For a lot of people managing dirty data is an everyday occurrence, and they spend each day mapping, adjusting and compensating for dirty underlying data. In this article, I highlight what data management is, and what it is not, and why data management is a better alternative than fixing your data issues with everyday data cleansing and patchwork solutions.
Give us a gadget…
When a business invites us to help them with data management, they often start the first meeting by asking us a hopeful question such as “Can’t we get a gadget or a hub or something that can help us manage our data?”, or “We want a system that can help us manage our data – what system should we choose?”.
Often, the first thing I have to say is that unfortunately there are no quick fixes as such to solve their problems. But there is definitely a way out of the mess, and some technology may be an option. However, this is not necessarily where we begin when we want data to remain good over time.
So, where do we start?
Data is a matter for the business – not an IT problem
Often, it is the IT department who contacts us; maybe because they are made the scapegoat by the business when the “system” does not work, and IT repeatedly ascertains that there is nothing wrong with the system but that the data is bad. And this is our point of departure, because most data is “owned” by the business – not IT. And the good reason for this is that it is the business that knows what good data looks like and why data has to look a certain way in order for their processes to work.
Where does it hurt?
We know from experience that data management is a hard slog. So, to succeed we have to create results - fast. Consequently, I quickly turn the conversation and ask where the business is hurting. If we are lucky, IT actually has a pretty good idea. If not, then this is clearly where we have to start. If you are not planning to have a new ERP system or are not facing a merger of some kind, then do not make the scope too big. Start with a small scope but with something that will make a noticeable difference for the business. Once the business experiences that their working day becomes less difficult, it is easier to attract others and increase scope. Also, it allows for getting actual experience in what works for the business.
A grass roots movement will not work
Another central prerequisite for success is that you do not start your data management project as a grass roots movement. Data cannot become good if only a small part of the organisation is trying to patch something together that has to apply globally. The data management initiative has to be embedded high enough in the organisation that a person with a global mandate takes the lead and says: “Friends, if we are to succeed, we have to agree on what our data should look like across the business”. Because a central challenge when it comes to dirty data is that you risk ending up with a mismatch of data across your systems and departments, and no one knows what is “the truth”. Silos are fatal for good data and are a significant reason for the most prevalent data issues.