I received an email recently from The White House thanking me for writing The President at some point in the past. I write a lot so I can’t remember what I had written, but I am sure it was something positive and lacked any political teeth because I tend to stay away from political debate. Most likely it was a supportive note to President Obama for something he had done that impressed me in his ability to be a good man or father. In any case it was really nice to receive a thank you note today for the email I had written. This was especially endearing given the number of emails and letters his office must receive. Granted, as a data guy, I know they probably just ran a few queries on the names of all the people they have received emails from and sent a blanket “thank you” back to the list of names whose emails did not contain any of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it’s the thought that counts.
Whether you are The President of the United States, the mayor of a medium-sized city or the proprietor of a small store on Main Street U.S.A., the importance of making those you serve feel that they are heard is universal. We all want to know we have a voice and that we make a difference, or at the very least – we matter. In his email, President Obama states that, “As a proud American citizen, I believe that we are a constant work in progress.” This statement got me thinking about what that means to someone who wants to matter. Although his letter to me was not about business intelligence or data, it did ring a bell in my head about the importance of continuing to challenge yourself and your organization to strive to be better. For me it is what we do on a daily basis to ensure that we matter.
This does not mean that we are broken or have failed. It means that as long as we continue to breathe air with our lungs, we should look to move forward and upward in both business and private life. You can be President or run a small data organization; it matters not. What matters is that you see the importance of progression. To me it means that although we have established data quality standards and practices we need to continue to push the cart forward. It is not enough that we have a process in place. Data quality should be everyone’s responsibility and therefore we need to ensure everyone in the organization owns the cleanliness of the organization’s data. It is not enough that we have identified data stewards and are working within established policies to govern certain master data elements. We need to broaden the scope to cover all master data in the organization. It is not enough to create a data environment that is modeled to enable the creation of robust, multi-department insights. We must strive to enable those in our organization the ability to self-serve and create their own insights both timely and accurately. And it is not enough to rest idly on the technologies we use today to analyze and deliver our data insights. We must always be on the look-out for more robust, cost-effective, cutting edge technologies that will allow us to analyze all of the data our organization produces, not just the structured data.
With this in mind you may feel overwhelmed at times and even want to throw up your hands in exasperation, but fear not. This is the beauty of the work in progress. There is no expectation of perfection. There is only the expectation that you will continue to make your data environment better, more powerful, more robust, and more insightful. Data organizations are faced with a tsunami of expectations and change in the coming years. The power of new tools makes accessing and gleaning insight from your source system data a no-brainer. There is almost no excuse for not getting into the game. Everyone seems to be jumping in and the fear of being overtaken by your competition or peers may keep you up at night. Don’t give into your fears. Go back to sleep, but before you do draw up a maturity curve for your organization. In the simplest of terms, a maturity curve is essentially a diagram that shows where you are going and what milestones you intend to achieve to get there.
Give some thought to where you want to be in one, two or five years from now and make that the top end of the curve. The bottom end, the one at the far left, is your lowest point – that is today. Remember though that it’s placement on the curve does not imply something negative. The actual curve is whatever you make of it. It consists of the steps you plan to take, each one building on the previous that will get you to that point at the end. It is the process you intend to take over the coming days, weeks, months and years to drive you to that goal. If you do reach that end point, rejoice, for it now becomes the new low point on your next curve. In fact, I would suggest renewing the curve annually and truly buying into the “work in progress” mantra.
So fellow citizen, I challenge you to embrace you. Embrace your organization. Embrace your practice. Embrace your data. Stand back from your data practice and think of one thing you can improve today to move you along that curve and do it. It’s what matters in your journey. It’s your work in progress.