I was talking with a friend and former client of mine recently. He was a client of mine about ten years ago, and he asked me how things have changed since we first worked together.
I’m now in my 19th year of consulting. As I reflected on this question, it struck me that while many things have changed (e.g., e-commerce, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence), many more things have not changed at all. I call these “evergreen issues” and here’s a list of five of them.
- Business process/business rules – This is number one on the list for a reason. When it comes right down to it, the single most important thing you can do to improve your operations is to review your business processes and business rules. Or to put it another way, poorly thought through business rules or processes can cause the greatest grief and trouble. I always tell my clients: simpler is better.
- Documentation – Once you’ve got your business processes established, you need to write them down. Too often business rules and processes are agreed to but never documented. This is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is training new staff (more on that next). With documentation you have a written record of what has been agreed to in terms of how we process data within the system. And if you determine you need to change your business rules or processes (see #1 above), you then need to update your documentation to reflect those changes.
- Training – When I talk with potential clients about the challenges they’re having with their current system, very often the issue is caused by staff turnover, and that new staff has not been trained properly. This is where the documentation outlined above comes into play. When training new staff, part of the training should include documentation so new staff has reference materials for when they start doing the work on their own. Too often training consists of sitting down, pointing things out, and expecting the new staff to write down notes and/or memorize what they’ve been taught. Good training includes good documentation.
- Querying/reporting – Since the very first day I started consulting (in fact, going all the way back to my days as an association executive), one of the biggest challenges staff face with their data management systems is getting data OUT of the system. In other words, querying and reporting. And while reporting and querying tools have greatly improved over time, we’re also collecting far more data and far more diverse data than ever before. So this continues to be a challenge.
- The intersection of people, process, and technology – My most successful clients understand how these three areas interact, and that all three are critically important to success. If you have great technology but poor processes, you’ll spend a lot of money on technology that won’t really work for you. If you have great people but poor technology, you’ll likely be doing a lot of manual work, and staff won’t be able to focus on higher value activities. And of course, having great technology and processes won’t matter if the people you have in place can’t (or won’t!) execute. All three of these, people, process, and technology, must be optimized. And improving one won’t necessarily compensate for weaknesses in another area.
These issues have been with us since the dawn of time, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon. If you’re looking to address how to improve data management within your organization, these five points would be a good place to start.
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