After graduating from Loughborough University in 2007 with degrees in electronic engineering and finance and management, I completed the BAE Systems graduate programme in their weapons and vehicles di...
Byron Ford, Consultant
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Is data powering or paralysing your business?
Home > unspun > unspun 36 - Making the most of agile > Is data powering or paralysing your business?
Many businesses have recognised the fast-growing importance of data for some time and as a result have invested heavily in ‘Data Value’ capabilities. But what is the best way to set up your organisation for success in managing its data assets?
As the strategic and operational criticality of data has continued to grow sharply, so has its volume, complexity and distribution – leaving many businesses struggling to cope. 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 which businesses now need to manage has grown dramatically - along with its strategic value and operational criticality.
Many businesses have recognised 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 realise this opportunity, many organisations 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. First, it prevents organisations from delivering data with the timeliness, quality, integrity and granularity which the ‘Data Value’ capabilities require to succeed. Second, it can create major operational issues , as businesses struggle to cope with significant growth in the volume, complexity and criticality of data – and in the channels through which it must be consistently communicated, distributed and used.
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:
Given the increasingly critical and pervasive role of data, it is vital that everyone in the organisation behaves in a way which places the quality and integrity of data at the heart of everything they do.
Such behaviours 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 organisations 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, behaviours and value are a vital foundation for all the other interventions below. It is crucial that the change journey starts here.
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 organisation 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 organisational structure and deploying additional resources to support and enable the business in taking on its responsibilities is crucial. Key roles might for example include:
1. Maintaining clarity on processes, RACI and data management metrics
2. Maintaining and overseeing the application of data architecture and data standards to facilitate data integrity and integration – and information security standards to protect data from unauthorised use
3. Managing, deploying and ensuring consistent use of structural master data (and master data mapping, where necessary) across the business
4. Ensuring that people throughout the business have the skills needed to manage data effectively
Having the right governance in place to ensure the business holds itself to account for sustaining and continuously improving the quality, integration and integrity of its data assets is also key.
An organisation’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 behaviours – 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 organisations 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 is 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 organisations 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 paralysed by the growing importance, volume and complexity of data and will be left behind.
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