The Small Business Market – July 2007

So you’ve had enough of the gurus and talking heads yakking at you about everything you should be doing better. So you’ve figured out that writing a treatise about something or talking
a good fight doesn’t change anything – only actions stimulate changes. Maybe you’ve been lulled into thinking that just because you attended the right conference or read the right
“how to” book that you would become a better ____________ (insert your profession of choice here). You aren’t alone.

All of the subject-matter experts in the world are only as valuable as the real change that they enable, facilitate or directly create. Entire careers as industry “masters” are made by
people who are creative writers, performers and marketers but who may have only spent a few years actually working in the areas in which they are supposed to be gurus. There are, of course,
exceptions. Those experts who can preach the new paradigm “gospel” on Monday and then come into your organization and actually lead the project that implements their ideas on Tuesday
are, in most cases, true agents of change. The rest, however, are the arbiters of strategic tunnel vision (STV). STV is an affliction of senior management that causes inane decision making
rooted in the misguided belief that embracing the concepts, ideas and attitudes of the currently popular talking head is enough to change their organizational behavior. Somehow, it never occurs to
them that talking is not the same as doing and that wishes, hopes and dreams are virtual, not factual.

Such is the case concerning data management practices in the small-to-medium sized business (SMB) market. SMB leaders are usually of the opinion (with some justification) that their organizations
are too small, too understaffed or too busy to focus on sound data management procedures. The logic seems to be that if the company is functioning reasonably well without focusing on data, then it
must not be very critical to make changes. While this thinking is truly shortsighted, it doesn’t quite qualify as STV. That occurs when one of the senior members of the leadership team
suddenly gets data management “religion” and sets off in five different directions at once in search of the magic bullet that will fix their data problems. This normally occurs because
the well meaning executive or manager reads a magazine article or talks to someone on a plane. They immediately grasp the recounted value proposition that such case studies boast about while
hearing nothing of the investments of time, hard and soft dollars, and corporate commitment required to enable success. They get “happy ears” about how their company will be transformed
and decide to embark on a comprehensive data management improvement program.

Here’s where STV begins to take hold. In order to get the attention and interest of the remaining leadership team, the executive who had the mountaintop experience knows that he/she must line
up strong arguments to initiate a data management improvement project. So they scour the Internet and an endless array of industry trade magazines and newsletters looking for the right champion to
make their case for them. They might also ask their contact sphere, both internal to and external to the company, for suggestions of high profile, well respected gurus in the subject area who can
lay out the compelling case for taking action sooner rather than later. What happens next is highly dependent upon the spending habits of the firm. Either the manager in question will fly off to
the next seminar or workshop event being taught by the guru in hopes of learning the secret of data management nirvana, or they will go for the gusto and invite the guru into their offices for a
few days of “strategic” consulting. In either case, STV appears when this newly inspired corporate leader accepts virtually everything the expert has to say as established fact and then
declares that the future of the company is hanging on the success of the data management improvement project they are now championing.

Lest you think me too cynical (and in fairness to the myriad industry subject-matter experts who really do make a difference), it is not a bad thing that scenarios such as the one I just described
take place. Every critical path project must have a champion in order to succeed, and it isn’t that important how that individual got to the point of advocating the required change. What is
critical to this subject is that too many leaders fail to understand that simply pronouncing a new respect and adherence to best practices doesn’t fundamentally change the company. Neither
does implementing the most complex data management overhaul imaginable. Change isn’t accomplished through policies and proclamations – change must be inculcated into the fiber of the
organization through training, regular and frequent management communication of goals and objectives and, most importantly, through a cultural acceptance of accountability for decisions made and
money spent.

What changes an organization is what happens after the completion of the project. Are the practices in place to insure continued adherence to the reforms introduced? Is there sufficient management
oversight (married to accountability) to make ignoring these practices a career-limiting move? Has the staff been adequately trained in the new procedures designed to support a healthier data
environment? Are there future projects planned to monitor the success of the current project over time? Has anyone at the senior level been tasked with validating that the benefits promised to the
organization by the business case have actually accrued? There are many more questions just like these, but too few SMB leaders consider them important enough to make them part of the definition of
success for the original undertaking. That is strategic tunnel vision in its most common form.

This situation exists but is perhaps a bit less prevalent in larger companies because there are usually more resources available to guard against these conditions developing. SMBs are seldom
fortunate enough to have deep pockets for such projects in the first place, let alone devoting scarce resources to follow up and other post-project initiatives. Yet, it is vitally important for
SMBs to recognize that failing to “finish the job” is a strategic as well as tactical mistake. Data is a living thing – it morphs and evolves in concert with the corporate
organism – and, therefore, it deserves the same type of ongoing focus that one would give to functions such as marketing or accounting. Data that may be cleansed, enriched or otherwise
improved will degrade quickly if insufficient nurturing and maintenance are applied. Indeed, I think it safe to say that I would advocate doing nothing to change the condition and/or management of
your corporate data if you are unwilling to complete the investment by implementing policy changes and practice improvements designed to slow down the inevitable decline in the value, reliability
and accessibility of that data.

Strategic tunnel vision is a curable malady. The solution lies in paying enough attention to the common sense, obvious tasks which are necessary to truly define success for a data
management improvement project. The specifics of each project will vary in as many ways as there are companies who need to undertake them. What is universal, however, is the work that must commence
once the implementation is completed. The most elegant data solution will become nothing but an expensive boondoggle if you fail to conduct the follow up necessary to monitor the results of the
effort; fail to establish and enforce the practices, policies and procedures necessary to support effective data management at an enterprise level; or fail to look behind to measure the
expectations of success going into the project against the net effects once its completed (in other words – return on investment). If your organization can force itself to adhere to these
ideas, then strategic tunnel vision will only be something you read about from some self-proclaimed industry guru.

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Jeffrey Canter

Jeffrey Canter

R. Jeffrey Canter is EVP, Global Marketing and Operations, at Innovative Systems, Inc. He oversees research and development, product management, global marketing and communications, and client service and support.  Since joining Innovative in 1990, Canter has applied his business and technical expertise to the successful development of customer information projects for clients in a variety of industries, including financial services, hospitality and telecommunications.  Prior to his current position, he served as senior consultant and director of R&D for the company.  Canter is a regular speaker and author on topics related to managing and integrating customer data.

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