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The New Data-Centric Organization: Leave the Duct Tape Behind

By   /  October 24, 2017  /  No Comments

data-centricStan Christiaens believes that the fourth industrial revolution is here, and if you want to be part of it, you’ll have to become a data-driven company. Speaking at the DATAVERSITY© Enterprise Data World 2017 Conference, Christiaens said during his presentation titled “The #1 Reason You’re Not a Data-Driven Company” that many companies try to adopt a data-driven business model, yet most efforts toward that end are “the digital equivalent of duct tape and chewing gum.” Christiaens is co-founder & CTO of Collibra, a software company offering Data Governance solutions.

“The digital revolution is definitely going on,” he said. “Your customers experience this in the way they buy, in the way they use services, and its impact is felt everywhere. Since 2000, 52% of Fortune 500 Companies have disappeared,” he said. “In 1955, a company [typically] used to be around for about 61 years. In 2015, a company is typically around for 15 years.”

The companies that formerly ruled the world are in a different business than companies that now rule the world are, he said. Big companies from the past, like American Motors and Detroit Steel, manufactured physical assets. “If you look at the Fortune 500 now, one thing you see is that they’re all very new companies,” he said, and they are also very different business models. These new businesses are more about the data itself as the product. “In this short period of time, the whole Fortune 500 has been changed.”

John Deere is a well-established company known for selling tractors and big machinery and a classic example of a company that has disrupted the market by becoming data-driven, he said. When the company started putting sensors on their equipment it allowed them the opportunity to sell information as a service back to farmers –  to tell them, for example, where and when to plant. “For [John Deere], the digital world means you’re just putting sensors all over, and then you have these [sensors] measure all sorts of things,” he noted. Yet it changed their exclusive heavy machinery focus and added data as a product to their business model.

He told a similar story about GE:

“[GE] used to make these turbines, the jet engines, and then they started adding sensors on top of everything. And instead of selling jet engines, the physical product, they then started selling thrust hours, because they know exactly when a machine is going to break down. That information is shared with partners and suppliers so they can actually predict and control their risk in that way, and offer a completely different business model.”

Data-Driven is the Holy Grail of Business, but it’s Not Easy to Do

To compete in this revolutionary market, a company must become focused on data as an asset, but Christiaens commented that not many companies know how to do that. “It’s a disconnect between saying you want to do it, and actually doing it.” According to Brian Hopkins at Forrester, 74% of firms say they want to be data-driven, yet in reality only 29% say they are good at connecting analytics to action, Christiaens said. “Data is useless unless it becomes a new service product decision in your business process.” There are a variety of reasons for that.

Same Company, Same Data, Different Results

Collecting data, crunching numbers, and analyzing results takes a significant amount of time, no matter what tools you use. But, what happens when it’s time to present those figures and the person who goes before you presents a different conclusion based on the same data? “Obviously, this creates a lot of problems.” He used a Collibra customer as an example. All the company’s senior leaders were presenting to the CEO, and each brought figures about the size of their install base, he said. “You would think it’s simple. You just count the customers, right?” As it turns out, he said, they had resellers, and other types of contracts, so it was very difficult to actually measure the size of their install base.

“The numbers that came back went from 80,000 customers all the way up to 800,000 customers. That’s a big difference, right? Now, imagine that you’re the CEO of this company and you say, ‘Well, we only have 80,000 customers. I better hire some more sales people.’ Or ‘Oh, we have 800,000 customers. I better fire some sales people and hire some support people.’”

Solving the Problem with Duct Tape and Chewing Gum

The way most companies try to tackle these issues is what Christiaens called the digital equivalent of duct tape and chewing gum. Spreadsheets, wikis, SharePoint, emails, and meetings are, “Representative of an attempt at formalizing a business process, and [an attempt at] putting in place some kind of organization, some kind of formal structure to help them do their job in a better way,” he said. Without a unified system though, they’re trying to get organized around data, “But they’re doing it in a fundamentally broken way.”

“Our view on that is that in the old ‘Data Management’ world, things were focused on the technology side of the house,” using a closed, rigid, proprietary system, designed for exclusive use by data managers and technicians. In the new world, the focus is on a collaborative, open, flexible system, designed for business users, and accessible to all.

“As we all know, especially at Enterprise Data World, it’s not about the boxes or how much gigabytes fit in the box or how fast the box can connect to another box,” he said. “It’s more about what people put inside the box, and how they control what goes in there, and how they understand what’s in there.”

