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IT Governance Articles

Thomas Dodds
Practice Director - Data Architecture & Governance at Agilarc LLC
May 11 2021
All too often I hear talk of data culture and the conversation quickly encircles data technologies and tools. Technology and tools are not cultures. Culture is: “a way of life for a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them… (more)

All too often I hear talk of data culture and the conversation quickly encircles data technologies and tools. Technology and tools are not cultures. Culture is: “a way of life for a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.” [1] A data culture, therefore, is just the application of that definition relating to data. Data culture is the way of life of the organization concerning data. The glowing word art in your lobby about “Innovation” is simply a vain symbol, if when met with organizational change the response is “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

‘Second nature’ behaviors, beliefs, and values of the organization on data

Culture can be likened to layers of an onion. On the surface, there are artifacts and symbols. Peel that layer back and find espoused values. At the core rests the underlying assumptions – those ‘second nature’ elements; it is the way we are. Data culture has the very same layers – artifacts, values, and basic assumptions. Artifacts can be expensive! Now, follow me closely – artifacts, when communicating the true culture, are indeed valuable. When not, they are mere points of criticism and frustration.

Your data culture

Grandiose claims of self-service data access can be a costly artifact and most certainly is when your data culture does not have at its core solid basic assumptions about data, its value, and proper use. This realization is dawning on organizations the world over and we are seeing a growth of the role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) in response. CDOs arrived on the scene in the early 2000s, and the count shot up to 4000+ by 2017 with 63% of executives citing they had this role on staff [2]. Even today, there is still muddiness around who a CDO should be and what they should do. I say a CDO must be well versed in leadership, in addition to technical knowledge, having an intimate understanding of their culture, and a seasoned practitioner of how to effect organizational change centered on data.

Not so soft skills

Granted culture and leadership are often termed ‘soft skills’ by many in technology, but these are hard skills. There is solid science behind knowing your culture – both quantitative and qualitative measurements are used, and the scientific method applies. There is also the presence of solid science that underpins organizational change. The CDO must make good use of it all as a leader of people over a manager of things – they are an influencer. Influence comes with relationships.

McKinsey’s Khushpreet Kaur interviewed Scott Richardson, CDO of Fannie Mae, back in 2017 and supplies the following, “We’d go around the room, and people introduced themselves as human beings, not workers; it’s remarkable how everyone truly has a story to tell. I found this incredibly energizing, and it set the stage for us all to have a more trusting, human relationship. It has had broader, more positive benefits than I could have imagined.” [3] Notice the priority and import of trust-relationships between people – that’s leadership. He is referring to his first 100 days in the role – he is not handing out policy, strategies, and plans. Mr. Richardson understands that to change the culture he must know it – and he goes after the heart of the matter, the heart of people. It is not a soft skill; it is a heart skill.

Recurrently organizational culture seems to begin and finish with symbols; ‘hung on the wall’ and waiting for the people who make up that organization to mold themselves into. This approach assumes an end without first determining the means. The better approach consists of the evaluation and cultivation of culture through leadership. Give people the space to determine and connect with the shared values of the culture. The symbols will emerge, and people will naturally know how to align with them because they already identify with it – in fact, they will own it. There is already a culture around data in your organization - it is up to you to get to know it.

References:

  1. http://people.tamu.edu/~i-choudhury/culture.html
  2. https://medium.com/datapace/the-number-of-chief-data-officer-is-rising-but-this-role-is-still-unclear-be6add07315b
  3. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/the-first-100-days-as-a-chief-data-officer
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Vladan Kojanic
Head of Information Technology Group at Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental protection
When the pandemic hit, we were forced to quickly adapt and find answers to questions we’d never asked ourselves before: how can we keep in touch with our colleagues when we’re not in the office? And how can we make sure we are still efficient while working from home? It quickly became apparent… (more)

When the pandemic hit, we were forced to quickly adapt and find answers to questions we’d never asked ourselves before: how can we keep in touch with our colleagues when we’re not in the office? And how can we make sure we are still efficient while working from home?

It quickly became apparent that one, seemingly small issue, could prove catastrophic: our digital system is designed so all business documents are located on our servers and on our work computers. But this also meant that many wouldn’t be able to access these documents from home.

The easy solution would be to give everyone a VPN connection, but because we are more than 300 people in my organization, that would have been too expensive. It would also have been too slow since we would first need to explain how to use the VPN and how to connect to our office network.

In the end, we found a solution that not only solved our problems but actually improved our efficiency by dramatically reducing the amount of emails we were sending back and forth.

A quick response to the crisis

When it became apparent we would soon be working from home, we did a quick internal analysis to identify the programs that were used the most. From this, we concluded that the most important thing was for our colleagues to have access to their data, which enabled us to repurpose a backup solution we have had in place since 2016.

In addition to the standard backup functions, the advantage of Commvault Backup & Recovery is that the backup is managed from a single location. Whether you are backing up computers, laptops, databases, or some business applications, you control and adjust the whole process from one place. And that means my colleagues could access and recover documents, folders, etc. without having to ask an admin.

In my team, we had already used this backup solution in some special situations, so it was relatively easy for us to quickly roll it out to all employees and adapt it to help them work from home.

Since my colleagues were already familiar with the backup system, this actually proved to be a welcome opportunity to modernise our system and to digitise our processes. We had momentum because everyone knew that these changes were necessary, and, most importantly, this solution reassured them that working from home wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.

A new, short manual was compiled to help employees adapt to working from home, with an emphasis on how they can use secure HTTPS connections to access their data and documents located on the servers.

Now, when they need to share a document with colleagues, they don’t have to send an email with a file, which further burdens the email system, but can simply share a link to the document itself through the backup application. Doing so even enables them to collaborate better, allowing them to edit a document or simply access it without first having to send an email. Just 15 days after implementing this solution, the number of internal emails sent to share documents between colleagues was reduced by almost 70%.

In a later analysis, we saw that compared to March 2019, the total number of emails sent and received with external users in March 2020 increased by an incredible 240%. In other words, there was a huge influx of emails at the beginning of the pandemic as citizens and other external stakeholders sought help and guidance from us, the public servants. By using these functionalities that our backup system has in itself we reduced the number of internal emails significantly, making the system more stable and reducing friction for our colleagues.

This system can be applied in any crisis situation, the only requisite is an Internet connection.

Innovation

Initially, we were concerned about whether our colleagues would use this new system and whether they would realise that it could do more than serve as the backup system we had used it as up until this point. If the system was rejected by employees, it wouldn’t matter that it could technically do the job.

In addition, as is the case every time a new IT solution is introduced, we had to make sure the system was secure enough, adding another layer of complexity.

What we’ve learned from the pandemic is that the various systems used in public institutions can often be used in other, creative ways than they were originally intended.

And this is the point I will leave you with: this was a crisis where time was in short supply, so we tried to make the most of the tools and software we already had. To come up with a solution by combining several systems.

Rather than coming up with something completely new, sometimes it is enough to simply look a little deeper at what we already have and make some small changes, adapting them to a new reality or crisis. We were all aware that we had neither the time nor the money to hire external firms for new software solutions, and so we had to think outside the box. And in this way, the pandemic pushed us to innovate our systems for the better. Maybe it can do the same for you?

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