Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The “Do Nothing” Option

When it comes to writing proposals and setting scope for data intensive projects like data integration, master data management, CRM, and data warehouse, project managers often find themselves struggling to justify the additional funding needed for information quality. But I recently picked up a neat trick when I was talking to the folks at BT. If you recall, BT has a huge implementation of enterprise-wide information quality and a great data governance story. If you want to read the details, they are written up in a 2006 Gartner report (See " Strategic Focus on Data Quality Yields Big Benefits for BT" on Gartner.com). Also, you can hear it in BT’s own words in a webinar on Trilliumsoftware.com.
Project managers, can I share a secret with you? Let’s keep this secret just between us, OK? Let’s not let upper management know you’re pulling this stuff on them.
The key is to swaying the approval process, according to BT, is to always calculate what will happen if you don’t do anything about the data quality. They call it the “Do Nothing Option”. Sounds simple, but I suspect it’s something that is missing from many proposals. In your scoping documents, make sure that you state in black and white both the ROI of improving data quality processes and the potential risks that you run when you ignore it. In short, if you invest resources in information quality, all will be right with the world. If you do nothing, anarchy and chaos will ensue.
For example, you’re installing a new CRM application. The new CRM application will likely have ROI on customizing workflow, tracking customer interactions, efficiently contacting customers and prospects, and reporting, among many other benefits. However, if you do nothing with information quality, what are the risks and what are the costs associated with the risks? Be specific about what kinds of problems are likely to occur and the costs associated with them. Are there mailing costs? Are there process costs associated with chasing down duplicate accounts and customers? Are there billing efficiencies that can be mitigated with information quality? Any inventory inefficiencies? Will reports show incorrect information requiring more process and problem chasing? Will all forms of corporate compliance be met with the current data, or are there risks of fines associated with compliance? Will data management issues instead have to be handled by the call center and if so, at what cost? What is the long-term impact of not managing the data to the corporation? Etc. What’s the cost of doing nothing?
If you’re still having trouble with management, even after explaining what will happen if you do nothing, feel free to contact me. I’m very interested in the process that project managers must endure in order to do the right thing and take on the responsibility for managing data.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Rise of the Business-focused Data Steward


In a December 2007 research note from Gartner entitled “Best Practices for Data Stewardship”, Gartner give some very practical and accurate advice on starting and executing a data steward program. They reiterate this advice in a press release issued this month. The new advice is to have business people become your data stewards. So, in marketing you have someone assigned as a data steward to work with the IT. The business person knows the meaning of the data as well as where they want to go with it. They become responsible for the data, and owners of it.

It’s a great concept, and one that I expect will become more and more a reality this year. However, there is some growth that needs to happen in the software industry. There are very few tools that serve a business-focused data steward. Most tools on the market are additional features that have been tacked on to IT-focused tools. Sure, a data profiler can show some cool charts and graphs, but not many business users want to learn how to use them. Should a business user really have to learn about metadata, entities, and attributes in order to find out if the data meets the need of the organization?

Rather, a marketing person wants to know if (s)he can do an offer mailing without getting most of it back. A CIO wants to know if a customer database that they just got as part of a merger has complete and current information. Accounting wants to know that they have valid tax ID numbers (social security numbers) for customers with whom they give credit, and the compliance team want to know that they are stopping those listed on the OFAC from opening accounts. Metadata? They don’t care. They just need the metrics to track the business problem.

This was really the concept that Trillium Software had when we designed TS Insight, our data quality reporting tool. The tool uses business rules and analysis from our profiler and presents them in a very friendly way – via a web browser. The more technical users can set up regular updates that display compliance with the business rules. The less technical users can open their web browsers to their customized page and metrics that are important to them. The business rules can track pretty much anything about the data without being too technical.

TS Insight is still in ramp-up for us. We came out with version 1.0 last year and we’re about to release version 2.5 this quarter. Still, we have a big head start on anyone else in the industry with this tool, serving the needs of the business-focused data steward. If this is something you’d like to see, please send me an e-mail and I’ll set up a demo.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Data Quality and Being Green

It’s clear that the green movement, specifically the desire for the general public to want to work with companies who are environmentally responsible, is here to stay. The general public is overwhelmingly in favor of your efforts to be green. For example, Wal-mart made headlines when it recently announced a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not only was this positive news for the world, but Wal-mart saved money on reduced energy costs.

