BackOffice Associates: Guiding the Data Stewardship Journey for Large Companies

By on

Data Stewardship When a large Fortune 1000 company merges and acquires many smaller companies, and undergoes a Digital Transformation, Data Governance and Data Stewardship become more complex. The well-known and established business may need to integrate up to 200 different ERP applications from a variety of systems across different divisions that span the globe.

Take this context into an environment where business responsiveness to customers becomes paramount to moving forward. It would be no wonder that a CEO would much rather trek the Amazon jungle or climb Mount Everest than face the complex policies needing to be set and enforced as a result.

Fortunately, Rex Ahlstrom, Chief Strategy & Technology Officer for BackOffice Associates, has the experience, and a simplified and unified approach.  It should come of no surprise that companies such Eli Lilly, Kraft, and Graybar have all hired BackOffice Associates, and its Data Stewardship Platform to guide them on their data journey, reducing data migration costs by as much as 80 percent.

Ahlstrom says he does whatever business needs done. He describes his role at BackOffice Associates (BOA) as similar to “a chief cook and bottle washer.” After starting as an engineer with Westinghouse in robotics and image processing and DSI building spacecraft, Ahlstrom started and ran two companies, one that was sold to SAP. He worked at SAP for a few years and then transitioned to BackOffice Associates as the CEO’s second hire, looking after marketing, product development, and enhancing partnerships.

He became very excited about BackOffice Associates’ intellectual property created around data and its 20-year history “of dealing with some of the most complex data problems across a myriad of industries with Fortune 1000 customers.”  In his 5 ½ years with BOA, Ahlstrom has directed the product from consultant utilities, analytical expertise and methodology, to an enterprise software platform adept at handling all phases of the data journey.

The Data Journey

BackOffice Associates’ success can be attributed to its centralized and unified approach to the Data Journey – from Data Migration, to Data Quality, to Data Governance and Archiving. Central to the data journey is data as an asset, just like a profit or loss line item on a balance sheet. Through its consulting, software, large libraries of analytics and methodology, BackOffice Associates increases data’s value. Ahlstrom and BOA’s embrace of Digital Transformation as a business driver of the data journey has helped them to aid clients in shifting power from IT and a linear ERP view of production, to the business owner and the focused reactions and support of the consumer.

BackOffice Associates recognizes that any platform managing data as an asset needs to consider both IT and business. Ahlstrom states, “The traditional IT tools, which had been out there for a very long time, are not meeting the new needs of the market place.”

In the past, data has been siloed and locked into per business need (e.g. FICO, administration, customer service). Companies have found that this approach, frankly, does not work. Instead organizations select a combination of optimum applications, some of which may require deployment in the Cloud. Gartner describes this technical strategy as Postmodern ERP.

As a result, Data Systems have become hybridized and decentralized, because all data needs to be analyzed and working, to come together with the business users. This leads to an increased complexity in governing and managing data as an asset, as the business owner must be considered.

Ahlstrom says that if you look at all the buying centers (in a company) “50 percent of the budget that is being spent today on business IT is actually being spent by line of business owners and not necessarily by IT.” What a change from the old days where the CIO or CTO would control the purse, buy IT technology to solve the data problems and keep its infrastructure running.

Now, with Digital Transformation, businesses need to engage with customers and with legacy systems that cannot react fast enough. So, this creates upheaval “a massive Data Structure Rip and Replace.” How does a company continue to operate while going through such a Digital Transformation, including a hybrid landscape of Cloud and On-Site Data Storage? BackOffice Associates helps organizations navigate these changes through its Data Stewardship Platform, which sets and enforces data policies.

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Setting and Enforcing Data Policy

The Data Governance Market has been estimated to grow from USD 863.2 million in 2016 to 2234.7 million by 20212, at a Compound Annual (CAGR) rate of 21%. Key factors driving the Data Governance Market include the need to meet regulations and compliance deadlines, in addition, as Ahlstrom states, a requirement for a tool set to bridge IT and business, non-techie people.

In reaction to this, several players are trying to add Data Prep Solutions (e.g. Google and Trifecta have proposed a new solution). While Data Prep interfaces allow business analysts to easily interact with data and get results quicker and easier, as the Chief Strategy & Technology Officer of BackOffice Associates states, “Data Prep is really a necessary feature for enterprises to have in today’s market.”

As new regulations span systems, industries, and business processes, traditional Data Governance tools such as Data Prep cannot handle these changes, especially the resulting shifts in Master Data Management (MDM).

Ahlstrom talks about how lots of companies use these types of sophisticated web interfaces to cover data policy, to set it. In a sense, the Data Governance Market place has become saturated by Metadata Governance solutions, governance of governance policies. However, this leads back to the old problem of heavy IT involvement. Business leaders ask how to do they know the Data Governance policies are enforced, where they are enforced, and are how they are kept up to date with any changes. Here BackOffice Associates fills in the blanks by addressing the need for data enforcement, too.

Ahlstrom takes a page out of the Apple playbook. He remarks:

“If we create a complete vertically integrated stack that considers all aspects of the data journey, I can consistently set and enforce policies regardless of what phase I am during that journey. I can dynamically know whether what I have set from my policy is being enforced and where it is not. [It] would be much faster and easier to deploy and get real business value.”

This ties into the heart of BackOffice Associates success and why it experienced a 40 percent jump in year-over-year revenue growth in Europe and Africa based on strengthening its SAP S4/HANA expertise. BOA handles both sides of the Data Governance and Data Stewardship coin. Ahlstrom says, by “Setting and enforcing policy, and in doing so, keep the business person or less technical user in mind to be a contributor to that process” both sides of the same coin are addressed.

The real-world experience and daily problem solving that analysts of BackOffice Associates have taken and gained in Fortune 1000 companies, provides BOA its strength, along with its ability to be agnostic in how it integrates and works with different IT tools. BackOffice Associates works within its customers’ IT parameters to help them set and enforce Data Policies successfully.

Intelligent ERP (IERP): The Wave of the Future

When asked about the future landscape of the Data Governance Market Place, Rex Ahlstrom believes that businesses need to go back to standard processes to handle increasing complexity and the need to be nimbler. Here, Intelligent ERP (IERP), with its AI, Machine Learning and use of self-discovery automation becomes critical to identify future outcomes and continually reinvent and optimize key business processes.

Pure human brute force is just not sustainable, and once legacy systems change, will not be needed. Automation will be necessary for efficiency and for clean data; especially automation that can read configuration and metadata from an application, immediately glean information about the technical data structure and any business-driven policies, and enforce those policies. But automation, for the Postmodern ERP needs to be implemented practically.

According to Ahlstrom, Postmodern ERP automation needs to answer the following:

  1. What does the automation do that reduces my service spend?
  2. What level of higher business intelligence is provided because of automation?

The answers to these become paramount to a business moving forward. Ahlstrom poses the following problem, from a notable manufacturer producing chemicals and codes. In an instant, this company needs to know who is a customer that picks up the phone to find out about products and features this manufacturer sells. The outcome from these early interactions may mean the difference of them continuing to be a customer and engaging the firm or not.

The business needs to be responsive to deal with who they are. Ahlstrom says, “70 percent of the buying decision is already made before a consumer engages with you as a company.” How you shape that customer’s decision making process, through using the postmodern ERP, becomes crucial.

As firms struggle, in the future, to make good decisions from a complex and changing market place, Rex Ahlstrom and BackOffice Associates will be ready to help companies unlock the value of their data assets, through using the right data with effective Data Governance and Data Stewardship based on policies and standards that work.


Photo Credit: Peshkova/

Leave a Reply