiple processes and people hours to provide accurate reporting, the list goes on. 

So what is Master Data Governance (MDG) and how does it fit in with Master Data Management (MDM)?

Master Data Management (MDM) can be defined as the technical strategy a business adopts to ensure the quality of its internal data across multiple system architectures, platforms and applications. Master Data Governance (MDG) is a business wrapper around the MDM. This definition from TechTarget sums it up for me. Data Governance means 'refers to the overall management of the availability, usability, integrity, and security of the data employed in an enterprise. A sound data governance program includes a governing body or council, a defined set of procedures, and a plan to execute those procedures'.

There is variation in the definitions people use for these two terms, however I would argue for simplicity - with MDM being the 'how', and MDG being the what, who, where and why of managing data. Together they underpin a business wide acknowledgment and investment into Data as an Asset. They also lead companies suffering from Red Queen BI Syndrome off the treadmill in order to achieve their BI goals in a consistent and sustainable way.

The team, the principles, the business benefits

There is a massive volume of comprehensive and detailed information that looks at Master Data Governance frameworks however there are some common elements and principles that hold it all together.

The team that will agree and implement the MDG must be cross-functional and have a range of competencies. They should represent all data stakeholders, including line-of-business managers, project managers and key knowledge workers. Crucially, it has executive leadership and sponsorship to back and support the team at board / executive levels. It is also importantly not a project, it is a business as usual approach into data as an asset.


While methodologies vary, there are some key principals that businesses need to consider for success. The MDG Steering Committee has an onus of ensuring the best business outcome and embodying these principles in the face of conflict or challenge.


Principles of Master Data Governance

As team members, representing different aspects of the business, there must be a mutual respect to work for the common good of the business and not to push a particular agenda.

Agreeing and implementing standardised metrics, terms and processes throughout the business can reduce ambiguity and enable organisation wide understanding.

Master Data Governance and Stewardship process will need to be transparent and open to future scrutiny.  This is essential when reviewing any data-related decisions.

Ensuring that an audit trail is available for review should be a key aspect of MDG.  Any processes or controls subject to MDG should have documentation to support compliance based and operational requirements.

Change Management
Having an auditable approach to managing and recording change is critical. This should be transparent and allow for review.

Although the ‘one throat to choke’ phrase comes to mind, it does apply. The Steering committee should be responsible for what they are delivering to the business and that requires each member to embody accountability.

The primary responsibility of a data stewardship to provide operation team members with data entry rules for entering each data element into a computer


What are the benefits of adopting Master Data Governance?

So where does MDG actually take a business, how does it add value to the underlying bottom line? The answer is that it depends on the investment the business is willing to make in recognising data as an asset. The leaders of the business need to recognise the value of digging deep into the culture and ensuring that data driven decision making is standard at all levels. It’s not enough to believe the numbers on face value, the business needs to have trust that not only is the data clean, consistent and up-to-date but the business rules and rules engine are fit for purpose and therefore can delivering value. Getting this right, can pay big dividends. It means business leaders can ensure regulatory compliance, net productivity and efficiency gains and most of all replicate areas of success within business units as MDG takes hold and the business moves towards a true data driven and decision making culture.


Master Data Governance is a worthy investment by any business wanting to capitalise on new business opportunities, realise productivity gains and move their business towards operational transparency. Moving away from the Red Queen Syndrome is an investment in time, effort and resources and it won't happen overnight. It involves a different business-wide mind set and a vision of what true MDG can provide in the long term and needs to be valued and actively supported by senior management in order to yield results.


  • The Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen are used inter-exchangeable in adaptations of Lewis Carroll's classics. I'm going for the common denominator and referring to both as the Red Queen.




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