Executive Q&A
Harnessing Data For Business Value


September 8, 2017: All businesses are inundated with data, but they can’t always see the value in that data because there are so many layers of technology that stand in the way: complex infrastructure, overlapping domains, and rigorous compliance requirements – complicated by a growing influx of data from multiple internal and external sources. Successful businesses learn to derive genuine value from their data by creating a value generation cycle. First they determine the specific business value their data can provide, and then, using the right technology to drive the process forward, they figure out how to harness that value to deliver tangible results to managers, operational workers, analysts, customers, and partners. We caught up with Brian Joynt, Vice President & General Manager for Information Builders in Canada to gain some insight on harnessing data for business value.

1. Many organizations find it difficult to exploit the hidden value that lies within their data. What are the reasons for this problem?

Scope and control. It lives everywhere – in every department, in every application, in spreadsheets – and its scope covers every aspect of the business. The more you start to use data from everywhere, the more quickly you realize that you’re getting disparate and incomplete information. Then, as the task of deriving value from it seems overwhelming, people (especially IT people) try to put controls around it to manage the huge scope. Unfortunately, that often means slowing down the development process, or telling people “no,” which leads to people breaking out of the controls, which leads to people getting disparate and incomplete information. Organizations need to consciously break out of that vicious cycle to create a virtuous one, and that’s hard to do socially, organizationally, and technologically.

2. What are some of the common issues with traditional approaches to data management?

Adaptability comes first. The first round through a data management process brings a lot of data to the surface, and the business has no idea how to manage it all. Once IT gets their arms around some of it – which takes a while – they come back to the business, which quickly realizes they need something a little different from what they originally intended. Assuming it’s not too late for the effort to be relevant, IT then has to go back and try again. Reducing this cycle time, adapting more quickly to changing business conditions,  adapting to changes in specifications, is a critical and difficult issue.

Balancing speed versus control is an outcome of this process. IT will never be able to govern everything that the business wants to do. It probably shouldn’t. If the business can get live, operational dashboards from its ERP system, and those dashboards are good enough to manage that part of the organization, why should they have to go through the governing process? But if an organization _can_ get complete, trusted data in a cost-effective and timely way, wouldn’t it be better to get it? Answering those questions, which are really business questions and not technological at all, can be difficult intellectually and politically.

3. Can you briefly describe the Value Generation Life Cycle and its importance?

The point of the Value Generation Life Cycle is to select data that will really get used by the business and manage it to an appropriate level. That way, you’re sure that the business impact of your efforts will justify the effort you’re putting into the process. There are five steps: Focus on the data consumers, identify the data that supports what you need to know, determine where that data lives, integrate it, and remediate it until it’s suitable for its purpose.

4. How crucial is it for organizations to start harnessing the value of their data? What risks do they run for ignoring this?

It’s critical. With costs increasing, employee productivity plateauing in many businesses, and competition driving margins ever thinner, people need to take every asset and extract as much value as possible from it. Data is one of our most valuable assets, yet it’s one that we understand and manage the least. By just starting to manage it more effectively, organizations can see incremental improvements in organizational management, customer relations, and more. If they don’t, their competition will, and it’s hard to compete with higher costs, lower employee productivity, and lower margins.

5. Information Builders will be speaking at the 2017 CAMSS Canada conferences and focusing on this very topic. What do you want people to be able to take away from your session?

1. One size does not fit all, so identify what you need to do in your environment rather than following a cookbook.

2. You’ll get to great faster by starting with something good and adapting quickly, rather than trying to be great out of the chute.

3. Throwing out the cookbook and shooting for “good enough” doesn’t mean there’s no plan. Principles of good data management, such as the Value Generation Lifecycle, can still help drive you forward.