Balancing Security and Access

Christiaens said that data protection has become a popular reason for implementing better Data Governance and for some companies, and new regulations like the EU’s GDPR are driving those decisions. “We have all seen the data breaches that are just continuing to go on.” Businesses that are more regulatory-driven, like banks or healthcare organizations can have a particularly difficult time trying to protect their data, while allowing business users to access that data.

“Oftentimes the Chief Data Officer or the Data Governance Manager are very regulatory-driven and they’re focused on the control dimension of Data Governance. But as I always say, Data Governance is the control and enablement of any and all Data Management activities. The risk that you get by taking a control angle with governance is that it becomes too tightly controlled and that they stay in their own little corner.”

He said it’s important to make sure the focus is on listening to and enabling the needs of business stakeholders as well as ensuring regulatory compliance.

Control the Data Chaos with a Data Governance System

“What we’ve seen is that there’s so many different drivers that help make a company, or try to push a company to become data-driven, but they’re often practiced in a very siloed way –  in a very broken way.” In banks, for example, a Chief Data Officer will be hired to address specific regulations. A Chief Analytics Officer is hired to address BI and Analytics, and a whole IT team of network engineers and file system operators are brought in to manage data engineering infrastructure, yet without a unified governance program, each silo creates a unique response to their data and there’s no way to connect them, he said.

What he sees with these unique responses is that they are all trying to solve the exact same problem.

“If you just establish that ‘data is a business process’ once, then you can actually start building out a business capability on which you can mature your organization,” he said. “Does that mean that it’s easy? No. But at least you’re having the infrastructure and you’re building out the capability to grow.”

Collibra Simplifies the Data Governance Process

Christiaens said that as a software vendor, Collibra offers a platform called the Data Governance Center, designed to help businesses successfully establish a data-driven culture. A consultant to help launch a Data Governance initiative might be hired for a 12-week engagement, he said:

“And they’re going to come up with an operating model with bullet point responsibilities, work charts, process flows in Vizio, and some other stuff. And then they’re going to leave you holding the bag because it’s the first time that you’re doing this.”

As an alternative, Collibra offers a collaborative, customizable system that provides a common understanding of all data across the organization, allowing all users to know where the data comes from, know what the data means, and know that the data is right.

“You’ve never done this before. And it’s not necessarily about having an operating model, but about executing on it and then improving on it. So, what we’ve done is we’ve said, ‘Well, let’s put that operating model in software and make it configurable so that people can adapt it to their own needs.’”

Self-Service Analytics for all Data Citizens

A popular place to start with a Data Governance initiative is with a Business Glossary or adding visualization capability to business users, he said.  “That’s great and it creates beautiful pictures, but still, people spend most of their time just trying to find what data is out there.” It’s not about doing Data Analytics or visualization on a single data set, like a single view of a single database, he said. “The real value actually comes out when you’re trying to combine at least two data sets with one another. That’s where you can find the real insights.”

The Data Governance Center provides support to the Data Stewards themselves. “Many people get assigned a Data Steward role in an organization and when somebody tells them, ‘Hey, you now have to be a steward,’ they say, ‘Stew-what? I already have a day job.’” When they see the job responsibilities, he said:

“Their eyes glaze over. ‘What am I actually supposed to do?’ There’s nothing tangible for them to latch onto. So, what we are giving them [with the Data Governance Center] is an environment that allows them to click the appropriate buttons, and execute their responsibilities, without sacrificing their day jobs.”

Education Replaces Duct Tape

“Data Governance is not that sexy,” Christiaens said, despite all the advertising and banners. “It’s almost as if everybody and their dog has Data Governance on their banner.” It can get very confusing for a business to understand what it is and how it’s actually done. “It is a challenge. But it does have tangible outputs.”

What the end-users on the business side care about is:

“The functionality that they get through those applications, the ‘approve’ button that they can click, the search for the data sets that are out there, the shopping cart by which they can buy data sets and so on. That’s what they care about,” he said. “On the business side, they don’t need to have it in a complex way. You just give them a capability that allows them to execute on that responsibility that you’re expecting them to carry.”


“Check out Enterprise Data World at www.enterprisedataworld.com


Here is the video of the Enterprise Data World 2017 Presentation:



Photo Credit: Madlen/Shutterstock.com




About the author

Amber Lee Dennis is a freelance writer, web geek and proprietor of Chicken Little Ink, a company that helps teeny tiny companies make friends with their marketing. She has a BA in English, an MA in Arts Administration and has been getting geeky with computers in some capacity since 1985.

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