Decision point

Putting data to work is no simple matter. “Many organisations are now acknowledging that they are not obtaining the benefits [they were counting on] from business intelligence and data warehousing initiatives,” says Ted Friedman, research vice president at analyst group Gartner. And the problem, in many cases, is not that the organisation is using the wrong tools or architecture, but that they have “paid scant attention to getting the data right”, he stresses.

Whether the focus is better business performance, increased competitiveness or compliance fulfilment, failings in the way data is captured, cleansed, integrated and maintained can undermine any project. This close relationship – between data governance and the ability of an organisation to fulfil its strategic goals – is underlined by a recent Gartner survey, which found that some 49% of organisations are investing in data initiatives – in particular data quality programmes.

The impact of poor-quality data

Poor data quality severely inhibits many strategic business initiatives such as customer relationship management, business intelligence (BI) or any effort requiring significant integration of data.

Surveying 600 BI users, Gartner also found that 35% saw data quality as a top-three BI problem facing their organisation in the next 12 to 18 months. And the drivers behind data governance are clear. In Information Age’s reader research, almost a third of respondents point to legislation and compliance pressures as pushing their data governance agenda. Roughly the same number see data governance as critical to improving operational efficiency – in particular, a fundamental need to make better, more trusted decisions.

That manifests itself as strong sales of tools for cleansing, integrating and managing data. Gartner reckons that by 2011 organisations will be spending $677 million a year on data quality tools, representing a compound annual growth rate of 17.6% over the four years. On a larger scale, over the same period, market watcher IDC expects the worldwide market for data integration and access software to grow to $2.9 billion. And in the closely related area of master data management software, Forrester Research predicts that organisations will spend $2.2 billion during 2010, up from $344 million in 2006.

But data governance is not just an IT challenge. According to Gartner, one key to improving data quality is the appointment of data stewards – especially when these come from within the business. “Data quality is a business issue, not an IT matter, and it requires the business to take responsibility and drive improvements,” says Friedman.

Such individuals should be considered subject matter experts for their departments and act as trustees of data, rather than owners of it, says Gartner. It gives the example of a nominated data steward within the marketing department whose responsibility it is to keep marketing data “complete, correct, consistent, honest and not redundant”.

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

As that underscores, organisations need to “view data as a competitive asset rather than a necessary evil and define clear goals for data quality improvement”, says Friedman. “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,” adds Friedman

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.”

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