In this article, we explore the key changes that businesses need to make to ensure they’re set up for success with the data management foundations required to effectively and efficiently harness the full value of their data now and into the future.
Data has always been important. But, driven to a large extent by the demands of digital transformation, the volume, scope, distribution and complexity of the data to be managed by businesses has grown dramatically - along with its strategic value and operational criticality.
Many businesses have recognized the fast-growing importance of data for some time and have, as a result, invested heavily in Data Value capabilities – such as data lakes, analytics and digital commerce - to derive value and competitive advantage from it.
However, in the drive to realize this opportunity, many organizations discover – often only after making the above investments - that they lack a fundamental prerequisite to success: the Data Management capability required to manage information across their business in an effective, efficient, integrated and high quality way.
This problem typically manifests itself in two ways:
But what is the solution to this problem? Once the preserve only of operations engineers and data management specialists, this question has driven Board-level conversations in at least three of our clients in the last year alone. All of them are long-established leaders in very different sectors, all are excited about the strategic opportunities which data could unlock for them – but all are rightly examining how they will be able to adapt quickly enough to build the Data Management capability required to compete and win in a data driven world.
Too often, the Data Management problem is left with the CIO to solve in the first instance.
Technology is certainly part of the solution, but data is an asset which is created, sourced and used by the business – so it is first and foremost the business who must take accountability for its quality, integrity and security.
To ensure data works for your business rather than against it, typically requires change in four key areas as illustrated below:
Culture and behaviours
Given the increasingly critical and pervasive role of data, it is vital that everyone in the organization behaves in a way which places the quality and integrity of data at the heart of everything they do.”
Such behaviors tend to be deeply ingrained in ‘digitally native’ businesses such as digital media agencies, which have been powered by data since their inception. They can be more challenging to embed in long established organizations with a more traditional heritage, where the role and importance of data has grown so quickly.
To create the conditions for success, it is vital that the right tone is set from the top. This must be underpinned both by strong change management and by performance metrics and management to motivate and positively reinforce the right ways of working.
The right culture, behaviors and values are a vital foundation for all the other interventions below. It is crucial that the change journey starts here.
Organization and governance
A frequent mistake is to try to hand-off the data management problem to a data management team or outsourcer to ‘fix’ on behalf of the business.
The reality is that this is not a problem that can be neatly packaged up and given to someone else to solve. Everyone involved in creating and sourcing data must take responsibility for its quality and integrity – and given the increasingly intrinsic nature of data, this means that most people in the organization will have some role to play. Trying to ‘give the problem away’ can undermine the sense of ownership and responsibility which is so essential to success.
However, adapting the organizational structure and deploying additional resources to support and enable the business in taking on its responsibilities is crucial. Key roles might for example include:
Having the right governance in place to ensure the business holds itself to account for sustaining and continuously improving the security, quality, integration and integrity of its data assets is also key.
Processes and controls
An organization’s most important data entities are typically assembled and reused across the enterprise, rather than being the sole preserve of individual functions. Take product data within an FMCG business. R&D, Marketing, Supply Chain and many others all need to contribute data and content at various points in the process to build up a complete and accurate record for each product, which can be reused consistently and with confidence by all.
In this context, having clear, integrated processes, accountabilities and control points which cut across functional silos and extend throughout the end-to-end flow is vital. Not only to safeguard data quality and integrity – but also to ensure operational execution remains fast, responsive and efficient.”
In the sense that the journey starts with the right culture and behaviors – it ends with the right technology. Technology is often thought of as the first step or even as a panacea. It’s not. Too many businesses start their journey by investing in expensive data management solutions to find that all they’ve succeeded in doing is productionising the distribution of bad data. Worse still, by distributing this data from a shiny new system, they create a misplaced confidence in its quality.
When the time is right to invest in technology, it’s important not to limit its use to data integration and aggregation. Technology can play a vital role in enabling the people and process changes already mentioned above, if its use is extended into areas such as process orchestration, data governance, data performance management and data quality management.
Data will continue to grow in its volume and complexity as well as in its importance.
Many organizations will need to fundamentally change their approach to managing data in order to benefit from this growth – and as many have learned the hard way, this a challenge which is core to the fabric of the business and not something which can be addressed through technology and outsourcing on their own.
Those organizations which respond in time will be successful in harnessing data to power their businesses into the future. Those that leave it too late risk being paralyzed by the growing importance, volume and complexity of data and will be left behind.