Canada Post Delivers on Data Governance

While many companies are stuck on the "why" of doing data governance, Canada Post has progressed into the "how" of it, as in, "How quickly can you get it done?"

It's a position James Smith, lead of enterprise data governance for the Canadian postal service, said any larger organization ought to be in -- not just banks and other companies that have stringent data compliance mandates to meet. "They need to recognize that their organizational data is a valued asset and will want to put measurement around its quality," he told me at this spring's SAS Global Forum Executive Conference in Washington, D.C.

Such was the case at Canada Post, which instituted a formal governance process around its commercial data products and services two years ago. These include offerings such as an international address finder called AddressComplete and a variety of address data licensing services that businesses can tap into for location data. Canada Post had determined a data governance model, which replaced more informal processes, was critical when taking such revenue-generating data products to market, said Smith, who is also director of data assets at the organization.

"You need the governance around the data so your customers believe your product is accurate and complete."

Within that group, compliance officers, IT security professionals, source data stewards, and product managers collaborate around an embedded data governance model. "Everybody's at the same table."

Canada Post didn't stop its governance efforts with the commercial data product marketing group. Rather, the executive steering committee recognized the need for an enterprise-wide data governance strategy, one that would touch all data assets. Toward that end, it has designated a three-year timeframe, beginning this past January, for rolling out a data governance program throughout the organization, Smith said. Ultimately, he added, the framework will encompass about 20 data domains -- finance, HR, retail, sales, and so on -- and be upheld by a growing number of data stewards.

Per requirements of the governance program, data stewards are charged with taking "ownership" of the data. That means they must:

  • Attend committee meetings regularly to report on data issues and work on resolving them
  • Improve the quality of their data
  • Work with compliance and IT security to ensure their data is secure, that breach management escalation is in place, and that their data is catalogued, recorded, and documented

"These are essential rules of governance," Smith told me.

While Canada Post has a training program for data stewards, Smith noted many already have similar, though less structured, data processes in place anyway. Still, the rollout won't be seamless, he acknowledged. Data stewards need to know they'll be held accountable, and sometimes resolving issues will require a push -- not to mention financial backing -- from the executive steering committee. And business units will need to work collaboratively, without barriers to their data silos, for example.

"Engagement of the data stewards is critical," he said.

I'll discuss additional must-haves in a subsequent post, but for now, listen in as Smith describes Canada Post's enterprise data governance strategy, and share your ideas for instilling trust in data below.

— Beth Schultz, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageFriend me on Facebook, Editor in Chief,

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Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors,, and others.

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Re: Canada Post setting a benchmark
  • 5/14/2014 12:04:32 PM

Yes, it would be interesting to see all the governmental and quasi-government bodies get aboard and follow Canada Post. Wonder if there could even be some sort of collaboration on data governance issues which might be possible.

Re: Canada Post setting a benchmark
  • 5/13/2014 9:56:19 AM

Then who knows, Lyndon -- perhaps Canada Post took some lessons from Amtrak. ;-)

Seriously, though, I do think it's good and helpful for organizations to share their experiences on data governance. There's a lot of learning to be done here, for effective implementation.


Re: Canada Post setting a benchmark
  • 5/12/2014 11:17:02 PM

This effort shows that it is possible to implement a good data analytics program even for a larger organization. It is going to be difficult to get everything right at once but it looks like they have done a good job so far.

Re: Canada Post setting a benchmark
  • 5/12/2014 10:02:30 PM


Beth asks

As for Amtrak, I don't know anything about its data governance or lack thereof. What makes you say it's not so good?


For clarification, I don't know how good Amtrak's data governance is. I'll try to find out, but it's not something that usually pops up in the meetings I'm involved in. Interesting issue, though.

Basically I was impressed by the Canada Post program, and just wondered if Amtrak was learning anything from it.


Re: Canada Post setting a benchmark
  • 5/12/2014 3:43:52 PM

It has been a year since the Office of Inspector General took the USPS data governance program to task, so I do wonder what, if any changes have resulted. The USPS did say at the time that it would follow recommended best-practices and begin "establishing a formal, enterprise-wide data governance program." But it sounds like it had a lot of work to do. The report was pretty harsh: 

"Our report found numerous shortcomings in the management of this critical data. Notably, the Postal Service defined a structure for a data governance program in 2003, but full roles and responsibilities were not uniformly adopted across the enterprise. We also identified limitations in the Postal Service's data governance program that placed the organization at risk for potential vulnerabilities in data quality, availability, and integrity, which could cause inefficient operations, disruptions in service, and fraud. These limitations included an inconsistent corporate-wide data strategy, unreliable and inaccurate data, data inconsistencies within the Enterprise Data Warehouse, insufficient IT security measures, and difficulties with accessing and sharing data."

As for Amtrak, I don't know anything about its data governance or lack thereof. What makes you say it's not so good?

Canada Post setting a benchmark
  • 5/12/2014 3:29:14 PM


Sounds to me like Canada Post has been setting a benchmark for effective governance of data in a large public (or quasi-public) enterprise. Wonder if USPS is paying attention... Amtrak?