Data has never been more important to business, yet it is often feared - or ignored - by management. The new IDM Award offers a highly practical way to increase knowledge across an organisation, as David Reed finds out.
“CapGemini identified £46 billion in missed profits from poor data management in the UK”
Are you qualified to do your job? Outside of a profession, most of us start our working lives with some form of generic qualification (a degree in business studies, finance or similar) and learn the specifics as we go along. Data management, despite its apparently technical nature, is no different. Unless you are doing the hands-on heavy lifting of statistical modeling or perhaps database building, then you may not have an academic basis for the work.
Which begs the question - what would the right academic qualification actually be? Numeracy, an understanding of business and even some knowledge of law are all part of being a data practitioner. So, too, is marketing experience and a feel for the end customer. Quite a brief as job specifications go.
Which is why the new IDM Award in Data Management is receiving such a positive welcome. “There are a lot of companies who have IT people doing their data management. They tend to have very focused professional qualifications, such as vendor-oriented certificates,” notes Andy McDermott, director of sales and marketing at Coopers of Stortford.
“This will appeal to a broader range because it is portable and business-focused. It is not ‘on-the-job’ training - it can be part of structured employee development. It is also for people who want to professionalise their skills and get a qualification,” he says. McDermott notes that data is becoming ever more important to the majority of companies. The explosion of digital channels is fuelling this, since they have data at their heart. The status of data has also been rising. “Ten years ago, the contacts I had in direct marketing were all at a junior level - now they are senior people,” he says.
That view is reinforced by Colin Grieves, director of data strategy at Experian: “There is now a wave of individuals moving into the upper echelons of organisations who do understand data and its value. They want to monetise that asset.” He adds: “Data is a driver of marketing and risk. If you get it right, it will add value.” Getting it wrong increases risks - from potential losses of data through theft or neglect to the loss of commercial opportunities by failing to spot when a customer is ready or able to make a purchase. When CapGemini quantified this in a study in 2008, they identified £46 billion in missed profits.
As Keith Jones, head of data at Royal Mail, says: “It is important to give a framework for people to know what to do and how to create value with data. It will focus attention on the issue of who owns data in the business. In smaller businesses, managers don’t even get what data is - that is a big issue.”
For this reason, the new qualification has been created specifically with business users in mind. To ask the right questions and put data to use appropriately in an organisation, it is vital to have an understanding of what is involved - from how to capture and manage it through to the way it is modeled and kept secure.
The Award embraces all of these dimensions and more. Critically, it is this business-orientation that should also draw in technically-minded data practitioners. Learning what concerns management and how to put a compelling business case for data management in front of them is essential, yet not covered in IT-centric qualifications. “Data-related qualifications at the moment tend to be greatly biased towards data infrastructure - SQL Server, Oracle DBA, etc - and less so for management of the actual data and compliance issues around it,” says Dave Thompson, data governance manager at Speedy Hire. “These qualifications will vastly increase the awareness of data itself and the impact it should have on a business from the ground up. If recruitment cannot be sourced with these qualifications, it will form part of personal development plans in the not too distant future as this type of awareness is key to great data management,” adds Thompson.
He points out that awareness of the impact of good data management within his company has increased significantly. Both large and small projects aimed at driving business efficiencies are now recognising that data has to provide the foundation and starting point if they are to succeed. That is revealing a number of things. The first is that data is not well understood by most business managers and is often ignored as a result. The second is that much of the knowledge that exists around data management has not been formalised or distributed for a non-technical audience, even in the context of marketing.
“While the ability to measure cause, effect and behavioural change driven by direct marketing activity has been acknowledged and understood for several decades, the principle drivers and data that sit behind this have not been fully understood and, at worse, met with confusion - or worse, fear,” says Michael Green, IT director at John Lewis. “This situation has perpetuated and deepened with rapid developments in technology, digital capability, etc. The proliferation and disparity of data can be overwhelming,” he says. The Award should help to demystify many of these issues and broaden the understanding about them in the business world. At any level, taking a qualification that is practical, rather than technical, should lead to better commercial outcomes.
Green argues that, “as 'customer insight' becomes a currency and topic of discussion in board rooms across the UK, understanding the data that can support both marketing communication and commercial decision-making is more important than ever before.” A similar point is made by Tim Drye, director of DataTalk. “It will help with clients’ decision making, which is all about managing risk. There is a very big risk when a decision is based on faith, rather than based on data. Reducing that risk is the real role of good data management. Once you have quantified the risk, you can decide what you want to do about it.” He provides an example from personal experience when a bank card and PIN number were mailed to an address he had not lived at for 24 years. In trying to identify why the problem occurred, Drye was told by a succession of departments that the company “had no data protection officer” or could not comment unless he made a complaint.
In the end, the problem was due to poor data integration due to the absence of a data of birth on one record. Drye believes such problems often arise from the view that data is an IT issue. “IT controls a lot of data management, but data is just an element of what they do. To them, a customer address is just seven data fields - they don’t get the value of it,” he says.
Changing this situation around involves a better understanding of data, better internal processes and a top-down willingness to make improvements. “A lot of poor management decisions are made because of poor data management,” says Nigel Grimes, consultant with Teradata. “That comes into focus in meetings when you get sales figures and marketing figures that do not roll up to the same totals. So decisions will be all over the place.”
He points out that, “O2 have reconciled their financial and marketing data so they don’t spend the whole time arguing about who has got the right figures. The wastage of senior management time through that is amazing.”
While commercial organisations look to data management for performance improvements, the data industry is changing its own outlook. The IDM Award in Data Management is notable for having the full support of the Direct Marketing Association, which is sponsoring the Data Security module. As an indicator of just how vital the subject has become, this is strong evidence of the direction in which things are moving. “Data management is key to the industry. We see data management, privacy and security as closely interlinked,” says Mike Lordan, chief of operations at the DMA. “It is becoming more important by the day.”