Too many organizations start their data projects at the wrong end of the pipeline. Although challenges with data quality, integrity, access, and visibility are all important issues to address, a project should never start with the data. The reality is that all investments in data are meaningless if no business value can be gained. And this requires starting at the other end of the spectrum - evaluating the business problem to identify how data can help drive change within the organization. For instance, instead of only identifying that data quality issues exist within specific data sources, companies need to define the impact of those data quality issues on business outcomes. What risks are associated with incorrect, incomplete, or non-compliant data? Questions like this and the following highlight that data supports business problems as  symptoms, but not actual causes, of the data challenges themselves.

Asking the right questions 

Evaluating root causes to data challenges requires asking several questions. Some of them include: 

  • Why aren’t you achieving your defined metrics?
  • Why is customer experience suffering?
  • Why are attrition numbers higher than expected? 
  • Why aren’t sales quotas being met?
  • Where should marketing dollars be spent to be most impactful?
  • How do can supply chain be management more effectively?
  • Are there gaps in overall business visibility that are causing increases in potential risk?

Organizations can ask different types of questions to get to the bottom of the challenges being experienced. All questions require an understanding of why data driven cultures support business success, but do not live in a vacuum. 

Understanding the root cause of data issues

It is important to remember that even though data quality, integrity, access, and visibility may be a cause, they are not the actual challenge. Yes, organizations need visibility into operations and require an understanding of their supply chain, customers, sales and marketing pipelines, etc. Not having visibility is part of the problem, but why is it the problem and what happens when a company does not have access to or insight into their data assets. Basically, in order to find and fix the root cause, companies need to start with why their business is suffering, and where they are falling short. 

Making sure companies focus on the “why’s” of their data challenges and how they affect business success or potential failure becomes a key component of project success. Too many projects focus on data movement or building a set of pipelines without identifying what makes the most sense.

The reality of success 

Leveraging a data integration platform or various tools to solve problems will only be successful if the root cause is defined in advance. As an example, several of my consulting engagements started off with the words “we need a data warehouse” or “we want dashboards” or “we don’t trust our data”. All of these are valid requests, but until a business takes a step back and puts in the work required to understand why they are not succeeding or where their challenges lie, it becomes impossible to successfully build out a long-term successful data strategy required to enable better business outcomes.