How to tell if your organisation is strategically data driven

Striving to become a ‘data driven organisation’ is not enough, says Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID).

By Mervyn Mooi, director at Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID)

There is a great deal of focus on the ‘data driven organisation’ now. But this focus misses the point – everyone is data driven to some degree. The question should be: are you strategically data driven?

Everyone – from the man in the street to the large enterprise – is driven by data. This data might emerge from weather reports, calendars, meeting schedules and commitments. A plethora of data drives decisions and processes all the time. But this does not mean data is being used effectively. In fact, in this scenario, the data drives us. Only when data is used strategically can we turn the situation around so that we drive the data, using it as a powerful tool to improve business.


While there is always room for improvement and innovation in the gathering, management and application of data, many companies are already strategically data driven. These companies are relatively easy to identify, based on a number of traits they have in common:

  • Innovation and market disruption. Innovation can happen as a once-off ‘accident’, but a sustainable business that consistently innovates and disrupts is certainly basing its success on the strategic use of data. The sustainably innovative enterprise harnesses quality internal and external data and analytics to inform business decisions, improve products and customer experience, and maintain its competitive edge.
  • A culture of rationalisation. When a company is strategically data driven, it has achieved a clear understanding of where its resources can be put to the best use, where bottlenecks and duplication occurs and how best to improve efficiencies. A company with a culture of rationalisation, a focus on deduplication and a tendency to automate and reduce manual interventions clearly has good insight into its internal data.
  • A ‘Governance over all’ approach to business and operations. Only an organisation with quality data delivering effective insights into all spheres of the business is in a position to apply effective rules and governance over all systems, operations and processes.
  • Decisions are based on interrogating the right data with the right questions, using the right models.  A strategically data driven organisation does not tolerate poor quality data or interrogate this data in a haphazard fashion. The widespread use of quality data and analytics is evident in every aspect of the business, and is the basis of every decision within the organisation. The strategically data driven organisation also routinely tests new theories, asks the ‘what if’ questions, and constantly monitors and evaluates outcomes to add to the quality of its data and analytics.
  • ‘More than fair’ labour practices. Organisations with a good grasp of their data know what impact employee skills development and job satisfaction have on business processes and revenues. Strategically data driven organisations tend to leverage their skills investments with better working conditions, incentives, salaries, training and perks.
  • Strong leadership at all levels. Strong leadership is the base enabler for the evolution of all the other traits; and strong leaders are supported and measured by data. Data is the lifeblood of the organisation, supporting good leadership by allowing managers to improve efficiencies, ensure effective resource allocation, monitor and improve employee performance and measure their own performance as managers.


Any organisation not displaying these traits needs to be asking: “Are we taking an organised approach to data usage and information consumption in order to make our business more effective? Are we using our data to effectively look both inward and outward; finding areas for improvement within our operations and scope for innovation and business growth in our market?”


Big data vs accuracy: don’t believe everything you read

Analysis of unstructured big data has the potential to complement / enhance structured data analysis. Application of big data analysis can deliver a range of interesting new insights that can enhance / support decision-making within the organization. But companies should not always believe all that may be derived from the data, warns KID.

By Mervyn Mooi, director at Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID)

Organizations around the world are buying into the hope that big data analytics which includes combining structured and unstructured data, will deliver an all-knowing ‘crystal ball’ to drive competitiveness. Last year, Gartner reported that big data analytics services alone was a $40 billion market and growing fast.


A major part of the big data appeal is the promise of combining accurate and structured internal data with fast-changing unstructured external data, offering a complete picture of the market environment and the organization’s own position within it.

However, while unstructured external data could add useful new methods for information gathering and decision making processes, it cannot be considered 100% accurate. In some cases, it will not be even close to accurate, and cannot be counted on as a basis for making crucial business decisions.

What proportion of unstructured external data is brought into the big data mix, and how much credence is given to it, depends on the questions to be addressed, the organization’s willingness to accept discrepancies in the data when answering a particular question, and the importance of the decisions to be made based on the big data analysis. Searching for useful insights in unstructured external big data may also require a few passes before acceptable data is identified.

For example, a new car dealership looking for prospective customers might rely entirely on external data to build a leads list. They might use a search engine to identify companies in the area of the dealership; then narrow down the list to companies likely to need cars and likely to have the budget for new cars. The resulting leads list is a good start, but may still require verification calls to determine whether the prospective customers are still in business, still based in the area and likely to be interested.

A bank investigating new branches and new markets might combine its own structured customer data with unstructured external data such as a map, to plot a visual representation of where existing customers are, and where there are gaps with potential for marketing to new customers. This insight may require further clarification and does not guarantee new customers in the blank spots on the map, but it does give the bank useful information to work with.

When an organization is seeking insights for business-critical decisions, the ratio of qualified structured data to unstructured external data should be around 90-10, with unstructured external data serving to complement the analysis, not form the basis of it. This is because structured (high-value) data is traditionally compliance and quality (ACID) bound and can be trusted.

