Modernization starts at the top

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I often rail against the state of most organizations' data management practices. Four things inform my opinion:

The 2014 Market Pulse Survey confirms what I continue to maintain: Very few people classify their companies' big data efforts as successful. We're talking about only three percent, a number that I doubt has increased much in the past two years. And here's some more data from that survey:

I'd argue that these numbers are actually understated, but let's take them at face value. As a result, many employees are "going rogue." They are using their own tools – both old and new – to make sense of an increasing array of data sources. (Remember that we live in an era of open-source software and BYOD.) The results are often not pretty: even more chaos and even less cohesion around all things data within an organization.

I hesitate to call the current state of affairs a crisis, but it's certainly not good. Fortunately, the status quo offers enormous opportunity for organizations willing to modernize their data management and integration efforts. But where to start the improvement process?

Examining the role of the C-suite

Sure, an organization can anoint formal chief data and analytics officers, although neither is an elixir. A data "transformation" (for want of a better word) sure isn't easy, and there are no quick long-term fixes. Put differently, no organization is going to overhaul or modernize its data integration efforts with any single new hire. Ditto for purchasing and deploying the latest tchotchke and its new bells and whistles. Changing culture takes time and is rife with obstacles.

When I think of the models that organizations should ape, Google, Netflix, Amazon and Facebook quickly come to mind. These companies were "born" with data in their DNA. For this very reason, neither employed a formal CDO last time I searched LinkedIn:

Why are there no CDOs at these companies? Because they just aren't needed.

Brass tacks: There are limits to an exclusively bottom-up or employee-approach to modernization efforts. Without true vision, leadership and action from the C-suite, I just don't see how the mediocre or downright dysfunctional organizations mentioned in the above survey turn things around. An effective, progressive, and – dare I say – bold executive can get things started.

Simon Says

Absent a strong executive presence, most mature organizations will continue to muddle through data integration. They struggle understanding their basic data – never mind acting on it in a timely manner. Finally, they squander the massive opportunities that big data provides.

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About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. In the fall of 2016, he joined the faculty at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business (Department of Information Systems).

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