Imagine what it would be like if your data was perfect. By perfect I mean fit for use and high quality. By perfect I mean that the people in your organization have confidence in the data to use it for effective decision making and to focus on building efficiency and effectiveness through data into your operations. Take a second to think about being in that situation. I will wait…
Ok, snap to it. *snapping noise* Back to reality. Many of you may not be living in a perfect data world right now. And your dreams of the perfect data word are far flung/unachievable. If you are aware of the concept of “continual improvement”, you probably recognize that there is no “perfect” data world. No matter your state of perfection or brokenness, there are always ways to improve your present condition.
In this column, I will share ways that you can improve your data situation… but be warned. While these may be simple concepts, the actions that I share are not easy to accomplish, and the path will not always be runway smooth. However, a journey starts with the very first step so, consider selecting a few of the items on my list and start taking the steps that are necessary to improve your data. It is all in the data.
In my experience over the past *mumbled sound* years, I have found there to be a constant lack of consistency in the state of the data across organizations in all industries. In this column, I write about ways organizations can improve their data situation.
By selling data, I do not mean to say that you should dress up your data and put it on the market. There are ways to make money from your data, but that is not what I mean here. By selling your data, I mean selling the need for good data (or improved data) to your organization’s leadership and stakeholders.
Work on convincing your leadership that these actions are necessary. I suggest that you start by asking people in your organization two questions and report their answers to your leaders to avoid having to tell these people why YOU believe that action is necessary.
The two questions are: 1) What can’t you do because you don’t have access to the data, or have confidence in the data to do it? And the flip side of that question is, 2) What would you be able to do if you had access to, or confidence in, the data to do it? Honest answers to these questions can be shared with your leadership to sell the need for improved data.
Plan for the Data
Take your organization’s data plans or data strategy off the shelf and build renewed interest in the actions, resources, and outcomes that are needed to improve your data situation. Wait… did I hear you say that you do not have a data strategy or holistic plan to improve your data? Or that you don’t know if a plan exists? That may be an action that you can take right now to improve your data.
Your data strategy is the plan you need for using software tools, strengthened processes, formalizing accountability, and defining rules for how to manage, analyze, and build value into business data. Your data strategy will help you to make informed decisions and keep your data safe and compliant. Planning for data is an important action you can take immediately.
Govern the Data
I define data governance as the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data and data-related assets. Governance, like government, requires a set of rules that are in place to preside over and exercise control over any situation. One such situation to consider governing is your present data situation. Ungoverned data leads to lack of confidence in data, and, if people do not trust the data, the chances are that that your data situation needs to be improved.
There are several approaches and models available to assist organizations to get started governing their data. There is the command-and-control approach, traditional (if you build it, they will come) approach, and the non-invasive data governance approach (my favorite) that can be selected based on the culture and changeability of the organization. There are federated, centralized, and distributed models, that can be considered when structuring governance in the appropriate way to improve your data.
Steward the Data
Data stewardship is defined as the formalization of accountability for data. The one phrase that I hear repeatedly from my clients is that there is a “lack of accountability for the definition, production and usage of data.” Everybody that has a relationship to the data as definers, producers, and/or users of data are stewards of the data if they are help formally accountable for the actions they take with data.
I have been known to say that “everybody is a data steward” and to embrace that idea is the only way to provide complete governance and stewardship coverage of the organization. Governance programs must educate people about stewardship and enforce formal accountability to improve data.
Provide Metadata for the Data
Data by itself has no meaning or context. If you are provided a piece of data – let’s say “01229” is that data – you have no knowledge of what that data represents without any description or information about that data. Is it a quantity, an amount, an address, a calculated field, or something completely different? The data, your data, has no meaning unless context is provided. That context, in the field of data management, is metadata.
Now put yourself if the position of a corporate executive that is viewing their daily production dashboard, or a manager that is needs to make a decision based on data they receive in a report. These people must trust and have confidence in the data they use. That confidence comes from their knowledge about the data, or in other words, the metadata that helps the organization to improve its data.
Communicate About the Data
Organizations that strive to become data-centric or data-driven are introducing policies that spell out that data is an asset and how it will be governed. Organizations are concentrating on changing their cultures when it comes to data, and there is a push for organizations to become more data literate. Data literacy is a label that has been given to the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. Communications is a core component of successful data governance.
Communications about data ranges from orienting people to the concepts and practices of managing data as an asset, to the onboarding of people in data roles such as stewards, to ongoing communications about metrics and activities focused on improving the organization’s data situation. To improve the data, organizations must improve their literacy and thus their understanding of the significance of their data management and governance efforts.
Protect the Data
Last, but certainly not least, organizations must protect their data. Data classification and handling has become a priority while information security plays a large role in how organizations are improving their data. From personally identifiable information (PII) to personal health information (PHI), to the protection of intellectual property (IP), organizations have embraced their need to secure sensitive information and data. Improvements in data often begin by securing and protecting data.
The relationship between the Chief Data Officer (CDO) – or similarly scripted position, and the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), has strengthened mightily in organizations that have a strategy for delivering improved data. Organizations can learn from their efforts to protect the data when they transition into a formally governed data landscape. Protecting data is important but it is just one of the actions organizations can take to improve their data situation.
In this column, I described ways that organizations can improve on their data problems. I kept the concepts quick and simple. I did not describe the steps organizations need to take to perfect these actions as the steps that organizations take are heavily dependent on the culture, leadership, direction, and resources that are available. If organizations select just a few of these actions to improve data that I have outlined here, and then articulate and get approval to act, the world will be a better place in 2022, at least from a data perspective. It’s all in the data.