To Ensure Data is a Strategic Asset at Deutsche Leasing, Collaboration is Key

For alignment, collaboration is king. It’s the lynchpin to success with data governance. To scale properly, and to ensure that silos are broken (or better yet, never happen to begin with), business and IT professionals need to come together when operationalizing enterprise data governance programs. When the charter of that program is to ensure that data can and will be a strategic asset, collaboration isn’t just a nice-to-have but is really a critical requirement. That’s why Collaborative was one of our “Seven C’s” in my recent blog post, and why collaboration between business and IT teams became the cornerstone of governance success for Deutsche Leasing. 

As with every Data Empowerment Experts series webinar, I recently sat down with both speakers from Deutsche Leasing—Moritz Schlee, the Senior IT Project Manager from the IT team, and Alexander Khrebtishchev, Head of Global Reporting, who represented the lines of business—to get their insight on how to make data governance successful. They’ve shared some of their insights here in this question and answer session, as well as in our upcoming webinar

Question: How do you choose where to start? 

Answer: One of the most important decisions at the inception of our initiative was that Business took the lead and IT followed. We are fortunate to have top management representatives responsible for worldwide alignment of Financial, Controlling, and Risk measures who are aware of typical pitfalls when business terms sound similar, but in reality, significantly differ in terms of components, because every department takes its specific perspective.  

Take a typical KPI like “new business volume”—although quite clear at first glance, there are lots of possibilities to measure the value. For example, you can take the measure at the time of opportunity, at the time of closing, or at the time of commencement as well as from different perspectives as accounting, controlling, or risk. Spice up this challenge with more than 20+ contractual systems around the world with different data models. Every data model is adjusted to local legislation and is storing the relevant components in different facets. Obviously, you quickly find yourself facing a task, which seems to be impossible to solve, because everyone will claim his or her “truth” is correct. Obviously, no matter how good the IT experts involved are—they would always ask what type of information is needed in the specific circumstances, and this question can only and must be only answered by the Business. So why not start on the Business side, right from the beginning? 

This is when we developed our so called “stitch through” approach with two main steps. It starts with the nomination of business experts throughout the whole group, who write down clear definitions for selected measures and KPIs which are broadly used (and often misinterpreted) by various departments. Unlike in the past, these definitions now must be independent of their respective technical implementations in the systems—just as if you would look up the term in a dictionary. This special type of data steward, the so-called Business Data Owners (BDOs) are considered the guardians of business knowledge for their respective information domain. In a second step, our IT department would look up and deliver the desired information only when the definitions are in place and the responsibility for the individual terms is clearly assigned to an individual person from the business. With Axon, we found a perfect solution to turn our vision into reality: to present the defined business attributes together with linked technical fields literally at one glance in the Data Set facet. The linked fields would be delivered by the Enterprise Data Catalog that we consider inseparable from Axon, but the entry point is always the view of the business user who looks up a specific term and then goes deeper in the IT—not the other way around, when a technician is going all the way back to the business meaning. 

Of course, this radical approach needs time to learn and to comprehend—across different departments, countries, cultures, and habits worldwide.  It requires patience, passion, endurance, and the willingness to implement something sustainable and reliable for years and not only for the succession of the next typical project, like a launch of a new product. You must be prepared to question things that are considered “unwritten laws” in your company for decades and deep dive into fundamentals of your business logic. Of course, you will also need to experiment with various documentation possibilities and techniques across the Informatica tools. You might even encounter situations when you have to rethink and redesign the approach in pursuit of standardization and efficiency, no matter which information management issue you encounter on your journey. As you gather experience, you will initially discover your individual, perfect process flow that fits your company’s needs and available resources to earn buy-in from stakeholders. 

Question: How do you maintain momentum? 

Answer: Information domains do not necessarily follow the organizational setup of the company. Instead, they reflect specific requirements of the BDOs in terms of external or internal reports. Especially in the beginning, the BDOs and the Domain Owners will not have a precise view of how to slice and dice the responsibility for the individual business terms, and need support and coaching to make the first steps. At this point we realized the urgent need for a central unit that would set up and maintain group-wide standards and processes for the initiative. So one of the first tasks of this team was to make initial recommendations as to how to divide responsibilities for individual pieces of information across the organization. The focus lies on “information” and not “software application,” because the latter suggests a system-based and more technical approach that we clearly wanted to avoid.  

