Is Executive Sponsorship Overrated?

Daniel Teachey

Most IT projects require the purchase of software, hardware and training for employees, as well as the occasional support call. This is a fairly standard recipe for most technology implementation success. Data quality initiatives, however, require much more.

One of the keys to a successful data quality implementation is the people – starting from the top down. Pitching a data quality project to the company decision makers can be daunting for IT and business managers. It can be extremely difficult to express how the initiative will impact the bottom line. Also, these initiatives require significant changes in processes, which can be an intimidating prospect. Data plays a hand in nearly every aspect of an organization. Therefore, in order to successfully create a culture around data quality, a large number of people within the organization must change the way they work. The first step in changing the company culture is to effectively sell the data quality initiative into your organization. With this in mind, here are some tips to help you get started:

Focus on the Business

We’re often faced with a conundrum: IT manages technology that it doesn’t use and business units use technology they don’t control. This challenge has ultimately caused tension between the two sides of the house. Business users are quick to point out that the applications that come from IT are insufficient for their business needs. IT is quick to point out that business doesn’t properly articulate its needs. Ultimately, business users can’t perform their jobs at the optimal level and IT staff grows frustrated with their role.

To prevent this problem from the start, it’s important that we focus on how a data quality initiative will impact the business. Ask yourself about the current challenges the business is facing. How can improved data quality directly impact these challenges and in time alleviate them? Often we’re so caught up in explaining the “what” that we forget the “why.”

Consider Timing

Many data initiatives fail because they are implemented too soon. If you attempt to implement a data quality initiative before the business need is clearly identified, its chances of success are slim. Ultimately, people within the organization will tire of making process changes if they are not seeing measurable results.

Recruit Allies

In examining your business goals and challenges, it should be easy to identify the people within the organization who will be impacted by the initiative. For example, if your challenge is creating a single and accurate customer view, you’ll want to employ your customer relationship management team to properly align goals. It’s also a good idea to involve C-level executives in data-intensive business units including finance and marketing. Of course, all processes and people will not be affected to the same degree. But as quality becomes a consistent mantra, people throughout the organization must embrace the change.

Further, it’s important to have a team, rather than one or two people driving the initiative. This will help to future-proof your data quality program. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 25 percent of all employees have been with their organization for less than a year. Fifty percent of all employees have been at their organization for less than five years. And unfortunately, when people leave, a wealth of knowledge often leaves with them. By recruiting a team from across multiple business units, you can ensure that the program won’t be stalled by the exit of key personnel.

Set Realistic Expectations

All too often data quality initiatives are nixed before they have a chance to show real results. To prevent this from happening, be sure to outline realistic timelines, required investment, recommended team members and expected results. The more specific the plan, the easier it will be to not only sell it to the executive team, but also to defend its progress and garner the necessary support.

Look to the Future

Another important proof point for selling data quality initiatives is to ask yourself honestly if the current challenges will get worse in the future if not taken care of now. For example, do you have exponential growth of social media data coming in from your customer base? Will that data continue to become larger and more disparate if not cleansed, organized and managed properly? Asking these questions and doing the research in advance will help make the case for quality data.

Developing a Data Quality Culture

Empowering IT to enable business is a key step in adopting a true culture of data quality. This enablement begins when company executives support the initiative. It continues when IT understands what business users are trying to accomplish, what information they need and how it is being used. These organizational changes start at the top, making executive sponsorship a critical aspect of any data quality initiative.

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