It often strikes me as strange that some major corporations will invest billions on buildings, salaries, new product development, advertising and other "core assets" of the company and yet when it comes to the key data in the company there is often a "we not to bothered" attitude. You want to spend 3.5 million dollars on a data warehouse? Why? Are you crazy? We could buy a 30 second TV slot during the Super Bowl with that money! And it is not that executives are ignorant or blind to the value of data. Most understand that to make good decisions it helps to have good information. After all management speak is full of phrases that emphasize this point: "show me the numbers", "we’re data-driven", "in god we trust, all others bring data" and ”fact based decision” being good examples.
So if they know it is important then why the lack of love? Perhaps they have some relationship issues with data? Perhaps they fall into the following relationship categories?
1. My partner won't let me: I am in a monogamous relationship with my IT vendor and they just don't do data management (at least not properly). I have invested a lot in this relationship and while not entirely happy I am kind of stuck in a rut and cannot leave. Besides, they keep promising me that they will change and make me happy. I want to believe them, I really do!
2. Too many failed relationships: Many times in the past I have tried to do the right thing and take data management seriously but each time, after investing personal capital, time and money, I have been let down. Each time my trust was violated and now my self-esteem is low due to the constant failures. It is just too depressing and risky to try again and fail so I am giving up. Sorry!
3. I need the thrill of the chase: Data management, while important, is just too boring. It is like staying at home to cook the dinner and do the laundry when I just want to go out night clubbing with some cool new young things. And hey, I'm the boss so I am going to party. I will worry about the starving and dirty children later (hopefully before social services get involved). I know I should take my management responsibilities seriously but I am always attracted to bright lights and big promises!
While it might be funny to depict a corporations relationship with data management along romantic lines - and let's face it we have all heard excuses along similar themes; "We are an SAP shop and in the next release…"; "we spent 3 years and €10 million on a failed data warehouse - never again…"; "we are focused on the Cloud…" - data management is much too important to the success of your company to be treated emotionally. It is time for some facts and common sense.
Fact 1: Companies that are data driven perform better; “The companies that had the data they needed and used it to make decisions (instead of relying more on intuition and expertise) had the highest productivity and profitability. Specifically, the most data-driven companies had 4% higher productivity and 6% higher profits than the average in our sample, all else being equal.” Andrew Mcafee & Erik Brynjolfsson - “What Makes A Company Good at IT?” – WSJ , April 25, 2011.
Fact 2: There is proven technology and proven implementations that deliver; No matter how much data you have or how complex you think your business is there are other companies out there that have already successfully built data management solutions that compare in size, complexity or any other metric that scares you. These are not based on some new fangled “breakthrough innovation with in-memory computing” but on proven scalable technology built with 30 years of innovation and experience. If it works for companies like Wal*Mart, Apple, e-Bay, Nike, Fed-Ex, Vodafone, Coca-Cola and McDonalds and organizations like the US Air Force and US Navy then it should work for you.
Fact 3: Big Data Analytics is important, but it is also a catchy buzz phrase; Yes there is more and more data being generated and yes often this data is not in the traditional transactional structured form and yes you can do new things with this data and get new insight but ultimately it is just data. And just like “little” data it too needs to be managed and integrated with other data to make it useful. If saying big data analytics helps you to get funding and CxO attention then fantastic. Just don’t forget the rest of the data that makes your company tick! Remember the phrase “e-Commerce” – do I need to say any more?
As for the common sense, well let’s just say that just like in relationships you often know when it is working and you also know when the trust and respect has gone. If you know that the right data at the right time will make your company perform better and you know that other companies are successfully exploiting data today and yet you are making excuses for not acting then common sense would say that it is time for change. If that change is impossible then perhaps it is time to go work for another, most likely better, company that does love their data.