Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Data as an Asset – Walk the Talk

Establishing data governance programs, data quality initiatives or other projects aimed at looking after or enhancing the well being of a company’s data can be difficult to get underway and sometimes even more challenging to keep alive.  Such initiatives (especially if your company’s funding approach forces you to tackle them as a series of individual projects) cannot always deliver the concrete and tangible “things” that you might get from a more traditional IT project. More often than not there is no new asset created, no new system to implement and enable across a go-live weekend, nor are benefits always obtained and measurable in the short term. Unless your business is facing real pain (and honestly attributes that pain to not just problems with the data itself, but also with how the data came to be in the state it is) then you may well struggle building support for, and keeping data initiatives running.

Often this seems surprising to data folks. It seems that this isn’t logical. The business says all of the right things about valuing data quality, about wanting a single source of truth from which to make better, faster and more cost effective decisions and maybe someone has even sprouted the “data as an asset” phrase, but this hasn’t resulted in them beating down the door with bags of money to fund data improvement initiatives. At first glance it seems key business stakeholders are showing moral support for the concepts but no commitment to the actions required to really solve the problems in the longer term.  They are the chicken to the data team’s pig.

But perhaps it’s not all that surprising. Are you, as a data leader, walking the walk or simply talking the talk? Do you treat your company’s data as an asset yourself? And does your data strategy reflect that? Do you even have a data strategy or are you one of the many, described by Joyce Norris-Montanari in her recent blog post  (http://www.dataroundtable.com/?p=12661), who fall into the group lacking a vision for their data and a strategy to help them get there?

If you’re not walking the talk then chances are that you’ll need some work up front to sell a congruent picture to the business, and particularly to those stakeholders holding the purse strings.   Make sure that you can show the basics around the company’s data that you would have around any other asset.

  • Knowing what you have – an inventory of your data;
  • Knowing where this data is – which systems house which data and (ideally) how it moves around between them;
  • Knowing which stakeholders care about which data (you don’t need to get to business data ownership just yet, but at least you should know which data helps achieve, or threaten, which stakeholder’s bonus package);
  • Knowing what preventive maintenance is required to keep your assets running at the required level and optimize the investment in them- some idea (and documentation) of where the problem areas lie. The big data quality issues (and importantly their real impact on the business);
  • An understanding of how you can protect your asset – which may include classifications for data along with associated handling rules and other security aspects; and
  • A vision for continuous improvement and a better future state of asset management – thought out and documented ideas for better use of your asset (which might include identifying and reducing redundancy, identifying inventory gaps or working better at the extreme ends of the asset life cycle).

With enough of the above in place you have your house in order and can say that you are indeed making efforts to treat data as you would any other asset. Now that you have a congruous story to present to the business you may find your next funding request is met more favourably. Even better, chances are you may well have identified a number of projects to deliver some concrete shorter-term benefits along the way as well.   

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