When using big data analytics, organizations should also note that deriving business value from big data is not an exact science, and there are no guarantees. For instance, a company using its own data in combination with unstructured data to assess interest in its products might count visits to its website as an indicator of its popularity.

While the visitor figures might be accurate, the assumptions made based on the figures could be completely wrong, since visitors to the site could have stumbled across it by accident or have been using it for comparison shopping and have no interest in buying the products.

Big Data analytics is helpful for traversing high volumes of unstructured data and supplementing the company’s existing, qualified data. But, depending on the answers needed, big data will need to achieve greater degrees of accuracy and reliability before business critical decisions can be made based on its analysis.

Big data: don’t adopt if you can’t derive value from it

Amid massive big data hype, KID warns that not every company is geared to benefit from costly big data projects yet.

By Mervyn Mooi, director at Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID)

Big data has been a hot topic for some time now, and unfortunately, many big data projects still fail to deliver on the hype. Recent global studies are pointing out that it’s time for enterprises to move from big data implementations and spend, to actually acting on the insights gleaned from big data analytics.


(Image not owned by KID)

But turning big data analytics into bottom line benefits requires a number of things, including market maturity, the necessary skills, and processes geared to auctioning insights. In South Africa, very few companies have these factors in place to allow them to benefit from significant big data projects. Despite the hype about the potential value derived from big data; in truth, value derivation is still in its infancy.

Locally, we find the early adopters have been major enterprises like banks, where big data tools are necessary for sifting through massive volumes of structured and unstructured data to uncover trends and run affinity analysis and sentiment analysis. But while they have the necessary advanced big data tools, we often find that these new technologies are delivering little more than a sense of confirmation, rather than the surprise findings and bottom line benefits they hoped for.

This may be due to processes that result in slow application of new insights, as well as to a dire shortage of the new data science skills that marry technical, analytics and strategic business know-how. Currently, the process of big data management is often disjointed from start to finish: companies may be asking the right questions and gaining insights, but unless these insights are delivered rapidly and companies actually use those insights effectively, the whole process is rendered ineffective. There is  little point in having of a multi-million rand big data infrastructure if the resulting insights aren’t applied at right time in the right places.

The challenge now is around the positioning, management and resourcing of big data as a discipline. Companies with large big data implementations must also face the challenges of integration, security and governance at scale. We also find there are many misconceptions about big data, what it is, and how it should be managed. There is an element of fear about tackling the ‘brave new world’ of technology, when in reality, big data might be seen as the evolution of BI.

Most commonly, we see companies feeling pressured to adopt big data tools and strategies when they aren’t ready, and are not positioned to benefit. As with many technologies, hype and ‘hard sell’ may convince companies to spend on big data projects when they are simply not equipped to use them. In South Africa, only the major enterprises, research organisations and perhaps players in highly competitive markets stand to benefit from big data investments. For most of the mid-market, there is little to be gained from being a big data early adopter. We are already seeing cheaper cloud-based big data solutions coming to market, and – as with any new technology – we can expect more of these to emerge in future. Within a year or two, big data solutions will become more competitively priced,  simpler, require fewer skilled resources to manage, and may then become more viable for small to mid-market companies. Until then, many may find that more effective use of their existing BI tools, and even simple online searches, meet their current needs for market insights and information.

Unless there is a compelling reason to embark on a major big data project now, the big data laggers stand to benefit in the long run. This is particularly true for those small and mid-size companies currently facing IT budget constraints. These companies should be rationalizing, reducing duplication and waste, and looking to the technologies that support their business strategies, instead of constantly investing in new technology simply because it is the latest trend.



Companies still fail to protect data

Despite their having comprehensive information security and data protection policies in place, most South African businesses are still wide open to data theft and misuse, says KID.

By Mervyn Mooi, Director at the Knowledge Integration Dynamics Group

Numerous pieces of legislation, including the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act, and governance guidelines like King III, are very clear about how and why company information, and the information companies hold on partners and customers, should be protected. The penalties and risks involved in not protecting data are well known too. Why then, is data held within South African companies still inadequately protected?

In our experience, South African organisations have around 80% of the necessary policies and procedures in place to protect data. But the physical implementation of those policies and procedures is only at around 30%. Local organisations are not alone – a recent IDC study has found that two-thirds of enterprises internationally are failing to meet best practice standards for data control.


(Image not owned by KID)

The risks of data loss or misuse are present at every stage of data management – from gathering and transmission through to destruction of data. Governance and control are needed at every stage. A company might have its enterprise information systems secured, but if physical copies of data – like printed documents or memory sticks – are left lying around an office, or redundant PCs are sent for recycling without effective reformatting of the hard drives, sensitive data is still at risk. Many overlook the fact that confidential information can easily be stolen in physical form.

Many companies fail to manage information sharing by employees, partners and other businesses. For example, employees may unwittingly share sensitive data on social media: what may seem like a simple tweet about drafting merger documents with the other party might violate governance codes. Information shared with competitors in exploratory merger talks might be misused by the same competitors later.

