5 keys of data-driven decision making

Mike Peterson | Digital Content Performance Analyst, DDM | August 1, 2015

The amount and complexity of data coursing through the digital media space will only continue to grow and provide myriad challenges and opportunities for individual organizations. Formal data governance can be a key differentiator, enabling organizations to move beyond the efficient day-to-day management of business units and to harness the power of their unique proprietary data. Strategic, data-driven decision-making leveraging this proprietary data is a powerful basis for a competitive advantage.

Data governance can be broadly described as a program whereby organizations define and manage the availability, usability, integrity and security of the data underlying an enterprise. The purpose of the data governance program should be to optimize an organization’s return on data assets. I’d like to address five critical aspects of data governance that we are currently focusing on at Deseret Digital Media.

1. The formation of a centralized data governance team

As with most organizations of our size and complexity, we have several very different arms of the business that all depend on diverse data sets to make strategic decisions. In order to unify the efforts of many seemingly disparate groups, we have established a centralized, cross-functional team of data stewards, product owners, engineers and analysts. This combination of vantages and skill sets enables us to take a holistic view of the business problems that individual business units are trying to solve.

Another benefit of a centralized data governance team is to create standards for how data is defined and captured. Inevitably, if disparate groups operate in silos with respect to data collection, use and storage, separate data ecosystems arise that aren’t likely to be compatible. It is much more effective to establish data definitions for an organization first. From these basic definitions of metrics, dimensions and segments and their sources, the KPIs and the organization’s business objectives can be defined in a manner that lends consistency and comparability across the organization.

2. Proprietary data is a strategic asset

The proprietary data of a media organization ought to be conceived of and managed as any other major company asset. Data governance supports this by contributing the rules, policies, roles and tools that need to be in place to ensure data is accurate, complete, available and secure. Managed in the right way, this particular strategic asset should be thought of as a foundational element for building a competitive advantage.

This potential alone is an indicator of the magnitude of the impact that implementing and executing sound data governance can have on the profitability of an organization. Allowing valuable data to flow through your enterprise without storing, processing, visualizing and extracting insights to inform strategic decisions would be akin to hiring talented writers, sales representatives, engineers and analysts without providing training and development opportunities and an environment that allow them to reach their potential and thereby create inspired products.

3. Compliance and executive buy-in

In order for a data governance to yield its maximum benefit, it can’t be done halfway or piecemeal. Data definitions and standards for storage, processing, distribution and security need to feed into a virtuous circle of compliance and inspiring confidence. If business unit owners and executives are able to receive consistent and accurate data from various sources in an organization, they will be confident that sound data management practices are being followed. This confidence is the basis for establishing the value of dedicating management, engineering and analytical resources to a centralized data governance department. Value can be attributed to such a group by articulating measurable and testable goals pertaining to the building of business solutions built upon specific data sets.

On the flip side, it only takes one or two conflicting reports driven by non-standard data definitions or practices out of alignment to undermine confidence in an organization’s data management practices. High consequence decisions become harder to make, and the perceived value of data governance diminishes.

4. Demonstrate repeatability/establish and measure value

So, how does an organization set out to incorporate data governance? The answer is to start by picking a finite area of focus and set of issues. Then a value proposition for data governance should be agreed upon — for instance, “Leverage our data to create insights that improve profitability of operations through better organizational decisions.” From here, specific, measurable, testable goals should be formulated that will be used to evaluate the success of initial data governance efforts.

Here at DDM, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with a talented group of business owners, executives, sales representatives, analysts and engineers within the KSL Classifieds division. We are currently putting the blueprints together to add products that we have identified as potentially highly valuable for our partners through discussions with the above-mentioned team as well as client needs and feedback provided by our sales and client support teams. We’ve defined the necessary data components and identified the tools that are capturing the data and ideas for the underlying technology to power the product. I hope that I have the opportunity early next year to write about a successful product launch in more depth.

5. Communications

It is mission critical for data governance team members to be able to articulate data stakeholder and business unit needs and to be able to translate these into database structures and data collection system architecture and back into reports and publishable analytics. We hold weekly meetings at DDM that involve all the cross-functional members of our data governance group. This forum helps ensure that as we work our way from data definition, collection and processing to execution of business strategy, we are absolutely confident that we are leveraging the right data to explicitly address the business problem at hand. This forum also ensures that all customer voices, internal and external, are heard and addressed. The presence of sales and client relationship staff is absolutely critical as the elements that help our external clients be successful are distilled into our data definition and collection layer.