This column is next in the series of how organizations achieve and sustain significant improvements in fundamental data management disciplines in their journey to Great Data. Content and conclusions are based on my work with many organizations to evaluate, accelerate and enhance their EDM Programs.
We’re going to explore “What Good Looks Like” for data management communications, with examples of benefits and challenges to overcome.
We’ll also provide suggested approaches, key implementation steps, and indicate some work products you need to help your organization excel in this discipline.
Communications – Campaigning and Relationship Maintenance
Since the data is forever, you have to succeed year after year in two areas: (1) advocacy for capability building and (2) consistently informing relevant stakeholders. As we know, data management programs involve lots of people. These individuals and groups include the data management organization, business line governance representatives, information technology, related stakeholders such as those in risk, business process reengineering, and enterprise architecture, and of course, multiple levels of senior and executive management. That’s quite a few different audiences.
We’re addressing data management communications because it is often neglected. In most organizations, there are numerous groups and organizational units lacking any information about the EDM program, and for others, information received may be incomplete. This (unintentionally) allows divergent views about the program to arise and remain uncontested, and causes lack of appreciation for its value to the organization. Reflecting on your own organization, you can probably see these effects.
As we’ve said in the past, if you’re a key player in data management, regardless of your organizational reporting chain, accepting the ancillary role of a vocal advocate comes with the job. You have to help your data executives to succeed, and that means putting on your sales hat frequently. I am totally sympathetic with the tendency to feel frustration about the constant need to review benefits, convince the lukewarm that their engagement is critical, and explain (and re-explain) the purpose of data initiatives involving multiple lines of business and organizational units. We would all prefer to occupy our time doing those professional tasks which we most enjoy, but nonetheless, we must become competent and facile in the realm of internal sales.
In this respect, data management communications resembles a political campaign, especially when the EDM program is being launched, or undergoing a significant enhancement. You need to convince decision makers and involved stakeholders that success in data management initiatives and its ongoing functions is critical to achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. In the campaign analogy, your messaging must also convince each relevant stakeholder that the program will “make your life better.”
Let’s repeat that – convince each relevant individual. Once the political campaign for the EDM program has successfully ‘elected’ the transformational initiative, it is followed by extensive ‘constituent outreach’ for the entire ‘term of office.’ And as in political polling, the organization needs its Favorable percentage to be greater than its Unfavorable percentage, preferably by a wide margin.
A slight digression – in terms of data governance, my experiences have convinced me that governance often fails of its promise, due to lackluster efforts applied to engendering enthusiasm in its participants. Think about it – if you’re a data steward and your engagement is part time, as in many organizations, governance activities are not represented in your annual review, and you’ve received little recognition for the work you’ve done, your motivation level is going to drop. Hence the complaint I’ve heard from many governance managers “The stick is wearing out.”
Your organization cannot afford to fail at data governance(!) Some antidotes to the ‘lukewarm syndrome’ are:
- Convincing management to build in some incentives for governance participation, for example: adding to the annual bonus, out of cycle time off, recognition at the organizational unit, team lunches, recognition at quarterly meetings, inviting individuals to give presentations about governance activities, etc.
- Since humans have an innate desire to complete personal and professional projects, you can take advantage of that tendency by running governance as series of brief discrete projects. People want to feel a sense of completion, so they can truthfully conclude “that was a job well done.” It’s analogous to completing requirements for badges that Girl Scouts earn and wear on their sash; award of the badge brings satisfaction – they’ve earned it fair and square – and as a bonus, it brings recognition from others through its visible display.
- In sum, cherish your governance participants. Build into the governance function brief tasks with the beginning middle and an end, especially if those tasks are part of a longer-term project, for example, defining names and business terms for the business glossary in the Customer domain.
There are other important audiences for data management communications. Overall, collaboration across the organization is essential for the enduring success of the program. The following chart shows some avenues of communication based on the audience type. In most cases, communication is bi-directional.
These functional units can be further decomposed into specific roles fulfilled by those engaged in program activities. You could then create a visual context diagram showing multiple hubs with labeled spokes, illustrating the origin of the communication type and the recipients, and vice versa. Let’s unpack one of the rows, Data Management Program. Outgoing communications ‘channels’ may include the following, for example:
- Announcements of new policies, processes, standards, and educational offerings – variations of this information are provided to executives, governance bodies, business lines, and information technology
- Organization interaction model – a context diagram with accompanying text, depicting the data management organization and its responsibility and accountability relationship with other organizational units
- Rollout information about new products, for instance, the new data governance platform, the new metadata repository, the new conceptual data model, the data management resource library, data catalog, etc.