For this and other reasons, marketers are relying less and less on direct mail as a core channel to send targeted information to customers. Consumers' desire to be green are causing marketers and finance teams alike to rethink paper-based channels, increasing their reliance on electronic communications (eg, websites, email, and e-statements).

The green movement is changing the world of data management, as follows:

  • De facto name and address standards – As we go into 2008, the general public simply won’t accept duplicates - bills, marketing offers and other mailings from you must be as clean as possible, or the customer is more apt to unsubscribe to your offers. In the past, if you got three catalogs from that computer retailer, it was a joke. They will laugh no more. Being green is a serious subject to many of your customers.
  • Importance of non-name and address data – Sure, the customer name and address will still be an important, but additional information such as e-mail address, customer contact preferences, and whether the customer is on the “Do Not Call” list are fundamental. Build this type of data as you go forward with additional processes at the call center and sales level. In other words, if you want someone’s e-mail address, you should ask for it.
  • Electronic Billing – As a customer, it sure is easier to get your bills via web site. As a company, it sure costs less to bill your customers via e-mail and secure web site. As an eco-friendly company, it sure looks good to provide a way to stop all those perfume soaked papers from being delivered by the mailman. Electronic billing is the way to go.
  • Potential Higher Revenues – Let’s face it, the cost of direct mail is much higher than sending an e-mail blast. Within reason, you can afford to make more offers to your customers and increase upsell potential, as long as you’ve done your data management homework. A men’s clothing store e-mails me weekly about specials, and I’m happy to get the offers. As a customer, I have seen their evolution. In the past, I received barely one postcard per quarter. As a result of their switch to e-mail and the increased touches, I do buy more at the store.

Trillium Software can help you meet these data management challenges and become greener. How? Of course, the Trillium Software System helps remove the duplicates, but it can help understand and repair the quality of e-mails and contact preference data. In association with our parent company, Harte-Hanks with can often do reverse look-up on data, so if you have an address, Harte-Hanks can often find a phone number or an e-mail. We can help manage the “Do Not Call”By managing data more effectively; you can become a stronger, greener company.

More info on being green? Take a look at the DMA’s Green15 Toolkit.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Data Governance and the Glib

My absolute favorite blog is the Creating Passionate Users blog, authored by Kathy Sierra and Dan Russell. I am a faithful reader and often find value in going back in time and re-reading the articles.

One article is extremely powerful in the data governance world, particularly when it comes to managing teams of business users and IT users. I’m referring to a brilliant entry entitled “When only the glib win, we all lose I quote:

In way too many meetings, the fastest talkers win. And by "fastest talkers", I mean those who are the first to articulate an idea, challenge, issue, whatever. Too many of us assume that if it sounds smart, it probably is, especially when we aren't given the chance to think about it. The problem is, the guy with the "gut feeling"--the one who senses that something's not right, but has no idea how to explain it, let alone articulate it on the spot--might be right. Too bad, though, because the glib usually rule.

When you begin to build your teams for data governance, you must accommodate for both the glib and those who mull. Not to stereotype, but technical users may be more the type to contemplate, while your sales and marketing folks, for example, might be more the glib type. If your meetings are ruled by the glib talking sales folks, the mulling IT folks may become frustrated, causing pain and conflict.

Frankly, very few decisions need to be made right away. Decisions to completely change the ways your company does business, which are often part of data governance planning, can probably stand a little think-time. One of the best suggestions I’ve heard was for teams to adopt a 24 hour rule, which allows for anyone in the group to call for a break for 24 hours before making a final decision on a big issue. If someone feels like something is missing, chances are it is. People can take time to organize, digest and process. With a small waiting period on big decisions, the glib won’t rule over those who need to mull, and justice will be served.

Also, it may be necessary for those who mull to come out of their comfort zone and become more glib. The blog entry highlights a "Glib Continuum" with ideas for changing your place in the continuum. Attending that Dale Carnegie training, or joining Toastmasters are good ways to move up the glib continuum. Thanks to Kathy and her readers for the excellent ideas.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.