In Praise of (Data) Transparency - Part #1

Silos!

Silos!

In speaking with colleagues, enterprises, and data technology vendors, I often tell this cautionary tale: At a prior company, I led a marketing operations revamp. The effort included a comprehensive, redesign, re-architect, and rebuild of the corporate website, with particular focus on scaling to support the online sale of thousands of SKUs. Coupled with that ambitious agenda, my team and I worked to develop data-driven operations, using integrated marketing automation software to collect and analyze opportunities along a sales-funnel-mapped customer journey.

We succeeded in building our idealized technology solution (a month early and under budget, I might add rather egotistically), along with associated delineated business processes. But the value delivery—in insight, process automation, and strengthened customer relationships—stopped at the door to the marketing department. The sales team had little interest in and even less commitment to improving its own data discipline, so integration with an archaic CRM was out of the question. Worse, the finance team protected financial information to such an extent that seeing live revenue data—even when generated by the website we’d developed—required written (on paper, no less) permission.

I look back on this experience with some nostalgia but more than a little frustration. The result of our herculean development efforts? Effective data-driven marketing. Hampered by duplicated processes across divisions. And ultimately, the realization that corporate myopia limited us to no more than a functional silo of data-driven success. (Read what I really think of silo isolationism here.)

What would have made it more successful? Several things. C-suite-level buy-in in other departments. A shared commitment to creating a data-driven enterprise that extended beyond just the realm of marketing. And perhaps most essentially, a willingness to share data across the enterprise.

I shared this anecdote with a fellow analyst at a recent tradeshow. The analyst (one whom I respect and acknowledge is oh-so-much smarter than me) posited the argument that my call for open data transparency across the organization is unrealistic. The analyst’s practical view was that individual departments in an enterpirse will remain protective of their data, and that it’s not reasonable to expect the finance lead to share data with the marketing lead, or customer service lead, or R&D lead, etc. My not-so-implicit take: Silos aren’t going away, and given that fact, we should build/deploy data technology solutions in and around them.

Neither of us is right or wrong here. I know I suffer from pie-in-the-sky idealism when it comes to eradicating enterprise silo culture. (“Never gonna happen,” said a F1000 high-tech consulting-client VP to me once when I proposed collaborating with another VP in another functional silo to achieve shared efficiencies.) And the other analyst’s point is a good one—You can aim for the sky, but if you’re going to get anything done, you’d better start work down here on earth.

I still cling to that free-movement-of-data-is-a-good-thing idealism, something that I actually encounter every now and then in the real world (though, admittedly, typically in smaller, newer, often-SaaS-based companies). In an upcoming blog post I’ll discuss the types of enterprise blockers to data transparency. But in the meantime, here’s my ask of those of you who have read this far: Is my idealism out of touch? Or is the free flow of data in an enterprise something still for which we should strive? Email me your data transparency/opacity success/horror stories at tophw@bluehillresearch.com, or DM me at @TophW47.

About Toph Whitmore

Toph Whitmore is a Blue Hill Research principal analyst covering the Big Data, analytics, marketing automation, and business operations technology spaces. His research interests include technology adoption criteria, data-driven decision-making in the enterprise, customer-journey analytics, and enterprise data-integration models. Before joining Blue Hill Research, Toph spent four years providing management consulting services to Microsoft, delivering strategic project management leadership. More recently, he served as a marketing executive with cloud infrastructure and Big Data software technology firms. A former journalist, Toph's writing has appeared in GigaOM, DevOps Angle, and The Huffington Post, among other media. Toph resides in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where he is active in the local tech startup community as an angel investor and corporate advisor.
Posted on June 30, 2017 by Toph Whitmore

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