Big data
By Mark Dexter
23rd May 2014

...if your data isn’t managed in the first place.

That was certainly the message I took away from this week’s MDM/Data Governance conference hosted by IRM.  We’ve been working across the whole information management market for a number of years now, having focused initially on Business Intelligence, and very pleased I am too that we took the decision to expand our market reach.

It has to be said that there is a growing understanding that without having proper data governance in place, and therefore a clear strategy on how your various information sources are to be managed and controlled, there is little chance than any eventual analytics or intelligence will have any real value.   Imagine if the sexy, funky dashboard that your CEO sees each morning was only giving part of the story, so critical business decisions were being made without all the information to hand. That’s exactly what would happen if it wasn’t for the small (but growing) armies of data and information management specialists beavering away in the background, making sure that the relevant people in the organisation knew the part they had to play in pulling all of this information together or ensuring that the data being relied up was fit for purpose and accurate.

So yes, we all like to see the fancy graphics and charts when we want to know how our business or area of our business is performing, but this might as well be a blank screen if we can’t be confident that all the necessary information that sits behind is properly governed and managed in the first place. 

Do you agree with all of the above or just some of it?  Have I missed anything? Feel free to let me  know!


"Hi Mark, I agree with all of the above. It is a very common mistake from businesses and especially senior management to rely on fancy dashboards without knowing what the data behind this information is made up from. I have worked for several companies in different industries and it surprises me that I’m always able to find errors in data sources links, formulas, or even definitions. There is another thing I would like to add: businesses are often invited to seminars and are completely blown away by the dashboards they have been shown and are very eager to have something similar to monitor their business. What they don’t realise is that a dashboard is not a simple excel spreadsheet and needs quite a bit of money thrown at it before it can be set up, tested and used, if the proper data warehouse solution is available……if you first need to link all the seperate and never integrated data sources together.. it becomes an even different story all together. Businesses need to know their budgets! Not only that: you need proper business KPI’s to be able to set up an effective dashboard. Without proper KPI’s you can have a fancy dashboard, still it won’t make you able to run a business properly. Unfortunately in many businesses the presence of a data management team is underrated, although these are the experts who do understand the needs to ultimately guide a company from a simple excel sheet to a fully automated dashboard, and can give a customized realistic picture of the whole project from start to finish. Ultimately the following rule still stands: garbage in is garbage out. By having a data management team, a business is able to minimize the garbage, if you then add some well defined KPI’s in a dashboard as a first aid tool, and a good management insights and reporting team to keep an eye on the total picture, as a business you might have a success formula." - FrenchFlair

"Thanks for your comment FF and interesting and valid point you make about defining KPIs, something I had missed in my post!" - Mark Dexter

"True, some mandatory aspects of data management to get true flavor of information out of it are, data quality and governance and improvement reports around that. Go for flashy reports only when you see the quality up-to the mark. Ignoring these aspects can land you in a space where you don’t get desired ROI. I would say, go for DQ and governance framework, implement it, create and maintain reference and master data and then got for advanced levels." - Vinay Krishna

"In my experience delivering high quality information to decision makers in an organisation generally suffer from the same issues:-

a) Lack of proper budgeting/scoping and positioning of the DW/BI effort.
b) Over aggressive promises made to justify the costs
c) Lack of patience / knowledge in senior management to accept the incremental delivery of benefit rather than ‘big-bang’
d) Insistence that BI is an IT thing rather than a business service by placing under the responsibility of the CIO rather than a CDO. The consequence being that the service falls under the ‘Lowest TCO’ mantra applied to information technology
e) Lack of focus on the users of the BI solutions being developed so training/engagement/on-going support are all secondary to getting the technology built.

All this before the delivery team look at data quality issues across multiple systems, understand the data models in each system, standardise definitions, ensure appropriate reconciliations are in place to improve trust, understand business processes that deform the data in some way and then start to deliver outcomes.

Another major area is dealing with the ‘cottage industries’ that build up when an adequate management information capability is not in place. This also takes a lot of time and effort and costs money to resolve.

I am not saying that quick wins are not important simply that prior to embarking on the journey, organisations should understand the implications in time and cost of delivering a high quality, sustainable and value delivering solution an ensure these are factored into the business case so that an appropriate decision is taken.

If the data foundations are not solid, lack of trust in the data will persist and no amount of flashy dashboards, graphical analysis tools or data scientist expertise will deliver solid trustworthy information for decision making.


Alan" - Alan Barnard


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