Every so often I overhear interesting conversations while standing in line at a store or waiting to board a flight. Recently, I heard this one:
Person 1: I literally put on 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
Person 2: Don’t get me started…I'll be working all year to knock off the 10 pounds I picked up over the holidays, just to be back where I was before Thanksgiving.
Person 1: Yeah I'll exercise full-force through January but by February, let's be honest – I'm tired of it. One step forward, two steps back…
This scenario is true for many of us; we take a step in the right direction toward our goal, but then get distracted and fall behind. Now that 2013 is underway, it's time to make some data management resolutions and stick to them.
Data management is an overarching term that includes all the disciplines related to creating, housing, delivering, maintaining and retiring data, with the goal of valuing data as a corporate asset. And it's not just an enterprise issue anymore. SMBs also find themselves struggling with growing data volumes and subpar data quality. Organizations of all sizes and industries are implementing business intelligence software to glean insight from their data, but the thing no one wants to talk about is this: how many BI projects get delayed due to issues with that data. Whether data or their definitions vary across systems or there are rows that violate relationship rules (many-to-one, one-to-many), data integrity issues must be resolved before you can expect great results from your BI software.
Here are some practical steps you can take to get your data back in shape this year:
Build up confidence with a plan. It took a few months to put on those extra holiday pounds; the reality is that it won't disappear with just one week of exercise. You'll need a plan to lose the weight – one that includes exercise, diet changes, and motivational strategies. Having a plan in place builds confidence and gives you something to "stick to." It has the same result when it comes to data management. Your plan – whether you're an enterprise or SMB – must include ways to guarantee executive buy-in (it'll be a lot harder to slip up if your executives are aware of what's happening) and end user adoption. You'll need to deliver a clear ROI – reduced costs, increased revenue, improved efficiencies, etc. – in order to get it approved. You'll also need to evaluate and implement a technology solution (like an ETL tool) and develop and share best practices for ongoing data quality maintenance. It can be a lot of up-front work, but having a plan builds confidence and optimism about this organizational change and sets you up for success.
Focus efforts around a relatable topic: data quality. No matter what the infomercials tell you, there's no substitute for a good abdominal workout to get your core in shape. Likewise, there is no shortcut to clean, accurate data – the cornerstone for good decision-making and the basis for reliable analytics. Though data quality is a subset of data management, it deserves special mention because it is that important. In a post last year, Invest in Good Data Before Big Data, my colleague Dwight deVera explored how consistent data quality plays an integral role in your company's success. Top performing companies rely on good data for management dashboards, reports, and ad-hoc queries. The most efficient business teams can trust their decisions because they use data that is accurate, timely, and therefore reliable.
At arcplan, we experienced a data quality scenario any SMB can relate to: when we sent out our holiday greetings to customers, we received a few back in the mail. Turns out, a couple of our customers had moved locations throughout the year. When I approached the sales managers about their relocated accounts, they knew about it but hadn't updated our CRM to reflect the changes. It may seem like a small detail, but isn't customer data the most important data any organization has?
Make it a team effort. When working towards a fitness goal, support from friends and family can go a long way. It can be as simple as joining you on daily walks or removing temptation – like that cheesecake – from your plate. Data management also works best when it’s a team effort. It's labor intensive and time consuming whether we’re talking about cleaning up an Oracle database or Salesforce.com, or developing data governance policies, or determining the lifecycle of data. Every department should be involved so it's a distributed responsibility, a company-wide endeavor. It's the responsibility of any employee who touches or interacts with data since those same people will benefit from it.
Don't forget about mobile. With the proliferation of mobile phones and especially tablets among executives and remote workers as BYOD becomes more popular – especially when it comes to business intelligence – there's a need to integrate corporate data onto personal devices. This trend has enabled a new class of applications to emerge: mobile data management apps. Your IT department should be exploring these apps, which allow data to be encrypted, password protected, time-bombed, and remote-wiped. This will shore up one aspect of your company's data management: data security management. It's not enough to just secure data on in-house PCs anymore. With mobile BI on the rise, it's more important than ever to include mobility in your data management plan.
Data is one of your company's most valuable assets, but it won't produce the extraordinary outcomes you want unless there's a plan to keep it secure, consistent and accurate. Do you have additional tips for how to stay motivated when it comes to data management so it doesn't drop off by February (like so many exercise resolutions)?