Business control seen as key to effective data management process

The answer to the challenges of creating an effective data management process may be to rely on the people who should know your organization's data best: business users.

SAN FRANCISCO -- For some organizations, the new answer to the challenges of creating and overseeing an effective data management process is to rely less on IT and more on the people who should know the data best: business users.

For example, as part of the launch of a master data management (MDM) program two years ago, Lexmark International Inc. created a data governance council that is chaired by its chief financial officer and includes representatives from the company's sales, marketing, supply chain and supplier management departments. Sreedhar Srikant, an enterprise data architect who is helping to lead the MDM initiative, said data ownership now resides "completely" with the printer maker's business units.

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 "Our favorite saying is that in IT, we're like plumbers," Srikant said after a presentation on the MDM program at last week's Enterprise Data World conference here. "We'll give you the pipes, and you own the data."

In the past, data governance was purely an IT concern at Lexmark. But that resulted in "chaos" and data quality problems, according to Srikant. The new data governance strategy coincided with the start of an ongoing migration from a JD Edwards ERP system to SAP; Srikant said the CFO signed on as the executive sponsor of the MDM program and agreed to chair the governance council in an effort to "make sure that data quality was pristine" in the new system.

The Lexington, Ky.-based company's CIO reports to the CFO, so the latter had IT oversight responsibilities all along. But the CFO's involvement in the data management process is much more direct now. "We actually call him the chief data architect," Srikant joked during the conference session, while noting that having the CFO play a lead role has been a boon to the data governance efforts from both a funding and business-adoption standpoint.

Putting the data management process in business hands

Equifax Inc., one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., has gone even further in giving data management responsibilities to the business side. Eighteen months ago, the Atlanta-based company named business executive John Carter to the new position of chief data officer (CDO). Carter, a senior vice president who reports to Equifax's chief marketing officer, spent his first six months as CDO developing an enterprise data strategy for the company, which also offers commercial data services and does human resources and payroll outsourcing work through a variety of business units in the U.S. and abroad.

Our favorite saying is that in IT, we're like plumbers. We'll give you the pipes, and you own the data.
Sreedhar Srikant, enterprise data architect, Lexmark International Inc. 

 To implement the new strategy, Equifax created a "data center-of-excellence" that is run by Carter and is responsible for functions such as acquisition of new data and the development and promotion of internal data management, quality, integration and governance standards. In addition, a data governance council is being set up with both IT and business representatives from across the company.

Carter said during a conference session that one of the key tenets of the data strategy was tying it directly to the company's overall growth strategy – for example, by showing how a more integrated approach to data management could help increase revenue and reduce costs.

Letting someone from the business side take the lead on data management issues isn't necessarily a requirement, according to Carter. But he thinks that a razor-sharp focus on how data can support business operations is critical to an effective data management process. "This shouldn't be something that's done in a vacuum," he said. "You want the data function to be business-focused."

IT isn't out of the picture, of course – it's heavily involved in the execution phase of the data strategy, which is likely to take another two to four years to complete. Carter's 30-person team worked with Equifax's enterprise architecture group to design a data integration framework for feeding reference keys from various source databases into a master database that could be used to quickly build analytic data marts. And a core IT group continues to be responsible for the company's technical infrastructure. "I'm the one saying, 'Here's what we need,'" Carter noted. "They design the systems to achieve that."

Managing data as an enterprise asset

A CDO position might make more sense for a data services company such as Equifax than for other businesses. But Mark O'Gorman, director of enterprise information architecture at Toronto-based Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, said he thinks having a C-level business executive with responsibility for data should be part of the future for all organizations. "If you subscribe to [the idea that] information is an enterprise asset, then the business has to manage it as an enterprise asset," O'Gorman said.

At Sun Life, IT staffers continue to be the "data custodians," he noted. But as part of an enterprise information management (EIM) program that was launched three years ago, O'Gorman is working to convince Sun Life's business units to take the lead role on data stewardship and governance issues as well as MDM.

"We're at the awareness level now, where people are starting to see that it isn't an IT problem," O'Gorman said during a session. The goal, he added, is to "have business driving what we do, not IT driving the business."

Export Development Canada, an Ottawa-based government agency, is starting an MDM deployment this year as part of an ongoing EIM program aimed at improving data quality and eliminating stovepiped applications. Claude Vallee, a senior EIM analyst at the agency, said business units are being given the lead responsibility for agreeing on common data definitions and change management procedures. IT officials, he said, "are telling the business, 'We won't decide on your behalf. It's your data.'"

From an organizational standpoint, the EIM team is part of an internal "client consulting services" unit that acts as a liaison between the business units and the IT development and infrastructure group. And now, Vallee said, the agency's data quality personnel are being shifted from the IT group into the EIM operation. "We're blending in with the business and trying to blur the lines."

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