Michael de Andrade
South Africans lag behind their international peers when it comes to treating information as a strategic asset that is essential to business success.
A global Forbes survey found that 85% of executives believe their organisations treat information as a strategic asset, and 95% believe information management is essential to business success.
In South Africa, large enterprises see the value in their data, and understand that it is an essential building block for business intelligence, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning. However, many smaller businesses still take the view that data simply needs to be drawn into spreadsheets and made to look pretty with charts and dashboards. In many cases these land up as unused icons on the executive desktop.
Too many executives are simply looking for a good transactional system that does the job and provides operational reports. It's time for them to move to the next level. The reason is simple: good data leads to improved business process efficiency.
The Forbes study showed that finance, sales, and marketing, executives ranked business intelligence (BI) or analytics as their top information management project. Data integration, data quality and master data management must first be put in place so as to support reporting, analytics and BI solutions.
Master data includes all core business information used across an enterprise, including data about employees, suppliers, materials, products and customers. This data is used to support transactional systems and operations, as well as advanced business processes. Poorly managed or suspect master data, however, can incur costs from duplication of effort, disparate views and consequently, erroneous decisions.
I agree with the Forbes finding that fragmented data ownership is the single biggest roadblock to an enterprise information management programme.
Nearly 80% of IT executives in the Forbes study believed they were responsible for data quality, while more than 50% of business executives thought those who enter and use the data have primary responsibility. The Forbes study also showed that business executives tend to rate data quality lower than do IT executives. They also frequently disagree about the source of data-related problems and the potential solutions.
The IT department can become out of touch with business priorities. IT can become somewhat abstracted, particularly as the enterprise becomes larger, with more and more disparate data sources and user communities. A forum such as a data stewardship council can bridge this gap.
At the outset, IT must be given a mandate to implement and enforce a data management framework. Then the right balance must be achieved between IT and line-of-business in data management initiatives. If you don't achieve this, data quality becomes a finger-pointing exercise between different user communities and the IT department.
The data stewardship council, made up of a representative of each user community along with IT, should come together to define data requirements and delineate responsibility and accountability in all areas of data management. As BI develops in the organisation, the function of the council will be taken over by a business intelligence competency centre, a cross-functional team representing all lines of business, which will set out the key performance indicators expected from the system.
It's important to establish an enterprise information management programme in the organisation to oversee IT. There may be several projects running within the information management realm, most of which touch one another. You need a programme that oversees all of these and concerns itself with the end goal: to deliver a "single version of the truth".
Information is the key to many of the activities that line-of-business managers and executives perform. If they treat data as an important asset, it should make their job easier, with resultant gains in meeting strategic business goals.
About the author: Michael de Andrade is CEO of EnterpriseWorx.
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