Recently, I met with the leaders of several different departments at an organization. Each of them described an ongoing data strategy exercise but they all described it in a different way. As the interviews progressed, I was reminded of a fable about a group of blind men describing an elephant; depending upon where each man stood relative to the elephant, one described it as a rope (the tail), a fan (the ear), a solid wall (the abdomen), etc. By the third interview, I realized that each person with whom I spoke was conducting his or her independent data strategy exercise – one in IT, one in sales, one in accounting, etc. Each of them had a sound plan for discovering and mapping out the data in their department and they were all enthusiastic about the efficiencies and improved clarity and data integrity ahead. The problem was that each of those departments needed to use many of the same pieces of data, and their individual strategies weren’t coordinated. They were on the brink of implementing a new system which would also use, consume, or produce data that was critical to each of the departments.
When we encounter situations like this, we coach our clients to think more broadly. Take a step back and try to see the whole elephant. Ask questions like:
- What is my strategy, and what are the key pieces of information I need to determine how successful I am at delivering on that strategy?
- Where does that data exist today, and what does the data, “map,” look like? How does data move between systems, groups, and/or processes today?
- What are the key inputs, processes, and outputs for each my major processes (sales, finance and accounting, operations, HR, etc.)? How should information flow through my organization in the most efficient and effective way?
- Based on my future plans, what new kinds of information and/or systems may be coming into our organization in the near future, and how should it fit with the existing data?
These questions aren’t easy to answer, and they can rarely be answered in a vacuum or by a small group of people around a table in a conference room. Rather, this process is most effective when we engage multiple key functional leaders to contribute their input and vision for the future. Other key skillsets to include in these sessions are database analysts, systems analysts, and business analysts who understand the current data and application environment and who can document the requirements for the future. Finally, an experienced facilitator can help to drive the conversation and bridge the gap between the business and IT and between the current state and the potential future state.
Organizations who work through the process are more likely to come up with an accurate picture of the elephant, rather than a fan, a rope, and a wall. To learn more about how RSM can assist you with your other business needs, contact RSM’s management consulting professionals at 800.274.3978 or email us.