If I Could Do It All Again... (14: Dan Foley)

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Dan Foley

If I could do it all again, I’d ensure that due attention was paid to the importance of master data. Whether moving from one system to another, an upgrade of similar systems, the pre- and post-loading, data archiving or data cleansing, the importance of having a safe pair of hands at the tiller can't be underestimated.

I remember being transferred onto a particular transformation project where I was told at the first briefing that the data workstream was "green" …. On lifting the covers via some basic investigation, I discovered it was in fact "gangrene"! Whole change programmes' successes have been eaten away by underestimating the impact of not managing the data workstream correctly.

Why does this happen? Lack of planning and experience doesn’t help as folk focus on the systems impact ….. most legacy systems have operated via workarounds to force data through various old interfaces. When dealing with the transformation, folk seems to forget that the data quality was poor before. I have also evidenced a propensity to have the more junior business colleagues moved onto the data workstream – this is a suicide manoeuvre for any programme.

In the cases I have experienced where data has caused problems, it has ranged from (i) master data objects such as Vendor, Supplier etc. being cleansed and loaded incorrectly, to (ii) supply chains almost coming to a standstill as poduct and/or pricing master data was significantly lacking in both data integrity and quality! After all the good work on systems, process and people, for any transformation programme to bring the business to its knees because of "bad" data seems like negligence. But that’s what happens... Loads of us have experienced this and the onward impact of this lack of respect for the business systems' lifeblood.

A few simple steps which might assist in avoiding this known pitfall would include:

  • Take it for given – unless there is solid empirical and organisation evidence – that master data integrity and quality are poor! And will need significant work!
  • Bring in an experienced data management/maintenance professional to manage the data workstream
  • Resource the data workstream with a mix of solid, experienced business and technical resource
  • At the first formal programme communication/engagement, start the "Data X-Factor" … spell out in black and white the impacts of getting this wrong …. but also provide the solution to get it right!
  • Measure – measure – measure… the data cleansing and signoff work! Keep the details in focus all the time!
  • Buy in the business/customers to the overall data process … get names, numbers, and dates available ….. make it real for one and all
  • Undertake a number of simulations of the data extraction, validation and loading routines
  • Plan for those in the data workstream to have a break (e.g. few days away) before the cutover work commences: they have to be at their freshest
  • Have everyone connected to the data workstream physically stationed in one area during cutover - this will reduce the gaps that can arise in issue management across different locations
  • Plan to have data colleagues as key parts of any programme stabilisation/warranty/post go-live support team – don’t let them roll off early as there will be issues
  • Following the above and all going to an integrated plan, celebrate the success of this being a significant programme risk well mitigated!

Finally, you will now have the platform to drive the Data Management Strategy for the business - In today’s economic climate, you will find a lot of willing listeners than before given the overall cost of "bad" data!

About the Author

Dan Foley is the Business Service Center director with ITV plc, the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster operating a multi-platform, content driven business and one of Europe’s leading production companies. Dan is a qualified accountant and has nearly nine years’ direct experience in the strategic, tactical and operational direction and management of shared services centers. Dan has been a key leader in the growth of National Australia Group, Diageo and Marks & Spencer’s award winning services centers. A well known and respected contributor on the shared service center circuit, Dan never ceases to provide engaging, lateral and challenging insights to the fields of Leadership, People and Customer Service.