Podcast: ‘Data first’ a key principle of digital transformation

Be certain about who needs access to data, the purpose the data will be put to, and that the data is of good quality. Those are among the key principles of data management put forward by Chris Gorton, senior vice-president and managing director of data management specialist Syniti, in this podcast.

Gorton explains the care required when sharing data, how to ensure data quality, and the people, process, technology and governance required in data management for digital transformation projects. In short, it is about putting “data first”.

Antony Adshead: What are the key obstacles to efficient sharing of data across an organisation and what are the potential impacts of not dealing with them?

Chris Gorton: The first thing I’d say about data sharing is, obviously, be careful. We see all of the different perspectives in the news of what happens when data sharing goes wrong.

But if we look a little bit deeper into the data sharing discussion, I always urge people to think about three key areas.

One is, think about the business process that you are supporting in conjunction with sharing data. So, who are the recipients of that data, why do they need that data and, most importantly, is it the right data in the right format for them to be able to consume that in a way that’s useful?



And, if you like, thinking about the business processes, then critical, and then linking to the other two key topics and obstacles that organisations have to get right for data sharing.

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The first one is the quality of that data. I think there is reputational damage that organisations don’t fully appreciate, within their organisation and sometimes externally, about what poor data quality in conjunction with data sharing can bring, which obviously very closely links with the governance topic.

Again, if you link back to the stories in the press about data sharing, about people getting access to data they shouldn’t, the way that you govern that information is absolutely critical: who should see data, what bits of the data can they see, and ensuring the quality that governs that data is absolutely critical.

And, still today I talk to many organisations, even in situations like their own internal data sharing around data lakes, where they think the biggest challenge is how do we share data into a centralised repository that everyone can use?

Technically, this is the biggest challenge, but we still see lack of thought around the use of that data, what governs that data, and that the quality of the data is still a secondary concern.

Adshead: What steps do organisations need to take with regard to their data as they embark on digital transformation?

Gorton: I like to do things in threes, so number one is think “data first” and not “data last”. Too often when we see companies planning their digital transformations, data is the lowest priority.

People look at design, system selection and who are going to be the vendors for a particular digital transformation. But what they’ve got to remember is that the system they choose and the way they choose to work moving forward will only be successful based on the data that they have or that they need to create to be successful in delivering the right outcome.

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Which leads us then into people need to employ the right skills for the job when it comes to data. Too often, organisations rely on generalised data principles and practitioners rather than talking to a specialist. My CEO says to me all the time, if you’re going to have cardiac surgery, you’re not going to speak to your GP and get advice on how best to do that – you want to speak to a cardiac surgeon.

The same applies for data, which leads me to the final piece.

Whether for digital transformation, like any business process in an organisation, you have to think: people, process, and technology. Data should be held with the same regard.

So, when you think about how you move as a data-first organisation, you need to think about not just the tools. There are lots of tools out there that can help deliver parts of data migration, data quality, how you store data and how you visualise data.

But what we’ve really realised over the 20 years we’ve been doing this is that it’s the blend of people, process and/or methodology and technology is the only way you can drive true success. 

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