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The Inches We Need Are Everywhere

So goes the line in the 1999 Oliver Stone film, Any Given Sunday. In the film, Al Pacino plays Tony D’Amato, a “been there, done that” football coach who, faced with a new set of challenges, has to re-evaluate his tried and true assumptions about everything he had learned through his career. In an attempt to rally his troops, D’Amato delivers a wonderful stump speech challenging them to look for ways to move the ball forward, treating every inch of the field as something sacred and encouraging them to think differently about how to do so.

After a couple of meetings this week, it dawned on me that the process of selling data quality and data governance to the business is often the same as the challenge that D’Amato faced. While not immediately obvious, IT stakeholders need to find new and innovative ways to sell the impact of bad data in order to justify time and resources for doing anything about it. Looking at the problem in the same old way of “1’ and 0’s” simply isn’t going to cut it. Talking about data completeness or accuracy is the old way of thinking about things and in a world where purse strings are held tighter than ever, it isn’t going to get you very far.

Instead, the conversation needs to be turned on its head. To truly get buy in for either a data quality or data governance initiative, program champions need to look for new and innovative ways to find those precious “inches.” Take for example a recent conversation I had with a client.  Faced with data quality problems specifically in the area of duplicate customer references, they were having a hard time getting anyone within the business to really care as long as the conversation was focused on how those duplicates caused IT a lot of grief. Digging into the problem a bit further though, we were able to surface the fact that due to those rampant duplicate issues, there was a systemic returns fraud problem throughout their customer base. Approximated to be in the 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of dollars per instance, we were quickly able to build a discussion that amounted to millions of dollars of cost, something that the finance and risk departments most certainly would take an interest in addressing.

While this is just one example, there are numerous areas across businesses where bad data has significant impact. The key is in changing thinking so as to focus the discussion around how those issues impact key business stakeholders. This can be a discouraging process at times but eventually, there will be an area important enough for someone to sit up and take notice. Finding those inches is not always easy but when you find them, the rewards will speak for themselves.

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