Thursday, August 22, 2019

Setting off Towards the Data-Driven Business

In an earlier post Towards the Data-Driven Business, I talked about the various roles that data and intelligence can play in the business. But where do you start? In this post, I shall talk about the approach that I have developed and used in a number of large organizations.


To build a roadmap that takes you into the future from where you are today, you need three things.


Firstly an understanding of the present. This includes producing AS-IS models of your current (legacy) systems, what data have you got and how are you currently managing and using it. We need to know about the perceived pain points, not because we only want to fix the symptoms, but because these will help us build a consensus for change. Typically we find a fair amount of duplicated and inconsistent data, crappy or non-existent interfaces, slow process loops and data bottlenecks, and general inflexibility.

This is always complicated by the fact that there are already numerous projects underway to fix some of the problems, or to build additional functionality, so we need to understand how these projects are expected to alter the landscape, and in what timescale. It sometimes becomes apparent that these projects are not ideally planned and coordinated from a data management perspective. If we find overlapping or fragmented responsibility in some critical data areas, we may need to engage with programme management and governance to support greater consistency and synergy.


Secondly a vision of the future opportunities for data and intelligence (and automation based on these). In general terms, these are outlined in my earlier post. To develop a vision for a specific organization, we need to look at their business model - what value do they provide to customers and other stakeholders, how is this value delivered (as business services or otherwise), and how do the capabilities and processes of the organization and its partners support this.

For example, I worked with an organization that had done a fair amount of work on modelling their internal processes and procedures, but lacked the outside-in view. So I developed a business service architecture that showed how the events and processes in their customers' world triggered calls on their services, and what this implied for delivering a seamless experience to their customers.

Using a capability-based planning approach, we can then look at how data, intelligence and automation could improve not only individual business services, processes and underlying capabilities, but also the coordination and feedback loops between these. For example in a retail environment, there are typically processes and capabilities associated with both Buying and Selling, and you may be able to use data and intelligence to make each of them more efficient and effective. But more importantly, you can improve the alignment between Buying and Selling.

(In some styles of business capability model, coordination is shown explicitly as a capability in its own right, but this is not a common approach.)

The business model also identifies which areas are strategically important to the business. At one organization, when we mapped the IT costs against the business model, we found that a disproportionate amount of effort was being devoted to non-strategic stuff, and surprisingly little effort for the customer-facing (therefore more strategically important) activities. (A colour-coded diagram can be very useful in presenting such issues to senior management.)

Most importantly, we find that a lot of stakeholders (especially within IT) have a fairly limited vision about what is possible, often focused on the data they already have rather than the data they could or should have. The double-diamond approach to design thinking works here, to combine creative scenario planning with highly focused practical action. I've often found senior business people much more receptive to these kind of discussions than the IT folk.

We should then be able to produce a reasonably future-proof and technology independent TO-BE data and information architecture, which provides a loosely-coupled blueprint for data collection, processing and management.


Thirdly, how to get from A to B. In a large organization, this is going to take several years. A complete roadmap cannot just be a data strategy, but will usually involve some elements of business process and organizational change, as well as application, integration and technology strategy. It may also involve outside stakeholders - for example, providing direct access to suppliers and business partners via portals and APIs, and sharing data and intelligence with them, while obtaining consent from data subjects and addressing any other privacy, security and compliance issues. There are always dependencies between different streams of activity within the programme as well as with other initiatives, and these dependencies need to be identified and managed, even if we can avoid everything being tightly coupled together.

Following the roadmap will typically contain a mix of different kinds of project. There may need to be some experimental ("pioneer") projects as well as larger development and infrastructure ("settler", "town planner") projects.

To gain consensus and support, you need a business case. Although different organizations may have different ways of presenting and evaluating the business case, and some individuals and organizations are more risk-averse than others, a business case will always involve an argument that the benefits (financial and possibly non-financial) outweigh the costs and risks.

Generally, people like to see some short-term benefits ("quick wins" or the dreaded "low-hanging fruit") as well as longer-term benefits. A well-balanced roadmap spreads the benefits across the phases - if you manage to achieve 80% of the benefits in phase 1, then your roadmap probably wasn't ambitious enough, so don't be surprised if nobody wants to fund phase 2. 


Finally, you have to implement your roadmap. This means getting the funding and resources, kicking off multiple projects as well as connecting with relevant projects already underway, managing and coordinating the programme. It also means being open to feedback and learning, responding to new emerging challenges (such as regulation and competition), maintaining communication with stakeholders, and keeping the vision and roadmap alive and up-to-date.



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