Improving poor information foundations

The CFO’s Software Purchase Checklist Part 2

Mark Atkins, Intraversed


Traditionally, CFO's who do not have an IT background have had to trust their CIOs or CDOs assessment of the business's problems and needs, and the solution suggestions they put forward for resolution of those problems.

But as we all know, IT software purchases/builds notoriously fail to stick to budgets nor deliver scope.

In our previous blog (read it here), we offered CFO's a checklist to determine whether a new software purchase/build is the right choice to make, right now, to solve the problems a business is having in generating the reporting figures they need.

If you've gone through that checklist and realised you need to shore up your information foundations before approving a new software project, you're going to want to know how.

In this blog, we outline the five pillars that form business information foundations.

Knowing When To Approve A Software Purchase – The CFO’s Checklist

A Quick Clarification Around Data vs Information

In our lexicon, your business data are all the details you collect in the course of doing business, each of which, on their own, is of little value. But when looked at collectively, or over time, they have real meaning for your business.

For instance, for a retail store, data would be the date, time, amount and items of a single customer purchase. Each of these bits of data is not particularly meaningful. But looking at the total value of all customer purchases for the week, then comparing week on week, and we start to get business meaning.

This combined data, which creates meaning for a business, is what we call information. Information is anything that, in and of itself, has real meaning and value to the business.

In light of this distinction, information foundations are those things that ensure quality and reliability when data is formed into information (i.e. the reports, figures, dashboards, outputs etc). Information foundations also include the management and governance of the business information that is formed using the data.

The Five Pillars that From Information Foundations

Pillar 1: A Business Culture That Values Business Information

This is always the place to begin. All the things we’ll cover in the other pillars will amount to nothing if the business culture just doesn’t value its business information enough to invest in the effective management of it.

This means, of course, financial investment, but also implementing efforts to promote, encourage and enforce information management best practice, throughout the organisation.

And this means things like business information management activity being part of all staff key performance indicators, investing in systems and processes that provide visibility over information and its quality, and actively striving for better information quality.

Part of developing a culture that values business information is forming a tribe of staff who carry the responsibility for ensuring information is managed properly. This includes a comprehensive hierarchy of information ownership and a governance team to ensure quality management of business information.

Pillar 2: Business Language That is Comprehensively and Clearly Defined

Defining your business language and enforcing the usage of an enterprise-wide glossary of those business terms and definitions, is a fundamental step in establishing solid business information foundations.

This is the information foundation pillar that we most see undermining new software builds/purchase success.

When language isn't universally defined, governed, owned and enforced it can significantly affect how requests for figures and reports are understood and calculated in different parts of the company.

Even more importantly, it ensures IT software builders understand what's being requested and what data is needed to deliver that request. Without that assurance your IT projects are on risky foundations that can collapse easily.

Pillar 3: An Effective and Accessible Business Information Issues Management Process/System

Staff should be able to identify and raise issues with information resources. This is where the true risk mitigation begins. When all staff know how to raise these kinds of information quality issues and those issues are managed by business staff with responsibility for the resolution (not via the IT issues management system), you’ll start to build really solid information foundations across the organisation.

With an enforced glossary, staff across the organisation can identify when piece of information uses a business term in a conflicting way to the official glossary definition. This becomes hugely important when it equates to metrics being calculated differently.

When staff have the ability to raise these kinds of issues against your information resources it gives business leaders a massive advantage because they have visibility over the quality and usability of any piece of business information they receive.

Governance of the issues management process becomes important, so the establishment of your Culture, and your Tribe (see Pillar 1), are vital to ensure this is effective.

Pillar 4: Staff Have Easy Access to Details About Business Information Resources

Staff need access to listings of existing business information resources and this listing needs to include details about those information resources (such as what is in each resource, who owns it, what data was used to create it, what uses is it fit for and when it needs to be reviewed for currency/deletion).

Access to these kinds of details about all your information resources benefits everybody.

  • Staff can see what’s available – which removes duplication efforts

  • Staff can understand the information within the resource better – which reduces risk of misuse and misreporting, internally and externally

  • Staff can easily and quickly identify the current report/figures approved for use, eliminating risk of using out-of-date figures without realising it

  • Staff don’t waste time searching for information resources they know exist but don’t know where or who owns it

  • Staff can leverage existing resources they may not otherwise know exist to create even better reporting and visibility over your business activity.

These are just a few of the benefits of providing staff with a mechanism (usually a software tool) that delivers these kinds of details about information resources. This isn’t a document repository, it simply lists your organisation’s resources and the details about each resource.

Pillar 5: Solid Business Assurance Through Quality Business Information Governance

The first 4 pillars of solid business information foundations, described above, need governance to ensure the activity you’ve implemented as part of each pillar actually happens.

Governance also means measuring and reporting on that activity. Therefore, your Tribe (mentioned in Pillar 1) needs to include a business information governance team who monitor and ensure activity and report to Executive on things like:

  • the build and population of the glossary,

  • the rate of issues being raised with existing resources,

  • the rate and duration of resolution of those issues.

Remember, effective governance is always a business-as-usual task. This applies to business information as much as anything else we govern. It needs a budget, it needs staffing and it needs endorsing and encouragement from the top down.

If this feels overwhelming, that’s normal.

There’s a lot involved in shoring up your information foundations. It’s a lot to take on, specially in very large organisations.

We recommend that you take it slow and steady, using a single current project or reporting issue, and focus on building out the five pillars to ensure the success of that single project or to resolve that single issue.

In the course of building out the five pillars to complete this single project or resolve this single issue, staff will identify other issues that are related to it. You’ll prioritise these related issues for resolution, and this will expand the glossary as you identify and define necessary terms related to the new issues. Slowly but surely, as your tribe assign to appropriate staff the ownership of each issue raised, resolution of each issue will take place. And you’ll see it happening because it’s all reported to you.

Be aware, in the beginning phase, this will likely identify a lot of issues! It can feel very overwhelming very quickly, as you begin to get real visibility over the state of your business information and the amount of issues your information has.

Don't let it phase you.

That visibility, even before resolution, is extremely important for your business leadership. You’ll be able to see the quality and reliability of the figures and reports you're using to make your business decisions.

And knowing you're using information with quality issues helps you determine the best decision possible...making decisions on poor quality information that you think is good quality information is far riskier than using known poor quality information to make decisions!

A Free Resource to Help You Assess Your Business Information Foundations.

Reviewing the state of your foundations and getting them set up effectively is your #1 priority if you want IT software purchase/build success.

We're developing a free online assessment tool to help Executive team members assess their business’s information foundations and determine where they need to focus their improvement activities and how to begin.

It'll also help you gain a greater understanding of the whole landscape of your information foundations.

It’s due for release in September and we'd love to have you complete it and begin your information improvement activities quickly, so you can enjoy better quality business information.

If you’d like to be notified when the Assessment goes live, sign up to our email list here and you’ll receive an email when we launch – plus you’ll receive our monthly newsletter in which we deliver thought-provoking ideas around current issues in information management.

Mark Atkins, Intraversed

Mark Atkins

Mark is a co-founder & Chief Development Officer at Intraversed, helping organisations establish the Intralign Ecosystem, an award winning information management & governance methodology, to achieve reliable information, stable tech spend & greater IT project success.

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