Is Your IT Team Prepared for a Data-Driven Business?

I wrote last time about the challenges that companies have in their transition to becoming data driven.  Much has been written about the necessity of the business audience needing to embrace change. I thought I’d spend a few words discussing the other participant in a company’s data-driven transition:  the Information Technology (IT) organization.

One of the issues that folks rarely discuss is that many IT organizations haven’t positioned themselves to support a data-driven culture.  While most have spent a fortune on technology, the focus is always about installing hardware, building platforms, acquiring software, developing architectures, and delivering applications.   IT environments focus on streamlining the construction and maintenance of systems and applications.  While this is important, that’s only half the solution for a data-driven organization.  A data-driven culture (or philosophy) requires that all of a company’s business data is accessible and usable.  Data has to be packaged for sharing and use. 

Part of the journey to becoming data-driven is ensuring that there’s a cultural adjustment within IT to support the delivery of applications and data.  It’s not just about dropping data files onto servers for users to copy. It’s about investing in the necessary methods and practices to ensure that data is available and usable (without requiring lots of additional custom development). 

Some of the indicators that your IT organization isn’t prepared or willing to be data-driven include

  • There’s no identified Single Version Of Truth (SVOT).

There should be one place where the data is stored.  While this is obvious, the lack of a single agreed to data location creates the opportunity to have multiple data repositories and multiple (and conflicting) sets of numbers.   Time is wasted disputing accuracy instead of being focused on business analysis and decision making.   

  • Data sharing is a courtesy, not an obligation.

How can a company be data driven if finding and accessing data requires multiple meetings and multiple approvals for every request? If we’re going to run the business by the numbers, we can’t waste time begging or pleading for data from the various system owners.  Every application system should have two responsibilities: processing transactions and sharing data. 

  • There’s no investment in data reuse.

The whole idea of technology reuse has been a foundational philosophy for IT for more than 20 years:  build once, use often.  While most IT organizations have embraced this for application development, it’s often overlooked for data.  Unfortunately, data sharing activities are often built as a one-off, custom endeavor.  Most IT teams manage 100’s or 1000’s of file extract programs (for a single system) and have no standard for moving data packets between applications.  There’s no reuse; every new request gets their own extract or service/connection.

  • Data accuracy and data correction is not a responsibility

Most IT organizations have invested in data quality tools to address data correction and accuracy, but few ever use them.  It’s surprising to me that any shop allows new development to occur without requiring the inclusion of a data inspection and correction process.  How can a business person become data driven if they can’t trust the data?  How can you expect them to change if the IT hasn’t invested in fixing the data when it’s created (or at least shared)?   

It’s important to consider that enabling IT to support a data-driven transition isn’t realistic without investment.  You can’t expect staff members that are busy with their existing duties to absorb additional responsibilities (after all, most IT organizations have a backlog).  If a company wants to transition to a data-driven philosophy, you have to allow the team members to learn new skills to support the additional activities.  And, there needs to be staff members available to do the work.   

There’s only one reason to transition to being a data-driven organization; it’s about more profit, more productivity, and more business success.  Consequently, there should be funds available to allow IT to support the transition. 

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About Evan Levy

Evan Levy is management consultant and partner at IntegralData. In addition to his day-to-day job responsibilities, Evan speaks, writes, and blogs about the challenges of managing and using data to support business decision making.

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