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Better data management: Whose job is it?

25 Mar 2019

By Experian A/NZ data quality and targeting general manager Steve Philpotts

“Whether data is a strategic and valuable business asset is no longer up for debate,” my colleague, data strategy manager Paul Malyon said to me the other day, and I whole-heartedly agree

Effective data governance on the other hand – definitely a hot topic. Especially with world leaders such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany both pushing for better regulation at this year’s World Economic Forum.

Despite stringent regulatory changes and advancing tech across the data landscape, it seems that companies are finding it challenging to optimally manage and make sense of their own data, which can impact reputations and operations.

In fact, new research by us has found that 89% of Australian businesses are struggling to manage their data. 

The Global Data Management Benchmark report, which surveyed 1,000 data practitioners from organisations around the world, found that incorrect ownership (69%), lack of trust in data (49%) and information overload (65%) are the three key factors preventing businesses from utilising data to achieve their strategic objectives.

Although nearly all companies use data to improve their customer experience, 95% also admit poor data quality can have a negative effect on experience, efficiency and organisational reputation.

With consumers creating over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, this tide is clearly not going to ebb any time soon. So, whose job is it to manage this constant flow and ensure businesses are able to make sense of it all?

Championing the role of the CDO

The role of the Chief Data Officer was incepted to help businesses adhere to new data regulations. It was a ‘fixer’ role - reactive in nature, and the first of its kind within most industries, designed to help enterprises align their data governance with new official legislation.  

But once this regulatory compliance task was complete, the CDO could take a more proactive approach in helping companies pinpoint the opportunities that big data presents. Bloomberg likes to call today’s version the ‘CDO 2.0’ - someone who works as a strategic business development partner as opposed to a compliance officer, and who can advise and evangelise how we can best govern that sea of data to streamline operations, create new revenue streams, improve business reputation and more.

Despite their proven value, CDOs’ newness and ambiguity still leaves them in an awkward middle ground – not yet a peer of the C-suite (although Bloomberg predicts they’ll be sitting at the table within the next five years) and not yet fully respected or understood outside the IT department. Plus, still relatively uncommon, with a presence in only a quarter of companies.

Better respect for and understanding of the role is imperative. In order to provide a solid platform for the CDO to guide data governance in enterprises, an urgent culture shift - where the entire organisation gets on board with the opportunities and risks big data presents - has to take place. After all, it cannot be one person or one department’s responsibility to manage an entire company’s data. 

With 69% of Australian workers agreeing that not having direct control impacts their ability to meet strategic objectives, data ownership should be shared across the business.

The alternative is decentralisation. But how?

Four in every five Australian businesses currently leave their data management primarily to the IT department, despite the majority indicating they do not feel IT fully understands the data management needs of the various functions of the company (such as marketing, or business development).

According to the Harvard Business Review, “companies that want to compete in the age of data need to do three things: share data tools, spread data skills, and spread data responsibility.”

If you’re considering the benefits of decentralising your data ownership, there are three main areas to consider before you set the wheels in motion:

1. Set parameters and expectations

Decide who in the organisation can access and control data. This should always be anchored back to high-level business objectives like customer experience, efficiency, and growth. You need to understand the role of data in delivering these things and from this you can decipher who needs what data to make it happen.

2. Improve leadership

Decentralisation is most certainly not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model. It provides more control to the business but ideally should be anchored around a CDO. Organisations do not have to have a CDO by name to have success with a decentralised model. A CTO or department head passionate about data can also serve that function.

3. Invest in the right tools

Having the right technology in place is critical when moving data out of a more technical IT environment. It’s critical that you properly scope out not just the core features but also whether it’s intuitive enough for non-technical business users. They are going to need agile, user-friendly tools that let them overlay business context to leverage valuable insights from that data. 

Decentralisation + CDO = Ultimate, intelligent control

Luckily, we are starting to see a desire for change down under, with Experian’s report finding that 75% of respondents believe that responsibility for data should ultimately lie across multiple departments, with the occasional help from IT.

But only 13% are currently putting it into action. The companies who already have a decentralised approach are not yet organised with the CDO or equivalent leading a democratic team, causing similar challenges as companies still mainly controlled by IT.

Without someone developing and leading clear rules set in areas of regulatory compliance, data quality, ethics and security, decentralisation can pose risk. The organisation needs a strong CDO figure that reports into the Board, and shared responsibility across all business users who need the data to do their day jobs.

Only then will we see the full fruits of the data that’s ready and waiting to be governed and put to good, ethical, effective use.

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