Turning Data Into Dollars: Managing Information to Drive Business Growth

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Too often, data governance takes its eyes off the prize, by fixing problems instead of plowing new ground, say experts at Earley Information Science roundtable

Governance is actually a good thing all by itself.

Information has become the lifeblood of business, and how a company manages that information is increasingly important to its success and sometimes its very survival. Many companies, in fact, are frantically launching huge data governance initiatives to turn the unending flow of information about customers, products and performance to their advantage.

Too often, though, such massive initiatives are bound to fizzle or fail, according to marketing and data management experts at an Executive Roundtable discussion hosted on Sept. 21 by Earley Information Science Corp. (EIS), a leading consulting firm focused on digital transformation.

Governance projects are typically misguided in their focus, the experts said, concentrating on fixing problems instead of using the information to grow the business. And they are hobbled by both their size and complexity, often unable to win organizational support.

What’s needed instead, the experts said, is an approach that understands the big picture and builds, step by step, on delivering definable results. That means analyzing a company’s unique structure and information dynamics, designing a program that is fully baked into the business operations, monitoring progress with a modest number of measurable goals, and spreading the word internally about the program’s successes and why all functions in the company should play a role.

The discussion, “Data Governance Success: Think Big but Start Small,” was led by Dave Zwicker, Chief Marketing Officer of EIS, and featured Seth Maislin, Principal Consultant at EIS; Norm LeBlanc, Director of Data Management at NEPC; and Peter Aiken, Founding Director of Data Blueprint.

Getting on the right path requires a change in mind-set, said EIS’s Maislin. “Governance is not simply a negative reducer,” he said. “It’s not just about, ‘we have a problem, let’s fix it. We have risk, let’s reduce it. We’re losing money, let’s stop the leaking.’ ” Looked at that way, he said, governance feels like a “dirty word and seems expensive, like we are using it to bail out a sinking ship as opposed to really setting a course.”

Governance is actually “a good thing all by itself,” Maislin explained, an enabler that can ensure regulatory compliance, improve operational efficiency and business agility, increase revenues and optimize customer experience. But in order to achieve all that, it needs to be “tied to a vision—to something big, something that’s inspirational.”

While the vision may be big, the project has to start small, he cautioned, or else it will feel like “dropping a 10-ton weight on your foot.” Pick a couple of good metrics to measure success—are people showing up at governance meetings and are you actually making decisions that are implemented—and the program will evolve. “Sustainability is achieved one success at a time, and the benefits will cascade,” he said.

The foundation of the vision, according to NEPC’s LeBlanc, is a recognition that data is not “a necessary evil but a valuable asset that needs to be leveraged to produce value,” defined as a quantifiable increase in revenues, productivity or agility or decrease in costs, risks or time to market.

The vision, he said, has to revolve around the nature of the company’s business, the industry it is in and how it is affected by the economy. A detailed understanding of the business’ goals and objectives should lead to a coherent strategy and an executable plan. . LeBlanc suggested setting a course and moving purposefully toward delivering meaningful business benefits in an acceptable time frame.

To get traction and buy-in for a governance initiative, it is “really important to leverage the organization’s culture as much as possible,” said Data Blueprint’s Aiken, who worked with the U.S. Army on one of its programs. Cultural leverage was easy to figure out there, he recalled, since everything in the military is governed, “so why wouldn’t data be part of that?”

Still, the project got bogged down over the data’s ownership, with a number of colonels unwilling to share “my data.” It took the Secretary of the Army to end the impasse, announcing that “you don’t own this data—I own on it on behalf of the organization.” This “very heavy dose of management support” changed the conversation from asking ‘can this be done’ to ‘how are we going to accomplish it.’ ”

The roundtable featured a real-time survey of the webinar attendees, including these results:

  • Data quality and data management (chosen by 43% and 32% of the attendees, respectively) are more important than data security (14%) in driving governance efforts
  • Improved operational efficiency (50%) and greater business agility (30%) are the primary business outcomes expected from such efforts, with reduced risk and increased revenue at just 8% each
  • Enterprise content management/asset management was chosen by 49% as the existing project that would most benefit from governance. The other choices were product information/master data management (23%), business intelligence/knowledge management (18%), customer experience management (8%) and regulatory compliance (3%)

Please use this link to access the roundtable recording: Data Governance Success - Think Big but Start Small. Also see this related blog, “Going Beyond Data-Driven: Are You Ready to Become an Insights-Driven Organization.”

About Earley Information Science: EIS helps organizations establish a strong information architecture and management foundation to drive strategic business outcomes and enhance operational performance. EIS has more than 20 years of experience in working with Fortune 1000 organizations globally across many industries. Corporate headquarters are in the Boston metropolitan area with consultants working on projects around the world. For more about Earley Information Science, visit our website at http://www.earley.com or contact us at info(at)earley(dot)com.

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