Technology + Data

Connecting the dots: Moving from data gathering to information governance

Information governance enables organizations to achieve their goals by establishing a culture that understands the value of the information produced, used and shared. Without adequate controls, a corporate heart attack might be just around the corner.

Connect-the-dot puzzles are a lot like information governance: Connecting the right pieces of data creates a clearer picture of your company’s strategic direction, and reveals the gaps toward achieving your goals. But connecting the right data can be complicated, so getting it right requires a solid foundation.

How do you connect the dots in a utility landscape where data flows from devices and customers at a speed and volume that continues to grow? Traditionally, utilities haven’t been good at analyzing business intelligence data to predict trends or to shape customer offerings.

Data analytics, data privacy and information management potentially are major game-changers for utilities. At the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), we are embracing new ideas and technology, including implementing formal data-management processes and procedures, more-efficient records management, and an increasingly digital workplace to make SMUD future ready.

Strong, executive management support recognizes that our organization needs to change to be increasingly digital and information-centric. We’re now working to convey the importance of enterprise data governance to our workforce, including making sure that everyone will have appropriate access to high-quality data. Data stored outside of enterprise systems in Excel, Access or other personal data repositories can be in conflict with good information governance practices as they do not guarantee appropriate access. In addition, employees who “fix” data values outside enterprise systems create processes that are not sustainable. They may produce incorrect values and, even if correct, they may not provide any benefit to the rest of the enterprise.

Once data quality is appropriate for business use and access is streamlined, decisions can be made in a timely manner, and processes can be completed in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible.


Boosting an organization’s distributed data management and the quality of its business intelligence can create challenges, especially if there isn’t a consistent approach to data across departments. Consider, for example, what would happen if you asked for an annual statistic. Perhaps one department averages a data set over 365 days, while another takes month-end data and averages it over 12 months. The end result might not be drastically different, but it does expose three areas of risk in data governance:

1. Lack of standards and definitions for key data elements;
2. Lack of accountability and ownership for key data elements; and
3. Lack of transparency and awareness for data elements, systems and processes.

At SMUD, we connected the first dot in 2015, when we established a data governance program to help solve these types of challenges. As part of our data governance program, we created:

• A data governance council comprised of an executive sponsor, program manager and directors representing all business units within SMUD.
• A program manager to lead, coordinate and put the program into operation. The program manager is the only full-time person working on data governance.
• Domain leads are leaders within their business units for data governance efforts. At SMUD, business units are created based on processes, and are used for budgeting and work planning.
• Data stewards were identified within each department who became the go-to people for anyone with questions about data that was defined, produced or used within that department.


An initial focus of our data governance program was to create an inventory and catalog of key data elements, centralized to establish standards, definitions and accountability. For example, we could create a data element named Water Year Precipitation Average, save it in an enterprise metadata glossary, and then document it to an accountable individual using a standardized calculation.

One important data governance integration point is the reports we are using to make data-driven decisions, such as cycle-time reports for business processes. This led the data governance team to work closely with our business intelligence and analytics team.

Connecting the right pieces of data creates a clearer picture of your company’s strategic direction, and reveals the gaps toward achieving your goals

Over the last year, SMUD has formalized the people, processes and technology used for business intelligence reporting and analytics. SMUD’s leaders are asking better questions when reviewing reports and metrics. This ensures that data quality meets business needs, that calculations used for metrics are transparent and drive the intended actions, and that data is sourced directly from enterprise systems.

The business intelligence and analytics team is running its due diligence by implementing the technology and tools needed to organize data from disparate systems into a unified, enterprise location. A dedicated, core team will lead program communications, implement technology solutions, and coordinate the work of identified stakeholders in the business units. These stakeholders will be accountable to executives and directors.


In the Summer 2016 issue of WE Magazine, Cameron Madill, president of PixelSpoke, wrote a great article that provided eight questions for utilities and customers to ask themselves in order to ensure the highest level of data security. Madill suggested that sharing data with third parties transfers trust: that the data will be used only for the agreed-upon purposes, and that when no longer necessary, that data will be destroyed. Authorized users of this data are also presumed to understand their accountability, and to properly handle it, while executing their business functions.

Recognizing these concerns, SMUD established a data privacy program in early 2016, and dedicated an experienced information security resource to establish protocols for data privacy and use.

Promoting and providing authorized access to data is a shared concern for data governance, business intelligence and analytics, and data privacy. Compiling a data glossary also helps to address these concerns by creating a centralized location for personally identifiable, intellectual property and sensitive data. A third dot was connected.


Records management is critical for utilities to maintain compliance with federal, state and local legal requirements. While SMUD has a very good program in place to meet compliance expectations, the operations were inefficient and in need of a makeover if we were to establish the foundation for a digital workplace.

To establish a robust records and information management program, this year we centralized records management functions within our office of the general counsel. We also expanded legislative compliance goals to include improvements in processes and technology to reduce our dependency on physical records, and to speed the transition to a fully digital storage system.

An initial, common misperception is to look at records management as documents and unstructured data; and data governance as databases and structured data. However, eventually, the two must meld together to find big data and records for retention. Both efforts seek to track and enforce regulatory compliance and conformance to policies, standards and procedures.

SMUD’s records and information management program included establishing a council to oversee, advocate and make decisions. To ensure that a holistic approach was taken to data and information governance, records and information management was added to the Data Governance Council, thereby connecting the fourth dot.


To recap, since establishing the Data Governance Council in 2015, SMUD has added business intelligence and analytics, data privacy, and records and information management programs to form the Information Governance Council.

Each of these programs within the council creates individual and joint measurable goals for 2017. Program leaders are creating communication plans, change management plans, 18-month goals, and integration points for core business processes that move each program forward across SMUD. An easy-to-understand job aid is being created to pull the top priorities from each program and to identify which group is leading the effort, and which messages are supporting information governance objectives.

With the dots all connected, it’s our responsibility to bring the image to life for SMUD’s customers.

About the Author

David Schmitt, Sacramento Municipal Utility District
David Schmitt is SMUD’s data governance program manager. His areas of responsibility include data quality, metadata management and data controls. For the past 16 years, he has found ways to use data, analytics and technology to add value and improve business performance.