Keep Calm and Manage your Data

data management
Keep Calm and Manage your Data

I can’t help but notice that there is a lot more uncertainty and hypothesizing than usual in the European press. It’s been well over a week since Britons apparently surprised themselves and the rest of the world by voting out of the EU – however nobody knows the implications of this vote – procedurally or economically. I am not a politician or economist, neither do I own an octopus named Paul with a knack for predicting the future. So this puts me on roughly an equally footing with everyone else in terms of predicting the outcome of the vote: Something’s going to change.

I’m not going to expand on what will change – as there is no point is guessing. Unlike the public who show an increasing desire to make bold decisions on limited data, shareholders and senior managers tend to be less forgiving. Politicians will be charged with exit negotiations, various legal bodies with ensuring adherence to new laws and agreements when they come into force.  It falls to senior managers to ensure compliance to all changes in tax, import duties, employment rights and everything else – oh, and make a profit too, ideally with some solid growth.

If you are reading this from outside the EU, don’t get too comfortable. Agents of significant change are running for office in other countries too, and a fed up population apparently willing to vote them into power. Digital innovation continues to gain paces, powering new business models and innovative new competitors in almost all industries.  Change is clearly inevitable across all industries and all countries regardless of the source being new innovation or new legislation.  Or, in many cases – both.

How do you manage in times of uncertainty, and how do you prepare for the future when you don’t know what will change? Those with accurate crystal balls are a step ahead as they know what the future will hold and can begin to move towards the new normal. The rest of us are probably going to be required to adapt quickly to new business models, trading environments and legal and regulatory requirements.[i]

‘Keep calm and carry on’ is not an option in times of inevitable change. Keeping calm is an excellent strategy, but ‘Keep calm and do something’ is not exactly inspiring. So – what is the something you can do, which helps you prepare for an uncertain future, and has a low risk of wasting resources by investing something that doesn’t come to pass?

My mantra for this period would be: Keep Calm and Manage your Data

This is driven by my belief that in a future, full of ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’, is that those businesses who have invested in their data will be better able to adapt and thrive.

Unfortunately many global organisations, which are largely driven by operational silos and legacy business processes do not yet have high quality internal data on a corporate level. This means that individual processes, divisions and regions can operate effectively, but it is challenging to pull together information to make informed decisions which require input from many internal silos. This is not good enough when have to make big decisions to cater for change in existing processes, or understand how you are going to compete in a changing world.

Investment in data not only means high quality data, but also data that is readily available for multiple purposes.  Flexibility in terms of reporting and analysis is crucial to make informed decisions based on all relevant data. As business processes change, and new technologies are deployed in your organization, these also need to be fuelled with accurate data to ensure smooth execution.

Managing you data at a high level can seem rather daunting. Organisations have a lot of data and it is typically highly fragmented.  So where do you start?

Here is my list of data management priorities in times of uncertainty:

  1. Self-help tools to support the scenario planners

The people tasked with making the big decisions need as much data as they can get their hands on. Allow them to rapidly pull together data sets that may never have been combined before in order to make informed decisions.

  1. Understand your employees: who are they are, where do they work

You need to understand your exposure to new employment regulations, as well as business models that may change. Who is most insecure due to their legal status, and how to reassure them. How many people are currently supporting business processes that may change, and which of these people have the skills to move to new business models and processes?

  1. Don’t ignore the security of sensitive data

In times of change, there will probably be an increase in scenario planning (point 1) and analysis – which implies more data is being taken from (inflexible) sources to analytical tools (frequently excel). It could end up on premise, in the cloud, saved on laptops or filed in easily readable format on a SAN or file sharing systems. The need to make informed decisions should not undermine the security of your sensitive data

  1. Start, or boost, a data quality initiative within your organization

Decisions made on poor quality data are not informed decisions. Time arguing over who has the correct data is a waste of resources when all minds should be focused on forming a strategy to ensure the best possible outcome.  Measuring data quality is a first step in identifying where you have data problems, and how to address these problems.

5.  Be sure to have a solid business case for your data management initiative

IT budgets are under pressure from all sides.  CIOs need to reduce the cost of ‘keeping the lights on’ and keep up with rapid innovation which demands IT support. All projects involving IT requirements (which is most of them) will be competing with many other projects for limited resources. Increase the chances of getting your data management project approved by tightly linking it to the delivery of business value.

I’m sure there are others out there with different data management priorities for uncertain times, please feel free to share your thoughts. However, I don’t expect a call to focus on data management in uncertain times itself to be controversial. There is an undeniable trend in terms of data management rising up the corporate agenda, into what is now being referred to as Data 3.0: data becomes the new control point, and will shape how applications are developed and deployed, rather than data being treated as a byproduct of applications.

[i] We know Brexit negotiations will take 2 years – but no word on how long after agreement is reached to implement it – is this part of the 2 years?  Disruptive new competitors who threaten existing business models rarely give that much advance notice.