Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Data Driven means Data is an Asset (Pt. 2)

  To continue with my streak of slightly ranting/slightly advice columns on how to run a Business Intelligence program, today I will touch on Data as an asset. This is going to be a bit more on the ranting side, as I have a bone to pick with people who put the term ‘data-driven’ into their mission statement or board packages, and then turn around and do nothing to manage, care for, foster, or otherwise tend to their data as an asset. Too many times I have seen this term thrown around within organizations that treat data as a by-product, with all the respect and dignity they would industrial waste.

 Data is an asset. This means that it holds value to an organization. Like all assets, it depreciates over time. The nice thing about data, is it is generally a part of the business to generate data just through the daily operations. Monetary assets that the company generates, through sales, services, or other income streams, are more difficult to generate. This ease of generation in data, tends to cause many organizations to overlook proper care of this asset.

Proper caring for this asset, maintenance or upkeep if you will, starts from the bottom with a strong core of expertise in the organization. These are the people who know and understand data, and are passionate about keeping it, using it, monetizing it, and maintaining it. We layer onto that a strong foundation of technical infrastructure, and then ice the whole thing with data management processes into a delicious cake of data assets for the organization. (Is anyone else hungry?)

The last four companies I have been involved with professionally, including my current, have all stated without reservation during the interview process that they were ‘data-driven’ companies. None of those four companies could tell me during the interview, who their data stewards were. One was able to tell me their lead DBA (because he was on the interview panel), and two were able to accurately tell me, what type of data servers they primarily used as an organization. (One was Oracle, the other Microsoft.)

Let’s start with the people. I do not believe myself unreasonable to have certain expectations for a person who makes their career as a DBA. I have done it before, and I take what I do seriously. I expect that there are good working processes in place, good documentation of those processes, at least half of the business practices follow industry best practice. (I learned young that all the way is not a good expectation to have.) And finally, I expect there to be solid documentation on all data assets.

When it comes to the infrastructure, I have higher expectations. I expect solid HA infrastructure for primary assets, with backups offsite, that run on appropriate schedules. I expect good disk capacity and planning, and I expect that all servers are set up to best practice guidelines running current software, and up to date security patches. I expect there to be scheduled maintenance, a solid DR plan, strong security, and a sustainable retention policy in place and enacted with procedures.

Finally, the data management processes. The business of data. I have expectations that any organization that calls itself ‘data-driven’ has a solid data management policy for the enterprise, first and foremost. There should be stewardship and ownership baked into that policy and practiced in the organization, as a whole. I expect that there should be mastered data for the primary KPIs of the organization, there should be domain controls and audit processes set up for data entry, and there should be processes and procedures for all of these things. I expect the organization to treat data generation as seriously as data security, which they enforce and control with the same vigor.

I don’t see these things. I have seen parts working in some organizations, and other parts working in others. This is going to change. Over the last decade, data has become the buzzword. The idea that keeps boardrooms buzzing but doesn’t mean anything. Over the next decade, it will become a lynchpin. Any company that isn’t currently on track to engage with itself, and treat it’s data like an actual asset, will suffer for it. They will be left in the dust by the companies that do.

There are exceptions. There are industries as a whole that lag behind in this and will always be out of date. I don’t see that as an excuse, but rather as a challenge. As such, I will continue to fight for treating data as an asset, that it has value, and that it should be protected.

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