Part 2: What is data done right? - Lisa Allen

22 Oct 2020 21:04 | Sue Russell (Administrator)

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Part 2: What is data done right?

As Tomas Sanchez set out in the first blog of this series, data management can often feel like a curse of doing right for data. I’m going to talk to you about practical advice to help you address some of the challenges you may face.

As many people are aware data is a vital asset for an organisation. It enables better understanding, allows you to gain insight and make better decisions. But organisations don’t always value it as such an asset. As a data professional this is challenging, but it is also your calling to turn this around for your organisation. Here are several practical steps that can help you to do right for data.

1. A voice for data

Whereas other functions like Human Resources or Finance have departments that give them a voice, not all organisations have a Data Department. As a data professional you can ensure data has a voice in your organisation by addressing the following areas:

  • Ensure you have senior buy in. Is there a senior manager in the business that understands the importance of data? Can you ask him or her to be the ambassador for the data, to give this perspective on the Board or at the Executive table? This will help ensure you have a data champion at the highest level.
  • Form a coalition of the willing. In organisations you naturally have people who are data advocates. These are found across the organisation and are the ones who passionately care about data even though they fill other roles. They may not even realise they are data people. You will need to identify and work with this group. They may be early adopters of your proposed changes, and they can spread best practice throughout your organisation.
  • Create a data team. You may already be lucky enough to have one or lead one. You want your data team to be the one everyone wants to work with or in. You want to show your value to the organisation by communicating the great work you are doing and how it is helping deliver business outcomes. Remember to concentrate on the benefit to the organisation and the concrete deliverables. This makes data more tangible.

2. A structured approach

Data spans so many different disciplines and touches every part of the business. It can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some tips:

  • Start with what outcomes your organisation wants to achieve and how can data help achieve these. What needs to be different about the data to achieve success for your business strategy?  Is it that you need to exploit your data more?  Is it that you don’t know what data you have? Understanding how your data supports your business strategy will enable you to set out your data strategy.
  • Next develop your plan of action. What areas are you going to tackle first and what does success look like?  Any data work can take a while to show real business benefit. People are impatient, and you’ll need to show returns through quick wins in the short term until, over time, you are able deliver the optimal benefit.
  • Make it easy for people to do the right thing. Often with data we congratulate ourselves for fixing data problems, but we should really save our celebrations for ensuring these issues never arise. Are there things you can put in place so that you tackle issues upstream before they even become a problem? For example, automatically recording metadata for your data assets, instead of relying on people manually documenting the data they have created or updated.

3. Data story telling

Being able to tell stories about the data and why people should care helps engage your organisation and get them onboard. Here are some things to consider:

  • Imagine - Can you use stories that help set out a different future? Can you engage people’s imagination to envisage a different future? Using examples of how the world is changing and how your business needs to adapt to deliver your business strategy can help spark the interests of many. Be careful though as some may think the possibilities are fanciful.
  • Scare stories – no one comes to work to do a bad job, so people may become defensive about examples of bad data practice from within your own organisation. Therefore, it’s always good to have cases from other organisations.  You can find these easily in the media. Anything from data quality issues to data protection breaches and more. Use these stories to help you with your own journey.
  • Progress – don’t forget to tell the story of how things are progressing. Tell people how you are delivering your data strategy and what that means for the business in meeting its aspirations. You cannot communicate too much – keep data on the radar.

And finally, for me, it’s all about positivity. Data transformations can be hard. But with drive and enthusiasm success will come and, when they do, celebrate the successes. If these things were easy then your organisation wouldn’t need you.  But they do.

Lisa Allen – Is Head of Data and Analytical Services at Ordnance Survey. A seasoned data professional with experience across government. Lisa is a committee member of DAMA UK nurturing a community of data professionals across the UK.

This is part of a three-part series. Next hear from Sarah Burnett:

Part 3: Main symptoms of the curse

What are the main obstacles, arguments and reasons that organisations give for not implementing changes? What are the behaviours to look for? What does management and those organisations do to cope with the lack of change when results are needed.

You can read part 1 here:

Part 1: The Curse of doing right for data - Tomas Sanchez

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