Incoming communications may include, for instance:
- Approvals – governance bodies decisions about reviews and approvals of policies, processes and standards drafted by the data management organization
- Tasking – executive direction, changes of priorities, planned projects, new responsibilities, etc.
- Requests – business line requests for services, mentoring, training, participation in new projects, etc.
These examples are not exhaustive; however, they do illustrate the complexity of data management communications. Now we’ll look at some sample communication delivery methods that may be appropriate based on the audience type.
The Data Management Maturity (DMM) Model emphasizes best practices in the Communications Process Area as a foundational element of building capabilities and sustaining the EDM program. At Level 3 – Defined , the model’s functional practices require these practices to be performed (fully met) across the scope of the EDM program:
- The organization has developed a Communications Policy, identifying and establishing criteria for the primary types of data management communications, including both formal and informal, and identifying which are to be disseminated broadly, versus targeted to specific groups.
- A Communication Strategy has been created, aligned with the Data Management Strategy. This addresses the communication types, audiences, frequency, example methods, message origin, level of detail by audience, prioritization, portals, metrics, mechanisms, tone and pitch by audience, and identifies communications opportunities.
- Data management policies, processes and standards are promulgated across the organization, to all parties who need to know about them and use them.
- Communications metrics are developed and actively used to provide information about the effectiveness of data management communications.
- Communications are reviewed by stakeholder peers and feedback is solicited and provided according to a defined process – this allows refinement of the right message (content and form) at the right time, and sets a baseline for continuous improvement.
If an organization is competent and thoughtful about its data management communications, many benefits accrue, in addition to increasing the visibility and perceived value of the EDM program.
- Effective communications support integrated operations for program data governance and data management.
- They increase participation in data governance and other key program activities.
- They decrease the duration and complexity of decision-making among multiple stakeholders.
- They ensure that process assets are available for teams and individuals that need them.
- They reinforce consistent understanding of concepts and principles woven into the EDM program.
- They ensure that advance notice is provided for the impacts of changes to data stores.
- They are the glue that allows the tendrils of the program to extend organization-wide.
The big achievement in Level 3 Communications is creation of the Communications Strategy. How many organizations do you know that have truly recognized the vital importance of communications to sustain an enduring EDM program, and do you know of any that have taken the time develop a comprehensive strategy? Not many, but more organizations should undertake this effort, because if overlooked, it can be the difference between success and failure.
Let’s take the example of a large organization with a new Chief Data Officer. This executive was not present when you were developing the EDM program to this point. They may not understand the value of what you’ve implemented and your future plans, so while they will probably listen to your presentations and explanations, they are also highly likely to speak to your key constituents and get their opinions – executive level data governance members, line of business executives, and information technology executives. If overall, communications has been deficient, or too infrequent, or not directed at the appropriate audiences, their opinions won’t be based on your verifiable track record, because they’re not aware of the program’s accomplishments.
And if you don’t have meaningful metrics in place, and you haven’t reported your effectiveness at conveying needed information, again they’re missing important facts. They may say, “I know they’ve been doing things, but I can’t point to anything specific.” Thus, you’ve lost the corroborating power of natural allies to confirm your victories.
Or, to cite a fitting chain of causality proverb: “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For the want of a horse, the rider was lost. For the want of a rider, the battle was lost. For the want of a battle, the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
The EDM program could become yesterday’s news. Imagine your funds redistributed to the business lines, progress halted, and eventually, everything you’ve put in place is unused and forgotten. Comedian Eddie Murphy performed a bit about a disappointing, character-revealing situation, where his girlfriend is taking him to task for not doing enough for her. He reminds her about the dinners, the clothes, the jewelry, and the vacations. She just turns to him and whines loudly, “But what have you done for me lately, Eddie?” (Mic drop, scene).
It’s your job (together with your data management leaders and peers) to keep your initiatives and products front and center, and highlight your achievements and wins at every opportunity. Get out Gabriel’s trumpet and blow.
It is definitely worth your while to analyze all aspects of data management communications, both while building capabilities, and as you shift to the sustain-and-enhance phase of the program. Actively seek opportunities to advocate and inform.
