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(Oxford Dictionary)

Making a Mass of your Data

White Paper By Ari Buchwald 2005

Like many a classic vintage board game, business is such a simple concept. Simply accumulate all your game pieces (assets) and move forward in a strategic and methodical manner. Imagine then, the object of the game is to develop a centralized marketing data mart that contains a wealth of information on all of your customers' preferences, hopes and dreams. Everyone in the organization could benefit from it; operations would have a better handle on logistics, merchants could glean trends for optimizing purchasing, management would unerringly trend for the future, and most of all, us marketers could analyze and optimize every contact with customers.

In other words, we would have achieved the Yahtzee of business, the allegedly unattainable holy grail of CRM. While it is a simple premise on paper, many doubters still consider it a literary fiction. "We're all mad here", the grinning Cheshire cat from Alice in wonderland might say, if he were to overhear a meeting to discuss the situation and possibilities.

Can we do it?

So your efforts may be seen within the organization as playing with games and reading bedtime stories, but your task is to make the concepts real. Attaining this panacea is easier said than done... the truth is that legacy systems don't talk to each other in real time and a little secret that many data system providers may not let on is that their solutions only deliver information...

Understand technology shortfalls.

Middleware will guide the transformation process and deliver data from doorstep to doorstep, but will not inject it into the previous or next system. Additional work or customization is still required to get that data into the heart of the next tool to allow that next system to understand what exactly is being fed in and what should be done with the information.

Custom development groups in most organizations are often too consumed with building or supporting system requests from last century to effectively deal with this issue and manage it in an ongoing manner. To further obfuscate this issue, outside vendors and consultants might be licking their chops while viewing your organization and project as their opportunity to become Bill Gates style wealthy.

Hedging your bets.

Even though technology keeps advancing, we are in the nascent stages of mastering our marketing data collection and delivery systems. Remember that it has taken the automotive industry double-digit decades to bring the quality of their products to today's current standards for efficiency, comfort and reliability.

Half-done efforts on any information-oriented system projects will most definitely result in a mess of data rather than a mass of data. Still, while caution is advised, progress is advocated.

Sure it is true that many (some say most) CRM efforts fail, but no reward is without risk. So to start on the right path or to right the road your organization is on; the prudent course is to follow some basic tips and constantly measure your results.

Develop a data roadmap.

Good short term and long range planning should follow your understanding of your data. A thorough assessment of existing data and processes is crucial to bring data together into a cohesive and functional system.

Even matching batch processes to each other could cause schisms in hygiene, much less the addition of real time data feeds from sources such as POS and Call Centers.

By developing a staged roadmap with tangible milestones, you can track progress and change course should the need arise. Separate your roadmap into data, process and functionality. Within these three areas, gauge your needs by assessing your current state and compare it to your desired state. The resulting gap analysis can be used to drive your project, your measurement of success and the division of your projects into milestones.

For each actionable area in defining the current state, the gap analysis and the future state, divide discrete efforts into milestone tasks and assign a measure for success. For example, one might start by mapping out high-level existing data types within buckets like customer, transaction, and product data. The next step would be to list out ideal data types and locations.

Match your current data state to the future state data in a spreadsheet organized to accommodate details such as current location and optimal destination, source systems and processes that affect the data. With this effort in place, one will be able to determine the broader tasks required to move toward the future state. List current state processes that touch the data today and future state processes and touch points that will access or manipulate the data later on in the evolution.

These efforts should start to clump together into logical groups that can be mapped out into distinct projects. When forming this list of projects, assign a very high-level mission statement to each effort. When this list is complete, you can map the groupings into a meta-project roadmap. Tie to this a quantifiable mission statement for the milestone such as, "Creation of a cohesive high-level data entity diagram" or, "Outline of system functional requirements for Brand Managers".

Where is your data now?

Hygiene, security and privacy are major process issues that will have to be addressed when assessing current or future systems. By understanding and mapping these specific issues, you will be in a better position to understand the implications to your data mart.

Laws keep changing and by nature, are becoming more restrictive. An understanding of current policies and how they affect data sources, processing and usage will definitely come in handy as system builds or reviews come into play.

As you map these issues, consider who is responsible for each component. Collecting their positions, roles and responsibilities for data will naturally start to build out a directory of users and owners. This too, can be a huge effort as we are considering three aspects of data here: Data, Process and Processed Data. Each of these components is obviously interrelated and all have their own legal implications.

While the whole of mapping hygiene, security and privacy could very well require additional resources (or a dedicated full-time staff), at least addressing and understanding the very top line owners and components may save you valuable time as potential issues arise in the future. Try to focus on a few select questions, such as “What happens to data as it flows from place to place?” “Who touches or has access to the data?” and, “Who ultimately is the owner (Data, Process and Processed Data)?”

Building the base.

By performing some of these baseline mapping and tracking efforts, you will create a measurable and quantifiable base to build your platform and technology. These tools can be used for periodic reference checks to make sure your road or building blocks have not shifted, and if they have, the tools will allow you to adjust and better ensure that you are on the path to success! This is the building block for kind of success story your management team will love to hear, and remember that if you consider that business is like a game, understanding the rules and the particular pieces is your first best bet towards winning!

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