Like many of you, I’m a big believer that data is a valuable business asset. Most business leaders understand the value of data and are prepared to make decisions, adjust their direction, or consider new ideas if the data exists to support the idea. However, while most folks agree that data is valuable, few have really changed their company’s culture or behavior when it comes to treating data as an asset.
The reality is that most corporate data is not treated as an asset. In fact, most company’s data management practices are rooted in methods and practices that are more than 30 years old. Treating data as a business asset is more than investing in storage and data transformation tools. Treating data like a valuable asset means managing, fixing, maintaining content to ensure it’s ready and reliable to support business activities. If you disagree, let’s take a look at how companies treat other valuable business assets.
Consider a well understood asset that exists within numerous companies: the automobile fleet. Companies that invest in automobile fleets do so because the productivity of their team members depends on having this reliable business tool. Automobile fleets exist because staff members require reliable transportation to fulfill their job responsibilities.
The company identifies and tracks the physical cars. They assign cars to individuals, and there’s a slew of rules and responsibilities associated with their use. Preventative maintenance and repairs are handled regularly to maintain the car’s value, reliability and readiness for use. Depending on the size of the fleet, the company may have staff members (equipped with the necessary tools) to handle the ongoing maintenance. The cars are also inspected on a regular basis to ensure that any problems are identified and resolved (again, to maintain its useful life and reliability). There is also criteria for disposing of cars at their end-of-life (which is predetermined based on when the costs and liabilities exceed their value). These activities aren’t discretionary, they are necessary to protect the company’s investment in their valuable business assets.
Now, consider applying the same set of concepts to your company’s data assets.
- Is someone responsible for tracking the data assets? (Is there a list of data sources? Are they updated/maintained? Is the list published?)
- Are the responsibilities and rules for data usage identified and documented? (Does this occur for all data assets, or is it specific to individual platforms?)
- Is there a team that is responsible for monitoring and inspecting data for problems? (Are they equipped with the necessary tools to accomplish such a task?)
- Is there anyone responsible for maintaining and/or fixing inaccurate data?
- Are there details reflecting the end-of-life criteria for your data assets when the liability and costs of the data exceed their value?
If you answered no to any these questions, it’s likely that your company views data as a tool or a commodity, but not a valuable business asset.
So, what do you do?
I certainly wouldn’t grab this list and run around the office claiming that the company isn’t treating data as an asset. Nor, would I suggest that you state that your company likely spends more money maintaining their automobile fleet then its business data. (I once accused a company of spending more on landscaping than data management. It wasn’t well received).
Instead, raise the idea of data investment as a means to increase the value and usefulness of data within the company. Conduct an informal survey to a handful of business users and ask them the time they lose looking for their data. Ask your ETL developers to estimate the time they spend fixing broken data, instead of their core job responsibilities. You’ll find the staff time lost because data isn’t managed and maintained as a business asset vastly exceeds the investment in preventative maintenance, tools, and repairs. You have to educate people about a problem before you can expect them to act to resolve the problem.
And if all else fails, find out how much your company spends on its automobile fleet (per user) and compare it to the non-existent resources spent maintaining and fixing your company’s other valuable business asset.