Back to the Campaign
This leads us right back into the sales aspect of communications. As a data management professional, I have often chafed at management’s stubborn repetition of the MBA 101 killer aphorism – “So what?” Executives who have not gotten the joke, that data is a strategic asset, are often impatient with the building blocks that you’re carefully putting in place. Like many of you, I’ve suffered through working sessions to define the “value proposition” of a data management initiative.
The root cause of this attitude on the part of executives is that they always think about solutions – spending money to realize a direct benefit to a business line, or to satisfy a specific use case. Most of us live in a business culture where quarterly profits, short term results, soak up all the oxygen, which is a big obstacle to strategic thinking. In many organizations short term fixes are the major focus. That can be discouraging for the data management professional, (luckily, we have passion to keep us afloat) but there is a path you can take to both educate them and justify the value of what you’re proposing.
You need to sharpen up your ability to clearly align benefits and value to the organization with data management capability building and specific initiatives. We know that many data management functions and initiatives within the EDM program are foundational in nature – heck, we’re engaged in building the Great Wall of China and Making the World Safe for Democracy, we’re preventing maintenance spending from rising 50% in the next three years, etc.
Where we get confused is in trying to derive a direct benefit that satisfies the executives according to their perception of value. What we need to do instead is to meet them halfway, educating them in the process. So it is a decomposition exercise, and I recommend starting with the business strategy.
Take an organizational goal, such as: “Delight our customers with an intuitive and informative digital experience” a discriminating feature of which is providing timely information about the services or products they receive, and offering them related services or products that are likely to be of interest to them based on their purchase history. The words ‘intuitive’ and ‘digital experience’ make the reader think about solutions – technologies, website design, icons, interactive graphics, charts, etc. But you know what makes all of that possible – the data.
So, if you are trying to convince executives that Data Management Initiative ABC is worthy of resources and funding, you first need to spell out the existing obstacles that will impede attaining the goal.
Let’s say that there are four systems which capture or modify customer data, designed by four different business lines for different purposes, and two of them store sales history, transactions by customer. Different downstream applications ingest data from these various systems. With the goal in mind, start with succinct problem statements. Enlist the assistance of your peer business line representatives for supporting detail, as needed.
in this scenario, here are some potential example problems.
- Problem 1 – we can’t uniquely identify a customer, since the sales, orders and shipping systems use different IDs.
- Problem 2 – the sales transaction systems are not time-synchronized. We could use the wrong information to feed the customer portal.
- Problem 3 – we can’t accurately household multiple customers at the same address, so we could feature superhero action figures to the mother, a gardening hobbyist, instead of to the pre-teen.
You’ll define the problem, and explain the impacts of those persistent problems on current operations, then draw the parallels with how they will cause impediments and delays in the digital customer experience program.
Assuming your business line allies support improving this data, list the data management activities and products that support the enhanced customer portal and explain why they are needed to satisfy the goal. Then, briefly state how the proposed improvements, step by step, will increase the accuracy of the customer and sales information, allowing accurate algorithms to suggest closely related products and services, based on your organization’s corresponding taxonomy.
In this example, you could make a case for a data working group to harmonize customer data, for a customer master data implementation, for enhanced reconciliation of transactions, for an expanded set of metadata, for a future redesign of source systems, and other projects conducive to success. Note that these example projects have applicability beyond the scope of the stated goal; approaches, methods, and work products created for these efforts can be designed to be reusable, also furthering EDM program goals and objectives. And you can then explore the details of return on investment from these proposed initiatives, describing both tactical and strategic benefits, and the consequences of doing nothing.
The bottom line – align your proposed
projects as closely as possible to business goals and objectives, and do the
analytical work to create a convincing case to the solution-oriented executive.
And speaking of making a case, our next column will address developing a strong
Business Case for the EDM program and data-intensive projects, and arranging
for non-discretionary Program Funding. Stay tuned!
 A chicken in every pot, an electric car in every garage, high-speed trains – you get the idea.
 You may ask yourself, why didn’t they add some carrots into the mix? Precisely.
 A communications channel refers to the direction of information – upward, downwards, or peer-to-peer, and often also implies a method, mechanism, or event occasion – how the information reaches its target audience.
 For example, when there is a major change to the program, or a new policy is issued, the appropriate executive should be the originator of the communication.
 This practice underlines the importance of communications as a major sustaining factor over the life of the program – e.g., how many visitors to the EDM portal, how many downloads of the new data profiling process, etc. Over time, data management communications will take just the right form, the right frequency, and be delivered to the right audiences.