Although most Adastra projects are Information Management (IM) engagements, the impact of an Adastra project is not limited to technical improvements. We also play important roles as change agents, individuals who guide a structured discussion about how systems should work, what they can accomplish, and how to achieve those goals by leveraging new energy and information into a system thought to be “stable,” or functioning as well as can be expected.
In other words, a change agent aims to produce A-ha! moments that get people thinking. By fostering a space for constructive discussion, we help our clients gain new perspectives, make decisions, and take action in line with their strategic goals.
A recent Adastra engagement demonstrates how consultants delivering IM projects used the tools and techniques at their disposal to drive strategic change.
A governmental regulatory agency sought to overcome a largely siloed environment and become more data-driven through a Data Management Program (DMP) that would add empirical information from a substantial inventory of external sources to the deep expertise of individual agency staff.
The agency engaged Adastra in 2016 to deliver a multi-stream set of DMP initiatives, both technical and organizational, including:
- Building an EIM Roadmap,
- Developing an agency Enterprise Data Model,
- Designing and building out Data Governance capabilities,
- Piloting Metadata Management and Data Quality processes, and
- Building an EDW Proof of Concept.
Lesson #1: Technical IM concepts are powerful drivers of communication, education, and business transformation. Use them carefully to build consensus and support!
Having approved the DMP’s objectives and goals, Management was demanding quick, definitive wins. To many, however, the multi-year DMP roadmap was cryptic and inscrutable – a torrent of acronyms and concepts, none of which could answer the question “what will this mean for my division’s work”?
We needed to introduce a new way of thinking about data-driven business that multiple levels of agency management could relate to. Fortunately, the agency’s small IT department was one of the few functions with a broad view of the agency’s activities and information flows.
To guide the discussion, we developed an enterprise data model to structure the agency’s core business entities. While data models are core tools for IM practitioners, agency decision makers found concepts such as data domains and entities hard to relate to, so we tailored our message to get non-technical people talking, engaged, and interested in the implications of the DMP for their business.
We introduced the concept of data domains by calling them “subject areas” and “buckets”. Using two buckets we called “Party” and “Event”, we demonstrated the ultimate goal of the DMP: a single, 360-degree view of all companies that the agency follows and regulates.
The simplified data model acted as a communication and education tool and gave us a shared language about what we were trying to do. This gave us a platform that empowered multiple divisions to confront and compare their different perspectives on agency operations. Executives began looking beyond the current state, where each agency Division owned and managed its own set of data, towards more enterprise-level thinking that allowed us to demonstrate that the DMP would help answer specific business questions such as:
- Which organizations and individuals does the agency follow and focus on?
- What happens if an individual plays multiple roles (i.e. what if a company’s CEO is simultaneously a Director of three more companies?)
- Can we track all the interactions and interventions the agency has had with any given Party?
- Can we track the status of individual cases being reviewed and where they are in our workflow?
- What were the outcomes of the cases we worked on?
Suddenly, stakeholders had a model for prioritizing the data that needed attention, could be shared, or needed more robust management. Moreover, they understood that by assigning accountability and responsibility for data domains, the agency would have an actionable structure for addressing information-related pain points.
To reinforce and build on this new concept of enterprise data, we aligned our pilots and PoCs with the new buckets. This education and knowledge-transfer process illustrated the essence of a change agent’s job: facilitating organizational evolution by gaining alignment with and buy-in to carefully planned innovation. Although we were operating in an environment where formal requirements gathering had not taken place, Adastra worked systematically to:
- understand the essence of the stakeholder’s requirement or pain point,
- reframe it in standard IM terminology, and
- mirror it back to them in the appropriate “bucket” on the IM roadmap.
Lesson #2: Give change a human face: build a one-shop stop for moving towards a new culture and way of working
A vital part of becoming data driven at the enterprise level was the implementation of a Data Governance Committee (DGC), consisting of fifteen representatives from ten divisions. This forum allowed individuals to address their division’s data issues, and inspired them to evangelize new DG practices to their divisions. Additionally, a steering committee was formed to review and direct the DGC’s activities. Agency Executive management now receives consolidated information about and results of data-oriented activities.
In short order, the DGC delivered a number of pilot projects, including 100 formalized, stewarded, and signed off business definitions in a new Enterprise Business Glossary. Additionally, Data Quality analysis identified several problematic data sources needing redesign and improvement.
While they were small initiatives with little direct impact, the pilots helped build support for the program by giving decision makers a better understanding of what becoming data driven means, and reassurance they were proceeding according to a reasonable, understandable concept. Moreover, when the entire 15-person DGC filled the Executive Boardroom to capacity in order to present its DG framework, the Executives had physical proof that the actual people in the organization are learning IM techniques by doing them. With a motivated team standing up, speaking the new language, and taking responsibility for data, the DMP transformed from a roadmap of chevrons and acronyms to a live agency function with agency business people driving it.
Lesson #3: Show the art of the possible – if a picture is worth a thousand words, a demo is worth a thousand pictures
Jargon and acronyms, alongside multiple technologies, different hardware, variable software configuration, roles, workflows, and processes in play, can make it very challenging to effectively inspire a new way of doing business, or even to convey how all the parts contribute to the whole.
While building out this project’s foundational DM capabilities, Adastra tied together multiple work streams by building an EDW PoC to demonstrate what a 360-degree view of a regulated entity would look like with trustworthy, understandable data.
Five years after the Chief Executive had set the strategic objective of becoming data driven, we presented the Executive team with “the art of the possible”: a sample dossier or 360-view of a regulated entity in Cognos. That A-ha! moment sparked the imagination of agency business Executives about what the words “data-driven regulation” actually mean. The DM program continues apace with Executive management behind it.
This project proves IM consultants can initiate, advance, and accomplish strategic change by engaging with business stakeholders directly and bringing them new energy, information, and perspectives.
We often speak of EIM as enabling organizational growth, business process change, and business value. I would suggest, rather, that IM consulting can actually drive strategic change if it’s correctly tailored to its audience and supported by enthusiastic early adopters.
What we try to do as value-add consultants, whether we are technology- or business-oriented, is to move the client towards their corporate, strategic goal. Although we deliver IM projects, there is a second critical aspect to our role as consultants: seize opportunities to introduce new ways of seeing, help our clients learn by doing, and thereby constructively support business transformation.