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Data at the heart of transformation

Data is still at the heart of the debate in how business should go about transforming.

Equally I hear much Corporate intra-team discussion focusing on the need to understand customers better; - What do they want and need and do?

What drives their buying decisions?

What drives their behaviour - how their expectations are derived and therefore delivered against.

The 2 are obviously a central part of the same challenge to every business. How to meet your customer need and how to manage and understand your data as a result.

So it is no real surprise that there’s an increasing shift to structuring projects and delivery around data…and so Data Driven Transformation programmes and delivery roadmaps have evolved. This is popular parlance in not only project management worlds, but also anyone who is looking to seriously reengineer or evolve or scale their business to be more ‘fit-for-purpose’ - as technology evolves on the one side, customer need and expectation radically changes on the other.

Furthermore its no surprise to find that many businesses are starting to feel that these transformations are becoming a matter of life and death. On top of that, I meet people and hear that so many large scale business transformation and change programmes fail. So why is this?

I believe there are 2 core reasons at the heart of this; firstly that they are failing to deliver Value - both to customers and end users, but also in regards to yielding any clear ROI.

The second reason, and more significant one, is that so often budget is burned through in focusing on large scale IT programmes (they start to re-invent their core systems and technologies without being truly clear on what specific problems they are trying to solve, Or how the investment will be justified or the specific capability they are trying to enable) and yet there is so often no tangible or clear outcome, case or actual need to do so.

IT is seen as the bastion for all change and transformation - the key at the heart of every business problem - but its simply not true and can be a disastrous misconception - sometimes, YES, always, NO!

Year on year businesses invest millions of GBP/ $ and yet so much of this is wasted, misused or misdirected - it is spent on large scale centralised investment programmes that take too long, suck up cost and time and yield results that fall short of ambition or expectation. One of the key contributors to this is that when businesses are rewriting their business rules more frequently - often even on a quarterly basis as they adjust commercial plans, targets and schedules adapting to market shifts and needs, yet the programmes that are being implemented to aid and shore up the end result are simply moving far too slowly and deliver their requirements after the show has already moved on to the next big thing. Its a constant state of catch up and keep up.

When the world is a marketplace of the likes of Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Johnson and Johnson , Alibabba Group and the others that rank in the top 10 for reporting 20% to 30% EBIDA year on year, its hard to grasp how this is possible, and yet we know that they are achieving these results. What sets them apart?

In my view it breaks down to some key areas which all interdepend on each other like pieces of a puzzle - each fitting together to create a whole picture - which without a piece leaves the gaping and unsatisfactory hole.

All constantly reinvest and integrate, carry out research and development and invest in their products, systems and people at constant levels.

  1. They understand the value in their data and they interrogate it and mine it for greater insight - from this they redirect, adapt and adopt new strategies in their marketplaces.

  2. People and skills are at the core of their cultures - they are the digital godfathers - they review and gather data to identify how to better drive stewardship, management and carry out constant analysis of skills, gaps, training, ups killing and people investment.

  3. DATA is used as the basis for Governance and management, Driving insight and reporting - KPIs and measures, it keeps focus on Security and finally enables the ability to Deliver.

Tech (IT) should support the business and enable it, not be blamed for all its failures.

The businesses that are typically failing right now are making one common mistake. Its what I call putting the CART before the HORSE.

They look straight to reinventing their core IT systems and capabilities as the foundation and basis for all their challenges and concerns as a business. Its true that often these are problematic and often woefully lacking, out of date or under-utilised as not fit for purpose in their existing guise or implementation, but its simply wrong to think that all your problems lie in your IT systems. Companies that embark on this approach with sweeping company wide initiatives of this ilk, often find that its more unproductive, and exponentially increases risk factors, complexity and creates a level of noise that distracts away from the core issues that are presenting themselves and which no-one is choosing to tackle.

Data should be championed from the top!

Hand-in-hand with this there is still a shortage on understanding on the importance of Data within organisations at board level. Many senior leaders devolve responsibility to teams to drive and manage their data - and yet this often results in failure to really get to the underlying questions that are driving their barriers to growth, productivity and increasing sales. What they should be asking is - “How can we make better decisions at board level from the insight we can glean from data?”

- how is data exposed to enable interactions? what are the data driven customer journeys? how can we better serve our customers and their needs? do we understand how we interact with our customers - mobile, cross and multichannel marketing, Customer services, what are the key touchpoints? Where is my data? is it good quality? how do I need to store it, connect to it and transform it? Can I monetise it? How do I track, control, store and archive it? Is it performing the way I need it to? What skills do I need to understand this? Do I have the right people to facilitate this?

Asset or Liability?

At the end of Last Year McKinsey were quoted as saying that “Data has become the new corporate asset class” and so businesses really need to get to grips with it. But there are those that sit on the other side of this debate who query whether its an asset or a liability. We talk in terms of our properties being liabilities until they are making us an income - surely its the same with data?

Until such a point as we are deriving true value and transformative state from our data then surely it is sitting firmly in the camp of being a liability for most businesses? Manage your data badly and it will blow up on you.

5 focus areas:

Over the years working with specialist Data colleagues, I have understood from them a handful of focus areas:

  1. technology should be the enabler - not the holy grail to solving problems

  2. Master data management should be driven from the business - by being clear on WHAT problems you are trying to solve.

  3. Data governance is a key function - but the nuance is that whilst you can do data governance without MDM, you can’t do it the other way around.

  4. Change management and culture is implicitly linked to every data driven transformation and programme of works. Its nothing new, but people are everything to the equation being balanced.

  5. Continuous Improvement (CI) and reinvestment is not even debatable - if you want to keep your business moving forward, you can’t afford put this on ice once you deliver your initial schedule.

Informing your decisions to circumvent large time and investment mistakes

The bottom line is that data is there to enable businesses make better and more informed decisions. When you know the outcomes that you are trying to achieve its a lot easier to focus on the results you are moving all your business teams towards, which means that you need full alignment with your business operating model. You don’t need to do it all in one go in one big drawn out large-scale delivery programme. Breaking it down to incremental and cost driven delivery will achieve quick wins, greater accuracy and information as you move forward. As this information surfaces, communicating it and being transparent with all levels of your team and customers is often what achieves the greatest buy in and engagement to ensure success rather than failure.


Essentially its more of the rapid prototyping, rapid digitisation, but with Minimum Viable Datasets (MVD), as well as Products. Apply the ‘LEAN start-up’ model to your delivery programmes and you achieve dexterity and enable the core tactics of an agile culture and ways of working that facilitate higher delivery and transformational impact. By default you will also create a culture of engagement, buzz, excitement and transparency that will reinvigorate teams and processes alike.

In summary:

  • Data is at the heart of transformation, but it requires executive sponsorship and championing from the outset.

  • It also requires a digital by default mindset; thus understanding that cultural change is unavoidable as a result.

  • It requires pragmatism as always in regards to time, scope and execution - this facilitates and combats any overreaching issues and avoids unnecessary complexity noise and confusion, which as we all know can create inertia, fear and freeze within organisations.

  • Finally and at risk of preaching to the converted or banging on a drum that is well beaten - Customer centric design should be central to determining benefits and outcomes in terms of the WHAT and HOW. Build something that your customer wants and not what you think will fix the problem.

  • Tech (IT) should support the business and enable it, not be blamed for all its failures and put at the heart of centralised programmes ahead of understanding the actual business problems.

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