Is your enterprise data strategy keeping up with the changing digital economy?
Pop quiz: A researcher—or maybe an analyst or a paralegal—approaches your department with 2 TB of data they need to house for immediate access. What do you do?
We’ve all been there. The options are often not pretty.
House it inside? …On whose budget?
Outsource it? …With what security guarantees?
The solution is almost always more complicated than they expect. One thing is sure, though: between cheap storage and free cloud solutions, if you don’t work with them, they will go on without you.
The role of enterprise data strategy is to unlock the value of information for an enterprise. It’s the underpinning for a framework of capabilities that, when executed together, let a company acquire and maintain accurate, consistent data to meet their business requirements—and put roles, principles, and tools in place to increase the value of the information.
As a discipline, enterprise data strategy encompasses policy and governance, master data management, data and system architecture, security and access controls, lifecycle and archiving. That’s a lot of moving parts. The key to a successful enterprise data strategy is to not only protect the company’s interests but also to create business value through deliberate strategic alignment with corporate objectives.
For instance, the basic corporate mandate to increase shareholder value could drive a goal of better performance on strategic investments. We know better forecasting supports better investment decisions. What supports better forecasting? How about cleaner and more timely data? A good enterprise data strategy ensures that even the humblest data quality project aligns with strategic corporate goals such as investment, customer satisfaction, and operational improvement by providing measurable improvements in key business indicators such as forecast accuracy, client churn, transaction costs, or cycle times.
The key to a successful enterprise data strategy is to not only protect the company’s interests but also to create business value through deliberate strategic alignment with corporate objectives.
So how can you ensure that your enterprise data strategy is aligned with your company’s best interests? And how can you make practical decisions in the moment that preserve your alignment while still meeting the immediate needs of the business?
Strategic alignment can be obtained by following a 3-part mantra:
- Core: Identify your central competencies—the things you can control that contribute to the strategic goals of your company.
- Collaborate across the organization to make sure your core competency is contributing to the organization’s success.
- Delegate, either to another part of the organization or to a vendor, things that are not part of your core competency.
Your core competency is the unique set of capabilities you have that deliver strategic value to your company and its customers.
Note that this concept is completely scalable. Executives and board members are responsible for making sure a company stays focused on its core value proposition. Directors and managers have a similar responsibility to understand their areas’ core value to the company and its customers, and to make sure that their teams or processes are actively contributing to the organization’s success.
Think about this question: “What do I (or we) do on a regular basis that contributes measurably to the overall success of the company?”
Think broadly: where do you see the effects of your work? What strategic aims does it support?
Think creatively: you’re not necessarily limited to your what you already do. What strategic aims could you impact, if you were able to?
Think practically and realistically: just because you can (or could) do something doesn’t mean you should. “Capability” means what you have the power to accomplish. If there are limitations on your capabilities, where are they coming from, and what would it take to remove them? If it’s too hard to remove them, then those capabilities are probably not part of your core competency.
It’s important to make sure that everything you define as part of your “core” contributes clearly to one or more strategic goals of the company. This will form the basis of your strategic corporate alignment. If a function or capability can’t be aligned, then it may be superfluous. If a particular activity or responsibility actually interferes with your ability to perform core functions, then it’s a good candidate for collaboration or delegation.
It’s important to make sure that everything you define as part of your core competency contributes clearly to one or more strategic goals of the company.
In the case of a strategic enterprise data capability, the core competency might include
- Policy — Principles for enterprise data governance
- Processes — Guidelines for implementing policies so that actual use meets governance principles
- Technology — Scalable tools to enable capabilities
- Taxonomy/Dictionary — Standardization and enhancement of data descriptions
- Metrics — Monitoring and measurement of performance/impact
If “core” describes what you do for your organization, then “collaborate” defines how you do it. Collaboration is what you do to ensure that your work is actually contributing to the ongoing success of the organization.
With enterprise data strategy, collaboration might focus initially on clarifying how data are used and the controls needed to maintain high data quality. From there, it could extend to determining key data elements, codifying business roles, defining standards, and performing root-cause process analysis to identify strategic improvements.
Collaboration is what you do to ensure that your work is actually contributing to the ongoing success of the organization.
It’s important to note that collaboration doesn’t come “after” you’ve developed all the tools to support your core competency. Creation and deployment of a successful strategic enterprise data framework depend on harnessing independent expertise from across the organization through cross-functional collaboration. Workgroups wanting guidance on data governance don’t need to cultivate their own expertise in data quality root-cause analysis—any more than data analysts need to be able to read x-rays or climb communication towers. But the respective teams do need to know how to talk to each other and agree to work together for the good of the organization.
Ultimately, the goal of collaboration is to establish an efficient “fit” between different capabilities and competencies within an organization. Doing this well sustains all parties and can even lay the groundwork for new competencies to emerge down the road.
Here is where things get interesting. The thing to remember is that delegation is not just a matter of passing something off to someone else. Successful delegation entails specifying a desired outcome to a responsible person or group, which is then tasked with delivering that outcome. For delegation to work well, you need to establish controls, identify limits on the scope of work, provide sufficient support, and stay up to date on progress.
We’ve already discussed ways to recognize possible activities for delegation. If there are limitations on success that you just can’t remove, then that activity could be a good one to delegate. If it’s in line with the same strategic goals you support, but carrying it out impedes your ability to do other work, then it’s an excellent candidate for delegation.
The key is to focus on results rather than procedures. In delegating, you’re drawing on someone else’s core competency to reach your desired outcomes. You also need to pay careful attention to how and when those outcomes plug back into your strategic framework, so that everyone moves together toward the same goal.
In delegating, you’re drawing on someone else’s core competency to reach your desired outcomes.
Delegation can be internal—for example, calling on business process owners within your organization to create processes in harmony with established guidelines and standards. In other cases, outsourcing can allow you hit a sweet spot of meeting your company’s mission and enabling business growth by keeping your internal resources focused on core strategic goals and leaving everything else in the hands of a vendor or strategic partner. If you do outsource, it’s important to do so dependably and judiciously, keeping your eye on the outcomes and the controls you set around them.
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So let’s return to that researcher/analyst/paralegal with all the data…
Knowing your area’s core competency, and, conversely, understanding which activities are right for collaboration or delegation can allow you to suggest a path forward that is already aligned with your processes, compliance principles, and strategic goals. It can also allow you to speak meaningfully and realistically about the controls, costs, and service levels that would accompany that course of action. In the long run, being able to respond quickly and reasonably to this kind of request makes it less likely that groups within your organization will go their own way when faced with data needs. This makes compliance more likely, mitigation less necessary, and processes more efficient, and strategies more effective.
Core. Collaborate. Delegate. Succeed. Grow. Repeat.