With time, the initial overall guidelines of the central unit were refined by the decentralized units. The responsibilities began to change over time in a collaborative process when the people dug deeper into logical connections between the business terms. Still, the global concept proved to be stable and needed only slight adjustments over the course of time. And then, it just happens. At some point in time the BDO 1 from Domain A creates a definition for a measure that contains components defined by BDO 2 from Domain B. Boom—how is it possible? Why did we not get to that earlier? This instantly creates a momentum of shared knowledge and transparency—and above all, a sense of trust in other teams and departments that one might barely know from their daily business. Suddenly, you are breaking out of the “regulation” environment with instructions and guidelines, and instead find yourself in an “exploration mode,” when every single colleague is able to try out new things and contribute to the bigger picture. It’s like a chain reaction that initially sets in and starts to connect “brains” across the organization. People begin to exchange their view on business terms and business events in a more open-minded way and are much more likely to share and align their knowledge because they feel better understood by other colleagues. This greatly improves the readiness to collaborate on complex projects across various teams, boosting productivity, reducing complexity, and creating a more logical approach.  

Of course, there are times when there is a need for a refresh of the global vision of information management, especially when the pressure and deadlines from daily business increase. Accordingly, being in charge for the initiative, you constantly need to figure out how to increase or maintain the buy-in of key players and stakeholders. This buy-in usually should be obtained by demonstrating measurable value-added: in terms of faster and more accurate reports, simplifications, reduction of workarounds, or simply in more spare time off work. In contrast to projects without data governance, the case should be executed in a way that a small part of the organization is enabled from the very beginning. A big bang is not an option. It is always better to start small while thinking big to keep and regain momentum when needed. We learned that this approach is best supported by agile methods like Scrum and Kanban.  

When it comes to establishing stewardships, one should start with motivated colleagues that are willing to learn and elevate their knowledge to fulfill the job requirements. You also need trustworthy people whose job is to reflect and properly describe the very cornerstones of your business model, and who have the standing to defend the initiative against constraints and resignation. This is important because becoming a data steward has a lot to do with self-education and strong discipline, and there are few standardized trainings or university courses teaching the necessary skills. 

Question: How do you address scale? 

Answer: Our main challenge is to tackle variety. Since the mission of our group is to finance every possible asset on the planet, we need to cover a high variety of products and assets in 23 countries. This is another reason why we decentralized responsibilities for information, so that people from all over the company can contribute and share their knowledge. At the same time, we have a centralized unit setting standards to structure this vast knowledge in a proper and user-friendly way, which enables us to coordinate and steer the information management activities across the organization. This helps us to ensure that group reporting needs are met within the same global governance structure as local requirements in individual countries, which is apparently crucial for scaling. There are no “single points of truth” anymore, but rather many versions of facts that are well governed, stored, certified, and properly managed by responsible people—purely “data as an asset.” 

Question: How do you measure success? 

Answer: The first measure of success is certainly the momentum described above when people understand how information connects our daily lives and business processes. Once the people realize why their work matters for other departments, they feel valued and they better understand the bigger picture and their individual contribution. Information quality is hard to measure, so it often comes down to emotional and qualitative factors. Things get done faster, more accurately, and people develop trust in each other and are willing to collaborate rather than resigning and hiding from new challenges when it comes to reporting. If done right, the impact on the corporate culture can be tremendous, and this is something invaluable by hard controlling terms. However, you also need to be aware of the financial factors. Data governance can cost a fortune so you should be able to balance the investments and the value added, i.e., increased productivity, reduced cost of IT applications, or sales boosts once you master the skill of identifying new income opportunities based on your own data. 

Question: How has data privacy been a factor? 

Answer: Data security and data privacy have become a bigger topic since GDPR and other regulations that emphasize the importance of treating data carefully. In this manner, Axon helps us to see where our data is and in what respect we have to view and handle the data. Especially in a group context, it is very important that one can distinguish between data only allowed for financial controlling or data that can be used for marketing and customer communication. 

Question: How do you empower the business to drive value? 

Answer: Showing results is a very important point during such a program since the topic is very abstract. Showing a business user how they can structure their knowledge, how business and IT can discover data assets, or that it can inform them on the data lineage are very helpful in maintaining the acceptance for the program. This increase in transparency is already recognized as a big value by the business, because in previously they had always to ask an expert or IT and make workshops to figure out what data is where. 

To learn more about how you can establish your own long-term vision for data as an asset, be sure to register to attend this webinar today.