Data a competitive asset, not a necessary evil

Business issue, not an IT matter

Data should be viewed as a competitive asset rather than a necessary evil and is a business issue, not an IT matter, the research vice president at Gartner, Ted Friedman, said today.

Speaking at Gartner's Business Intelligence and Information Management Summit in Sydney, Friedman said organizations striving to improve data quality must consider appointing data stewards.

By doing this, companies can define clear goals for data-quality improvement.

A Gartner survey of 301 organizations found interest in the discipline of data quality is growing among enterprises worldwide.

"Organizations are discovering that data quality plays a significant role in addressing their strategic business initiatives, and that poor data quality can very often prevent them from achieving the growth, agility and competitiveness they demand," Friedman said.

Topping the reasons for deciding to invest in data quality tools is "to improve a general lack of trust in our data", according to 52 percent of survey respondents.

"Data quality is a business issue, not an IT matter, and it requires the business to take responsibility for improvements," he said.

"Organizations are beginning to recognise the negative impact that poor-quality data can have on business objectives, and appointing data quality stewards helps organizations achieve data quality improvement goals.

"These individuals should be considered subject-matter experts for their departments and act as trustees of data, rather than owners of it.

"They will ensure that quality is maintained to make the data support business processes."

Friedman gave an example of a marketing specialist who could act as the data steward in a data quality improvement program by keeping marketing data complete, correct, consistent, honest and not redundant.

In this role, they would have responsibility for ensuring marketing-relevant information adheres to the corporate data quality standards.

To alleviate this problem, Friedman recommends that each major business function have data stewards, including sales, marketing, service, production, finance, HR and IT.

"Successful and effective data stewards reside in the business, are visible, respected and influential - they must have the vision to understand the importance of data quality to the overall business objectives, as well as the impact of quality issues on downstream business processes," he added.

The leader of the steward team; that is, the corporate sponsor for data quality, will serve as the ultimate point of decision on issues and conflicts occurring across stewards and teams.

"Many data stewardship programs have resulted in little or no improvement because the organization selected the wrong individuals as stewards or because those individuals were not organized and managed in a way that ensures success," Friedman said.

Successful stewards are placed closest to the point of data capture and maintenance, and are intimately knowledgeable about the data and its use in a business context.

They also have a stake in improving quality. As such, they are empowered to make business process changes and apply resources to address quality issues.

Furthermore, they can influence how their peers execute business processes to achieve further improvements.

Friedman said stewards are in an ideal position to help with an effective governance strategy for data quality, since governance must cascade across the entire organization to ensure that appropriate accountability is enacted and enforced.

Earlier this year, the University of Technology (UTS) in Sydney established Australia's first business intelligence and information management research unit.

The unit aims to help businesses leverage data more effectively.

With organizations accumulating vast amounts of data, UTS Dean of IT, Tom Hintz, said the unit will help companies gain greater insight into their organization to enhance business performance.

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