We find that even larger enterprises with policies in place around moving data to memory sticks and mobile devices don’t clearly define what confidential information is, so employees tweet, post or otherwise share information without realizing they are compromising the company’s data protection policies. For example, an insurance firm might call a client and ask for the names of acquaintances who might also be interested in their product, but under the POPI Act, this is illegal. There are myriad ways in which sensitive information can be accessed and misused, with potentially devastating outcomes for the company that allows this to happen. In a significant breach, someone may lose their job, or there may be penalties or a court case as a result.

Most organisations are aware of the risks and may have invested heavily in drafting policies and procedures to mitigate them. But the best-laid governance policies cannot succeed without effective implementation. Physical implementation begins with analysing data risk: discovering, identifying, and classifying it, as well as analysing its risk based on value, location, protection, and proliferation.  Once the type and level of risk have been identified, data stewards need to take tactical and strategic steps to ensure data is safe.

These steps within the data lifecycle need to include:

  • Standards-based data definition and creation to also ensure that security and privacy rules are implemented from the out-set.
  • Strict provisioning of data security measures such as data masking, encryption/decryption and privacy controls to prevent unauthorised access to and disclosure of sensitive, private, and confidential information.
  • The organisation also needs to securely provision test and development data by automating data masking, data sub-setting and test data-generation capabilities.
  • Attention must also be given to data privacy and accountability by defining access based on privacy policies and laws – for instance,  who view personal, financial, health, or confidential data, and when.
  • Finally, archiving must be addressed: the organisation must ensure that it securely retires legacy applications, manages data growth, improves application performance, and maintains compliance with structured archiving.


Policies and awareness are not enough to address the vulnerabilities in data protection. The necessary guidelines, tools and education exist, but to succeed, governance has to move off paper and into action. It is important for companies to understand that policies and awareness programmes are not enough to ensure good governance. The impact of employee education is temporary – it must be refreshed regularly, and it must be enforced with systems and processes that entrench security within the database, at file level, server level, network level and in the cloud. This can be a huge task, but it is a necessary one when architecting for the future.

In context of the above, a big question to ponder is: Has your organisation mapped the rules, conditions, controls and standards (RCSSs) as translated from accords, legislation, regulation and policies, to your actual business / technical processes and data domains?


Remember governance in the rush to next generation platforms

South African enterprises are actively looking to next generation application and analytics platforms, but they need to be aware that the platforms alone cannot assure quality data and effective data governance, warns KID.

By Johann van der Walt, Director of Operations at Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID)

There’s no doubt that SAP HANA as the platform for next-generation applications and analytics is a major buzzword among South African enterprises today. Enterprises know that if they want to stay relevant and competitive, it is an enabler that will allow them to process more data, faster.


However, HANA cannot address the problem of poor quality or obsolete data – all it can do is allow enterprises to get their poor quality data faster. Unless enterprises address their data quality and data management practices before they migrate, they will dilute the value they get from HANA.

With modern enterprises grappling with massive databases, often with a significant amount of poor quality and obsolete data, simply migrating all of this data to a next generation platform would be a mistake. For effective governance and compliance, enterprises need to be very conscious of where the data going into HANA comes from and how it gets there. Once the data has been migrated, they also need to ensure that they are able to maintain their data quality over time.

In our consulting engagements with local enterprises, we have discovered that most CIOs are well aware of their data quality flaws, and most are anxious to address data quality and governance. But they are often challenged in actually doing so.

A typical challenge they face is the ability to come up with a unique dataset and to address inconsistencies. Most CIOs know they are sitting with more data they need to have, with as much as 50% – 90% of their data actually obsolete, but many battle to identify this obsolete data. Simply identifying inconsistencies in datasets – like a Johannesburg dialing code for a Cape Town-based customer – could require months of manual work by a large team of employees; and achieving the budget necessary to do so can prove tricky.

In our experience, an effective way to secure budget and launch a data governance project is to do so by piggybacking off a larger enterprise project – such as a SAP HANA migration. A move such as this gives the enterprise an ideal opportunity to run a data cleansing process as the first step towards a comprehensive data governance project. An effective place to begin is to identify what data is active, and what is obsolete, and then focus data quality improvement efforts on only the active data before migrating it to HANA. In this way, you are moving only the data that is needed, and it is accurate and cleansed.

This is just the start of the governance journey. It is easier to get clean than stay clean in the world of data quality. Typically, when data quality is improved in projects like migration, decay sets in over time. This is where data governance comes in: after the cleansing and migration to HANA, enterprises need to put the toolsets and policies in place to ensure continuously good data. In most companies, this entails a programme of passive data governance, in which the quality of data is monitored and addressed in a reactive way.

However, some may also move to active data governance – an arguable more invasive approach in which the data capturing process is more closely controlled, to ensure that the data meets governance rules. Active data governance might also be supported by being highly selective of who is allowed to input data and moving to a more centralised organisation for data management – instead of a distributed, non-governed environment.