A practical guide to delivering value through data

Practical-Guide

Today many organizations want to be data driven, some have started by hiring data scientists, or they are planning a digital transformation.  Why? It is the belief that they can deliver efficiency, higher revenue or perhaps even find new opportunities using data.  Ultimately it is about trying to drive higher value for their stakeholders.   So how do you determine the best approach and then deliver on it?  This article is the first in an eight-part series on how to deliver sustainable value through your data. This is a straightforward framework and approach on how to understand where you are today and how to deliver the value today and into the future.  It shows you how to leverage your existing investments and when appropriate how to evaluate and upgrade your tools, processes and people.

One challenge for many organizations is the inconsistency in their data maturity.  There are pockets where investments have been made and the maturity and value has increased – a good example is a group of data scientist who quickly find insights in the data.  However, many times these success stories raise the expectations for the rest of the organization who do not necessarily have the understanding or capability to be able to deliver the same success.  The approach and framework laid out in this series of articles will help define a vision for your organization’s data and then aligns the vision to an objective view of where you are today.  It builds a strategy and road map that incorporate your business priorities that also allows for your constraints while consistently driving to your end state vision. 

First, recognize that not all data is the same.  Some will be more important to your organization while other data is interesting but doesn’t hold the same value.  To understand the difference, it is critical to set your Vision for your data that is based on your organizations strategic vision and Why this vision when executed will enable each individual and ultimately drive the entire organization forward.

  1. Vision – Why do we need data to support our overall strategy?

Second, is setting the Strategy on How to achieve the vision.   How do we put the core pieces or building blocks together to support the vision?  Like many strategic efforts it is combination of the different elements working in conjunction with each other that leads to success.  There are four core components to the strategy:

People – what skills and experience do we need to execute the strategy and reach the vision?

Process – What are the new high-level processes (or methodologies) we need?

Technology – what are the right technologies to reach the vision?

Data – what data do we need from Master Data, Operational data, Third party data and the accompanying Metadata.  What level of quality and how much history?  What level of integration and security do we need?

Organizations can struggle in this effort when they focus to heavily on one particular area.  We see many times that a methodology or a technology is selected and leveraged as a game changing strategy.  While technology and methodologies are critical enablers they need the other components to work in unison to achieve a fully successful strategy. There is also an underlying Change Management effort that is another key to success.  Many times this effort is underestimated, but it has a direct impact on your success.

  1. Strategy – How do we achieve the Vision?

The third step is assessing your current state.  Where are we today?  This is perhaps the hardest part of the process.  While organizations inherently know they have challenges across the different areas documenting it as an objective fact is difficult.  We see the most challenges around the people and technology areas due to a more emotional or politically charged nature.  The assessment of your data takes quite a bit of effort, but it tends to be more straightforward since you can determine if the data supports the go forward vision or if it doesn’t pretty quickly.  It is important to assess the entire organization (business and IT) during this process to ensure a complete picture.

  • People (skills / culture / change / org structure)
  • Process – mapping and efficiency
  • Technology – current platforms, do (or can) they support the strategy
  • Data – breadth, depth, quality and security
  1. Assessment – Where are we today?

The fourth step is building a roadmap that takes you from Where you are today and combines How to get to the end state along with business priorities and constraints to determine the sequencing or When to deliver each part of the solution.  One key element to focus on during your road mapping initiative is finding true dependencies for each of your building blocks and not accepting roadblocks based on old ways of working.  Business priorities can change over time as well as other constraints that may come up after you put together the roadmap.  If you have documented the true dependencies it is very easy to move the different blocks around to meet the new priorities.  This is critical so that you do not lose focus on the end state.  You will still have a consistent and complete roadmap it just has been realigned to meet current needs.

  • What are the dependencies
  • Are there “quick wins” that we can deliver to show value/ROI
  • What can be done in parallel?
  • What are true constraints vs ones that we have created based on old ways of working?
  • Ensure all stakeholders are fully engaged in the road mapping effort
  1. Roadmap – When do we deliver each part of the strategy?

The fifth step is a misnomer because it is really integrated in all the other steps.  It is Change Management.  We put it here to ensure that prior to implementing the roadmap a formal change management plan is created.  The classic quote is “the softer side is the harder side”.  We have seen many technically correct solutions that are not adopted by the users due to education or trust issues.  We have also seen critical resources leave due to uncertainty or a perceived lessening of their value to the organization.  While this generally falls under the people domain it is such a critical aspect that it needs to be recognized as such.

  • Is your culture change resistant?
  • Who are the key influencers in the organization?
  • How does this program fit with other changes in the organization?
  • Who are your critical stakeholders and champions? Are they fully committed and engaged?
  1. Change Management – Who is this going to impact?

The sixth step is implementing each strategic block based on the roadmap with the known dependencies and constraints.  Planning is critical since some of the blocks will happen in parallel.  Most organizations are fairly adept at securing the right resources and tools.  What is different is how you manage the data blocks.  Data and the corresponding metadata go across many if not all parts of the organization.  Data ownership and education on how data is used and why are the keys to success.  Staying focused on the vision and strategy will help answer what data is needed at what level of quality and how it integrates with other data.  Changing data is one of the more disruptive activities you can undertake.  From improving quality (some may disagree with the “improvements”) to changing or adding attributes, hierarchies or granularity, it will impact operations, reporting and analytics.  However, the payoff is enormous in that you can give the business what they need and expect to deliver higher value to the organization.

  • Plan the work and work the plan
  • build the right teams for delivery as well as ongoing operations
  • Leverage the right tools
  • Creating the go forward processes
  • Focus on the data to ensure it will completely support the vision
    • Can be disruptive
    • Ownership, documentation and communication are critical
  1. Implementation – Delivering the data to make better decisions and answer “Why

The last step is sustaining the vision and strategy.  This is not “support” which is inherent within the implementations and ongoing operations.  This is about the people side and culture shift to a more mature data organization.  While the roadmap and implementation have distinct deliverables and end dates, the maturation of the organization is a true journey.  Moving from data aware to true data driven takes time, investment and focus. 

  • Measure the “pulse” of the organization on data driven decisions
  • Does your information continue to be trusted and actionable?
  • Are we continuing to look at new sources and types of data to help our organization?
  • Are there new ways of working or tools that can help enable us?
  1. Sustain – How do we continue to lead in the future?

While some of this framework and approach may seem to be “common sense” it is the execution of this process that takes the right knowledge and experience.  In the subsequent articles we will take each one of these steps in further detail to help you understand why each step is important, how to approach and execute it and what the expected outcome looks like.

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