Better Service of the Corporate Data Asset

Creating a data services function

The enterprise data resource is a critical corporate asset. Companies retain high-priced talent to steward their data and maintain the underlying technology. Plans and procedures are in place to keep the business up and running in case of a catastrophic event to the technology that stores and processes data. That technology, expensive and complex, can be a mystifying set of products that protect and manage the corporate data asset.

Yet, when one peels the proverbial onion, it is apparent that many organizations expend a lot of time, money and effort to protect incorrect data, maintain data that is not easily accessible by decision makers, and administer data management processes and tools that can't keep up with changing regulatory and operational reporting requirement. In the consumer industry, the mandate to synchronize product data to UCCNet (now GS-1) revealed these deficiencies for many companies, which spent considerable amounts of money cleaning up their data to comply with the standard.

One of the biggest frustrations in any organization is maintaining consistent access to accurate and reliable stored data. The inability to turn corporate data into information, and information into actionable knowledge, obstructs key executives' ability to drive critical business decisions.

Without a single point of ownership to take an integrated and holistic view of the issues, there will not be a targeted plan that supports the data needs of the entire organization. What if we created an IT-based organizational function to own the non-technical components of managing this valuable corporate asset?

What is a Data Services Function?

Within an organizational structure aligned to a business and operational cost model, the data services function would focus on key tasks to help the enterprise utilize data more effectively to drive critical business actions and initiatives. The data services function (DSF) mission contains four primary objectives:

  1. Define, implement and manage the processes to best assure the accuracy of the data allowing the organization to operate within a single version of the truth.
  2. Create the rules and select and implement the tools, including training, needed to enable organizations to have rapid and easy access to all company based transactional and operational data.
  3. Define the processes and quality rules for both inbound and outbound syndication of data.
  4. Define and implement user-driven reporting tools to augment traditional reporting needs while both improving responsiveness and decreasing reliance on IT resources.

Unlike the database administrator (DBA) role of managing the complexity, storage and protection of the data, the role of the DSF centers on data quality, syndication, access and reporting:

Data Quality

The DSF has the responsibility to assure that that all data used by the corporate team is both consistent and accurate. It is anticipated that an initial clean-up phase will be required to asses, validate and modify existing data so as to establish a solid baseline environment. Phase II then takes on the on-going efforts to maintain an accurate environment. The four primary tasks for Phase II include:

  • Work with teams to help define the definitions for key transactional and operational data and assure that the definitions are the base for application deployment.
  • Identify the group data owner and the process for collection and verification.
  • Define and monitor, using the rules aligned with 6-sigman, a data change management process that defines how data is managed throughout solution sets.
  • Create the rules for managing (import, validate and correct) all inbound syndicated data.

Data Syndication

Data syndication is relevant and critical for many industries. It is the preparation, aggregation and distribution of data to key business partners. These may include upstream and downstream supply chain trading partners, regulatory organizations and various federal, state and or local governmental authorities.

Data Access

Data access is so critical, that it is often the number-one priority across the entire organization. Real-time market dynamics across most industries require real-time data access. From the board room to the shop floor, data is required to assess and drive decisions from what to make, to whom to sell and at what price.

Reporting

Reporting can be segmented into two components: Canned reports - those that are well defined and run on a scheduled basis; and Ad-Hoc reports - those need to be structured in format but may have an undefined time frame or multiple variables to drive the right presentation of data.

Organizational Alignment of the DSFDepending on a company's size, geographic distribution, operational complexity and funding, the deployment may take a different look and feel. However, the two key points are:

  • DSF functionality is required if a company wants to move away from data gridlock and eliminate errors to meet its business management requirements
  • DSF must report to the organizational leader if it is to operate effectively and efficiently.

The DSF is an integral part of the IT organization, crossing all segments of the department from development, deployment and technology, to user support and helpdesk. Along with the technology background needed to understand and articulate what the IT organization can effectively deliver given resources, funds, competing priorities and technology breadth and depth, the function must have a strong customer service focus.

The DSF is best served by a dedicated, focused cadre of professionals who work with all phases of the organization to support the user community. Typically the DSF team centers on two professions; one focused on data integrity and the other on data availability. These roles are more effective and less costly than building local IT staffs that are not effectively aligned to the day-to-day business processes.

Summary

Deploying a DSF will enable better decision making and higher productivity throughout the enterprise. Executives have the comfort of knowing they are making critical decisions with the most accurate and timely information available. Line management has the tools and access needed to drive strategic and tactical decisions. External business partners can get information to help smooth the supply chain and bring the right product to the right place and the right time and at the right cost. And, the IT organization has the ability to be both responsive and to reduce support efforts, allowing a greater focus on providing business benefits. A true win-win environment.

Phil Friedman is Vice President, Consumer Products, QAD, a global enterprise software firm. http://www.qad.com


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