There is a long-running standoff between business users and IT over who owns the data.  Does the data belong to a central department who controls, enters and accesses data?  Or does data belong to everyone at your association and anyone can enter data?  This argument will move to the forefront as business intelligence (BI) comes to your association. data dilemma dsk

Business intelligence is all about letting business users within an association have access to data they could not see before and discovering new things about how their department runs and what they can do to improve it.  So naturally with the advent of BI, an association will move towards a more open data access policy.  For those folks in IT, the thought of everyone in their association having access to data can be quite scary.  However, have you ever seen two different people try to retrieve the same information from the database and come up with two separate answers?  This is a common problem, but the cure is not to restrict who can access the data! There are several ways IT can reduce the risk of this happening:

  1. Create data views for the business user to access. IT can built the logic and ensure that all the data is being pulled correctly.
  2. Training, training, training and documentation, documentation, documentation.  Create a data dictionary with descriptions of all the fields the user will be able to see in the data view so they will understand the data they are accessing.  Create a common language dictionary that describes the meaning of common terms, such as “new member” and “retention”.
  3. Sit down with the association business user, walk them through the data and show how to use it in visualization.

As your staff starts creating visualizations based on the data that already exists, inevitably they will start to notice gaps in the data and the discussion will begin about what new data should be included.  As anyone who has worked in the IT field for even a short period of time knows, if you don’t plan how you will store and enter data, you will end up with a big mess.  There are a few things you will need to determine once this conversation starts.

  • Do you really need this data?  Will this data improve your analysis?
  • Who else will need this data?  If there are other people who may need this data, make sure to include them in this conversation.
  • Can you get access to this data?
  • How much space will you need to store this data?
  • How will this data integrate with your other data sources?
  • How are you going to use this data?

If your association is already living in the data version of the Wild West, I find one of the best ways to reign folks back in is to create dashboards based on the existing data. You can then walk the users through the limitations of the visualizations due to bad data and discuss what things they could discover if the data was in a cleaner state.  If you can provide a concrete, positive outcome that will result from following data entry rules, you can give them the impetus to change their behavior.

Starting a business intelligence initiative can open up a whole new frontier for your association.  Take advantage of this opportunity to revise and enforce your data quality management plan so your data cowboys disarm!