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In the digital era, data has become the lubricant for competitive advantage. However, what percentage of businesses, and in particular CIOs, have their data ready to create that advantage? I asked CIOs this question during a recent CIOChat. Their answers should be valuable for anyone involved in the data value chain, especially those trying to make their data useful.

Is Your Data Ready for Business Users and Data Scientists?

Many of the CIOs on the chat said they were on the path to making data useful, but admitted their data is not yet ready for prime time. For these CIOs, their power users have a reasonable level of data capacity, but making data accessible, governed and managed remains a strategic effort. Nevertheless, they say they’re excited about rolling up their sleeves and delivering the data the business needs.

One CIO working in the education field said their data currently has little authenticity or integrity, let alone governance. This data governance is needed before the data can be considered valid. 

The first step for many is making data available as well as secure. Quality depends on the source. Additionally, respondents said many organizations have a data discovery problem. These organizations don't know what data they have and even worse, they can’t agree on how to define key terms or how to eliminate territorial attitudes about who owns data internally.

Some CIOs believe data is never fully ready. In fact, they said it is essential to be able to discover, experiment, learn, document and then improve data quality. These CIOs labeled their combined data problems as “data debt.” To reduce the size of data debt, business owners need to engage more with their IT partners on data. Yet unfortunately, IT isn’t always gaining full value from its partner relationships.

An important first step according to multiple CIOs is to create a governance program that establishes place owners, stewards and custodian rules. This program should manage quality, security, business rules and descriptions, cleanliness, and golden records. A goal should be data definitions and habits around explaining which data people are using and why these can help. Doing this well will clearly take time and experience, from both the providers of the data and consumers of data. It is essential, for this reason, that CIOs facilitate more structure, clarity and governance.

Related Article: Data Ingestion Best Practices

What Are the Biggest Problems With Data Readiness?

Many problems arise when trying to make data more broadly accessible. Everything starts, however, by establishing a data strategy, which involves knowing what business users want to do with the data. Having said this, common problems for CIOs in data readiness include:

Strategy

Governance

Accessibility

Leveraging Data

Data Definitions

Availability

Data Culture

Data Maintenance

Security

Data Strategy

Data Program Governance

Breaking Down Silos

Data Governance and Stewardship

Data governance has become an essential digital capability. Multiple people said IT leaders need to help their organizations get proactive data governance, data management and become data-driven organizations with self-service business intelligence (BI). One CIO suggested bringing in an outside group to establish guidelines, set standards and set up ownership if it isn't happening organically.

In the above process, it is critical to establish a partnership between IT and business data owners. While IT can assist the business with data quality and by putting in place shared data tools, the business needs to handle the physical data custodian processes. Establishing a methodology or governance type framework like that suggested by The Data Governance Institute helps. The most important thing is using and enforcing these frameworks. Otherwise the data governance program dies, becomes ignored or useless.

At its core, data governance should involve making sure that data business definitions and rules are consistent across operational and analytic data. It doesn't do any good to have great data quality in one area only. It is critical to correct as far down the data value chain instead of having the source error.

Related Article: Good Data Governance in the Platform Age

Items on the Data Improvement Agenda

CIOs want the business to know what data the organization has and how it should be used and processed to get the right information for the right business decision. Self-service is still a long way away without a plan. For those aiming for self-service, a cleanup effort is necessary as well as the creation of a better repository. At the same time, CIOs said it's time to streamline their integrations, to reduce the manual work involved in monitoring, cleaning up and conducting exception-handling. Organizations with chief data officers (CDOs) need to bring them into the conversation early on in the process. One CIO said as part of their effort to connect with the CDO they hosted a data day in which, along with the CDO, they built the working structures, governance and strategy to make their data future even better.

Parting Remarks

It's time for CIOs to focus on data. This requires a frank assessment of where their organization is along the data journey. Business users also need to get their data house in order and eliminate the built-up data debt. As Tom Davenport wrote in "Analytics at Work," "if you want to make better decisions and take the right actions, you have to use analytics … However, you can’t be really good at analytics without really good data.”