Getting Everyone On Board Your Data Strategy

Strong executive leadership and dedicated resources can address these conflicts by communicating and rewarding clear and consistent project objectives. However, many data strategy projects are executed in parallel with other, competing initiatives, and existing job responsibilities. In this case, it’s important to reduce the complexity and impact of the data strategy by, in the Heath’s words, “shrinking the change.”

In the initial phase, focus on one business process, data subject area, or customer population and develop a complete solution for that area. For the focus area, establish the end-state process for data capture, cleansing, integration, analytics, and operations that demonstrates real business value. Then iterate and expand on this framework in later phases.

Shrinking scope simplifies aligning objectives by reducing the number of stakeholders impacted, by shortening the time horizon of project milestones, and by demonstrating success early at a small scale. This gives confidence to team members who see career opportunities on a project with manageable risk, visible, near term outcomes, and an ability to be creative and accountable on an innovative initiative.

Build in engagement – There’s a great deal of interest and excitement at the launch of a major initiative. But unless it is actively managed, interest and focus can wane after six to nine months. Within a year people are asking “Why are we doing this?” or hoping to be transferred to another new initiative that was just announced.

“Changes often fail because the Rider simply can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination. The Elephant’s hunger for instant gratification is the opposite of the Rider’s strength, which is the ability to think long-term, to plan, to think beyond the moment…

To make progress toward a goal, whether it’s noble or crass, requires the energy and drive of the Elephant. And this strength is the mirror image of the Rider’s great weakness: spinning his wheels. The Rider tends to overanalyze and over think things. … A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure nothing changes. But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.”

Something as transformative as a data strategy is the poster child for this effect. In fact, a data strategy is not a project, it defines a new way of operating the business. Transforming enterprise data requires that business and technology staff do their jobs in a new way.

This starts by establishing a data governance function at the very start. Our experience is that a smaller, more focused team is better than a data czar reporting to the COO. Most data issues are local to a department or function. Only a small number of important issues are truly enterprise-wide (customer or product master data, for example). Starting small allows a focused team to develop practical data governance processes with tangible results. One company using this approach setup 10 local data governance councils in two years, all leveraging the same processes.

Wherever possible, the data strategy should use existing governance bodies, such as the SDLC, architectural review board, risk management, portfolio planning, investment committee, and business process optimization functions. These functions already embody processes for standards, review, and change management, and data standards can be incorporated as just another dimension.

Implementing a data strategy is fundamentally a change management program. As new programs and processes are launched and developed, the data strategy will guide their plans so that enterprise data is reused and enhanced, data quality is improved, and analytics are more accurate and available.

Business and technology users become trained to understand standards, common definitions, and how to express business data requirements.

As the data strategy becomes incorporated across the business, it ultimately transforms the culture of the business itself: where decision-making and competitive advantage intrinsically leverage data and analytics.

Paul Barth is the founder and managing partner of New Vantage Partners. Paul is a recognized thought leader and practitioner in leveraging information as a strategic asset and in emerging approaches and best practices in data management. Formerly, Paul was founder and CTO of Tessera Enterprise Systems, a nationally-known systems integration firm formed in 1995. He became CTO of iXL Enterprises, a leading international Internet integration firm, following the merger of Tessera/iXL in December 1999. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT, and a M.S. from Yale. Paul was formerly vice president of technology at Epsilon Data Management (an American Express company), and held senior technology positions at Thinking Machines and Schlumberger.