TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

How to Resolve Competing Information Management Strategies

The complexity of modern corporations can promote competing data strategies. You need a cohesive strategy before your energy can be focused on solving business problems.

A good IM strategy builds a framework across people and organization, process and methodology, and technology and architecture. Creating a singular, cohesive IM strategy that meets the many needs of your enterprise can be challenging -- consider budget restrictions, aging technology, talent concerns, or a history of missed commitments.

One of the most complex challenges may involve competing IM strategies within a larger ecosystem.

Examples of Competing IM Strategies

What scenarios can spark competing strategies within an organization?

  • Multiple subsidiaries within a large corporation
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Large departments having their own data management teams
  • Centralized and localized IT functions with competing responsibilities

Although these are often signs of a successful, expanding business, they can breed competition among people, processes, and technology resources. Following are two specific examples I've witnessed over the years that were breeding grounds for a competitive environment.

Example 1: Company merger. Two large telecom companies merge; they struggle to develop synergies, consolidate, and align across functions and processes. The data warehouse teams of both companies have significant data assets to support the new company. Pressured to find the right consolidation options, both teams become defensive and each maneuvers to show why their team is not replaceable and their platform is the right long-term solution.

Example 2: Subsidiaries. A large insurance company has many subsidiaries with dedicated IT departments that function independently to meet local data needs. Meanwhile, the company has a centralized data warehouse designed to create synergy and address data management needs across subsidiaries. Unfortunately, the localized teams don't trust the centralized IT team and believe that the centralized team will not understand or meet the individual needs of the subsidiaries. The localized IT and business teams begin to build their own strategies to ensure their business needs are met.

We Have Competing Strategies, Now What?

These examples provide a glimpse into the complexities that exist in a successful corporation, and we can see a common denominator of competing IM strategies across IT and business groups. Perhaps you can relate to one or both examples and -- as you read between the lines -- you have your own passionate beliefs about what is right or wrong with each scenario. Beliefs aside, let's look at how a leadership team can bring unity.

The Political Factor

Political objectives can create an undercurrent of issues beneath the surface of recognizable business challenges. They can prove to be the largest detractor to gaining a truly cohesive vision and IM strategy. Like a fault line waiting to erupt, the negative whispers from this undercurrent can cause much damage and must be brought from the hallways to the table to be appropriately addressed by leadership. The best way to address political issues is to have leadership come together and lay the concerns on the table in order to find the high-stakes, high-emotion touch points. Work through the list of concerns to find logical, justifiable solutions. By bringing these issues to light and turning the focus to true business value and return on investment, you will find tensions ease and emotions dissipate. Such an exercise can be eye-opening and significantly improve communications in a highly volatile environment.

Centralized Versus Localized

Address the value of a fully centralized strategy versus localized support teams by asking key questions such as:

  • Do our business units have grossly different business functions or are they fairly identical?
  • How many of our data sources are shared among our business units?
  • How important is data integration across our business areas?

For example, we may find in one case that our data sources are significantly different and no real business value will be gained by integrating the data. In addition, a strong partnership exists between the localized IT and business teams. In such a case, a federated architecture may be preferable. This could achieve synergy through data source methodologies, technology alignment, master data and dimension data management integration, and skill sharing. It allows localized IT and business teams to drive information delivery and enables an IM strategy centered on business units.

In contrast, if the data and business functions significantly overlap and centralized functions are strongly engaged across business units, then a centralized strategy may prove more beneficial. In this case, the centralized strategy may yield higher business value, prevent duplication, and make better use of company resources.

When considering how to align teams, consider their focus. One team may focus on technology advancement and platform architecture more than business knowledge and engagement. Do not underestimate the value of subject matter expertise and the business relationship -- two essential ingredients needed to understand data usage so you can better leverage data assets and maximize business value.

Enabling the business and IT partnership is critical to success, so take business knowledge and engagement into account when choosing your strategy. After all, maximizing business value is the end goal.

Moving Toward Consolidated Strategy

Sometimes compromises are needed to strike a balance across business units. For example, consider a case where a strategic new business unit is given more control of data management in order to move quickly while a sister business unit remains fully supported by a centralized function. When you allow for smart synergies driven by true business needs, you know your decisions are rightly motivated.

Regardless of your vantage point, competing information management strategies only create distractions that detract from the goals of your business. If they are not properly dealt with, your teams can operate counterproductively for years in an offensive or defensive mode. With a cohesive IM strategy, your energy can be focused on solving -- not creating -- business problems.

About the Author

Wes Flores of McKnight Consulting Group has over 20 years of experience in the data management field. Specializing in the areas of enterprise data warehousing, MDM, analytics and BI programs, he has worked mid-sized to Fortune 15 companies with a passion in promoting data as an asset. You can contact the author at Wflores@mcknightcg.com.

TDWI Membership

Accelerate Your Projects,
and Your Career

TDWI Members have access to exclusive research reports, publications, communities and training.

Individual, Student, & Team memberships available.