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Lean, Mean, Data Governance Machine – Introduction (Part 1 of 3)

The Effective Advocate – Selling a Data Quality Business Case in Hard Times

Nigel Turner Nigel Turner, Vice President, Information Management Strategy, Harte-Hanks Trillium Software

In this irregular series of blogs on enterprise data governance and data quality (DQ), I have covered to date how to recognise the need to take action at the corporate level, how to identify specific DQ issues, how to investigate & quantify the issues, and how to prepare a case to the business for action.

Although taking these steps are all necessary, they are not sufficient to ensure success. I have seen many carefully researched, evidence-based and well-produced data quality cases fail when presented to the business. These are hard times for businesses – with cost reduction the primary driver for many. Any reason to turn down a case to spend money, even if it promises great rewards in the future, can today be enough to halt a case for enterprise DQ in its tracks. In any event, your case will inevitably be competing with others for scarce funding and resources. You need to get ahead of the “competition.”

When Charles Dickens wrote the novel Hard Times in 1854 he did so to reflect the tough economic landscape of the day. One of its central protagonists, the school headmaster Mr. Gradgrind, had an unshakeable belief in the power of facts. His most famous statement was “What I want is Facts… Facts alone is wanted in life.” It’s a well known cliché that facts speak for themselves, but this is one cliché that clashes with the reality of the machinations of corporate life. Facts don’t speak for themselves. They only become the basis of change when people believe and act on them.

To make people act requires committed, determined and influential advocates who can win over the corporate jury tasked with deciding the fate of the business case.

So a business case for enterprise DQ needs to contain the necessary fact-based evidence, but to win over the jury requires a skilled advocate to present it. To do this DQ advocates can learn from Perry Mason. Mason, it is said, only ever lost two cases in court, both through the failings and duplicity of others rather than his own lack of adversarial competence. Not a bad track record as he was involved in over 270 cases in the original books and legendary TV series. I’d certainly put my fate in his hands.

So how do you become a Perry Mason when presenting your business case to those in the business and IT who need to sanction it? There are some golden rules to follow. Most important is to do your homework on the people who will make the decision. Who will sit on the jury? What are their professional and personal drivers? Do they ‘get’ data quality and why it matters? Are they likely to be allies or enemies when the case is presented?

In other words don’t start your advocacy in the courtroom. Start before the case is formally presented. Try to get to talk to each of them, outline the main tenets of the case, ask them if they have any questions or objections, and find out what you need to do to ensure the verdict you want. In some instances it may not be possible to gain direct access to the business case decision makers. Where this happens seek access to people who work for them. Ensure they are aware of the merits of the case and ask them to lobby the decision maker on your behalf.

In either scenario ensure that you can relate the business case to the specific interests and drivers of the person you are lobbying. How will the acceptance of the case benefit them and the area they control? Set out a clear vision of what it will do. Ensure you have specific facts at your disposal to substantiate your claim – how has any previous DQ work helped their bottom line, or ensured they are compliant with law & regulation? What will the proposed DQ case do to help them now and in the future?

The golfer Gary Player once said that “the harder you work the luckier you get.” So put some hard work in to prepare for these meetings – practise your pitch, consider objections they may put up and prepare your counter-arguments. But be prepared to be flexible and adjust your case if they request changes. Also use these sessions as an opportunity to secure not just their commitment to the business case, but to gaining their (and their people’s) continued active participation once it gets accepted and the work gets underway.

So, hopefully, when your day in court arrives, you have effectively created a jury who already know the verdict. Perry Mason would have loved that. In hard times, hard work usually pays off.


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