Case Study: Data and Analytics
SITUATION & BUSINESS CHALLENGE
When an international nonprofit specializing in public health and health advocacy underwent a major overhaul of its financial system, it recognized a critical lack of data integrity throughout the organization. The data that comprises its back-office function was spread across hundreds of Access databases, Excel spreadsheets and various SQL data marts. At least 12 different non-integrated systems were in use.
To alleviate the financial and legal risks related to reporting inconsistencies and to reduce internal overhead, the nonprofit received a multi-million dollar grant to upgrade its financial systems. The nonprofit knew it needed a data governance program and master data management (MDM) strategy, both to improve the organization and because it would need to describe the complex data issues and data relationships in the new financial system RFP. However, the nonprofit was wary as a past effort to implement data governance had already been attempted and failed, leaving teams discouraged. The former initiative had been driven by IT and was not adequately funded or inclusive of the business units who depended on the data. In short, the organization knew that creating a unified vision for data governance was critical, but felt that it would be difficult at best, and likely impossible to achieve.
Superior leadership skills as well as data strategy expertise would be needed to coordinate across nearly 20 groups with heavy workloads and potential resistance to the initiative. The nonprofit needed an expert with the soft skills required to convince all the departments to collaborate on a data governance program that the whole organization would adopt and the hard skills to ensure the execution of a viable data strategy. To solve these challenges, the nonprofit turned to AIM Consulting.
AIM deployed one of their expert data strategists from their Data and Analytics practice. This particular data strategist had more than 10 years of data experience, including participating in the delivery of a data governance strategy initiative at another nonprofit. The data strategist took the following steps:
1) Conduct a Capability Maturity Model Assessment
A Capability Maturity Model Assessment for Data Governance is a level-based methodology to assess an organization’s current state of Data Governance awareness and effectiveness. It provides a framework for prioritizing actions and a common language used to measure progress.
Analysis showed the nonprofit was at the first step, the Initial/Basic level of maturity, with resources lacking training and awareness, only basic policies and processes in place, and a mix of ad hoc technology and tools with limited functionality. Based on these findings, the data strategist created a customized plan for the nonprofit to achieve greater maturity.
2) Build the Data Governance Organization
The AIM data strategist gained executive sponsorship for the program by communicating the importance of data strategy to individual stakeholders, with emphasis around the responsibility the business has to view its data as an asset and manage it accordingly.
A data governance team was then formed and data governance processes designed and developed based on a set of overall guiding principles. The model was based on the fundamental premise that the business designs and runs the data governance program while IT executes the policies and procedures defined by the data governance team.
With the business unit stakeholders aligned on their responsibility to manage business data, the AIM data strategist put together a unified data stewardship team with representation from all departments (Finance, Legal, IT, HR, etc.), with roles and responsibilities clearly defined.
As the data governance organization was forming, the data strategist made sure to preserve the previous work accomplished by the IT team where possible, which drove increased buy-in and adoption throughout the organization. The data strategist also helped revamp the data governance website to house the project deliverables, and, with the help of a change manager, communicated new practices throughout the organization.
3) Lay the Foundation for Improved Data Management
In addition to establishing the data governance team, the AIM data strategist led the nonprofit to develop the following deliverables supporting a data management strategy:
Information Security Policies and Roadmap: As part of examining, standardizing and documenting the information lifecycle, the AIM data strategist assisted IT and the new data governance organization on collaborating around security and privacy needs so that a comprehensive strategy and roadmap for data security could be developed.
Long-Term Data Integration Strategy: AIM’s data strategist designed an integration strategy for the new financial back-office involving systems from Finance, HR, and external-facing applications, with data integration analysis and recommendations to fit with various vendor solutions. This input helped the nonprofit to select the financial system vendor.
Master Data Validation Techniques: AIM’s data strategist facilitated meetings where the teams agreed on techniques to validate finance master data across systems and to consolidate and cleanse this data across the organization. These techniques led to a framework the nonprofit could use to achieve “one version of the truth” for finance master data.
4) Project Hand-Off
Near the end of the engagement, AIM transitioned the data governance leadership to an in-house team formed by Finance and IT with data stewards committed to continuing the work on data definitions and processes specific to the grant. Following this effort, the nonprofit will expand the data governance program and processes across all business functions.
With AIM’s guidance, the nonprofit has a program in place to evolve data governance. AIM left the nonprofit with a detailed roadmap to complete the effort, implement the newly selected financial system, and execute the back-office data cleanup and migration strategy. Maturation in data governance capability, along with the implementation of the new financial system, will reduce overhead and allow for efficient use of the grant money. The nonprofit is now united and invested in data management and passionate about building the program in the coming years.