Jump Start Data Management Initiatives Through Improved Business Cases

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Inch by inch, step by step, block by block – that’s how you build a business case for Data Management.

What those inches, steps, and blocks will look like depends in large part on the organizational maturity of the business with regard to Data Management. In more mature businesses, it’s easier to make the case for a new investment – for a change that, when implemented, would solve a problem or provide some positive improvement to the business. The groundwork – policies for how data is shared, retained, restored, accessed, and secured and teams in place that focus on certain parts of Data Management –has already been laid for moving Data Management to the next level.

It’s no surprise that the job is going to be harder in businesses that have less Data Management maturity. The need for optimizing Data Management seems obvious to those who make the pitch to the business. “Building a business case for Data Management seems like asking if you like drinking clean water,” said Sears Holdings Data Management professional Susan Earley. Earley gave a presentation entitled “Building a Business Case for Data Management” at the DATAVERSITY® Enterprise Data World Conference.

“You can say it’s obvious to need a business case for implementing Data Management, but not everyone who holds the keys to getting resources [for initiatives] understands that.”

In organizations with a medium level of maturity, she advises picking what aspect of Data Management to attack first, with security likely to be the priority to grab the most attention. If maturity is very, very low, though, there’s real trouble.

“Data Management is just seen as an overhead that they can’t afford,” Earley noted. “They’re treading water so fast they can’t stick their heads up and see that the land is right over there – or that the boat leading to the land is right over there.”

Pitch the Basics

Assuming there’s a decent or even excellent chance for taking the next step in Data Management, who should be making the case? That depends on how the business is structured. Usually, Earley explained, these initiatives are spurred on by business leads who see the need to have data that they can depend on in order to be successful. “It’s great if it comes from the business, because they make the best use of data and know they want to do better,” she said. But there may be issues with this approach. For one thing, business peers may not understand exactly the techniques and processes needed to help them improve Data Management.    

And this also may not be the best approach in big enterprises that have multiple business units. Sears Holdings, for example, has 33 business units, but they all deal with the same technical services group. With that common denominator, it makes more sense for the tech team to handle the pitch.

What do those who have the power of “yea or nay” want to hear from those making the business case? In order to be granted the money and tools and skilled people to carry out projects, they want proof that what is already being done isn’t good enough.

“The C-suite thinks that they are already ready because they have a data warehouse,” Earley said. “They think that all you have to do is open up a window into the data warehouse and everything will be set. That’s not right.”

To that point, don’t make a pitch until knowing for sure where crucial gaps are and then matching Data Management gaps to business capability gaps. Take the example of a bank – if a business goal is to provide digital access to customers, it’s critical to be able to manage the data the bank will be providing. “You need to have the architecture to support providing that data to an exterior-facing platform,” Earley asserted. Data Modeling, storage, document, and content control for pages to be delivered – and the metadata linked to everything – must be planned out. The data has to be of exceptional quality, as the bank won’t want customers to be upset because it looks like something is wrong with their account.

Regardless of industry, a gap very often will exist in enterprise security, and proper Data Management can address the need to better audit systems to fulfill regulatory obligations and reduce risk.  

Sometimes, Earley pointed out:

“If you can close one gap, that makes another one that much closer to being closed. It’s all going to be a spider web where you pull one string here and then something falls into or out of place there.”

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Data managers know how impossible it can seem to get people on board with the business case, but never take no for an answer. Things may not work out the first time, or the second, or the third. But then something happens that might change the equation. Perhaps a new business or IT leader comes into the picture, for instance. If the Data Management team has kept all the “awesome research” they’ve done and every day learn something new that they can add to the business case, they can take the opportunity to try to convince that person, Earley said. 

A strong business case will explain how long the effort will last, how many people will be needed, and what tools and processes need to be employed to make everything stick.

“You have to craft the message for the consumer of it,” Earley noted. You can’t, for instance, go to a new CIO whose expertise and experience is web-related and talk about data storage in backplanes in mainframes. “They won’t get that. The message should be done so it is received according to the experience of the recipient,” she said. Yes, you may have to do this multiple times until you get a hit, she conceded, “but you are drawing the picture for them and connecting the dots.” For example, they may not even know there are four different Data Management teams and four data lakes and five clouds without someone tying them together and presenting that to them so that they can understand the scope and importance of what you are trying to do, she said.   

Curb Their Enthusiasm

Be careful, though, of lighting too much of a fire. When the CIO or other leader gets on board, he or she may want to try to accomplish all aspects of the plan at once. “If everything is a priority, nothing is,” Earley said, and failures will start to take place. “Things have to be matched to resources,” she remarked. “There’s only so much bandwidth and you want to look at what you can do with the current resources that get results fastest.”

It may be a help to reference case studies where the “boiling the ocean” approach has failed so that everyone can step back to prioritize things. If they can be satisfied that you do have an end in mind the whole time and that everything will eventually be there, you’re in good shape. One thing that may be worth pointing out as well is that there may be a dependency track – that is, that you can’t build one thing before you build others. “So, look at the dependencies between pieces to show that you should do things in a certain order rather than all at once,” Earley said.

Here is the ultimate in good news: “Once you build a successful business case and it works, you’ll be more trusted and it will be easier for you next time around.” In fact, the more people who know what you have done, the better. Earley noted, “They might go and find you because they have a problem they think you can solve.”

Want to learn more about DATAVERSITY’s upcoming events? Check out our current lineup of online and face-to-face conferences here.

Here is the video of the Enterprise Data World Presentation:

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

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