Transforming Data Into Information

Transformation is an enterprise-wide activity, and the first step is to get a clear picture of the entire enterprise.

Most large organizations have used a variety of internal and external resources to document bits and pieces of the way they operate over time ? organization charts, business plans, statements of policies and procedures, and the like.

Many of these documents are of little value. They do not use commonly agreed-upon standards and terminology, are only partially complete, therefore they cannot be logically connected to formulate a cohesive picture.

As a result, companies wrestle with a number of challenges:

– Prioritization hindered by competing business unit goals;
– Isolated process design resulting in loss of linkage to business objectives and unrealistic technology requirements;
– Overlapping business systems proliferating as a result of uncoordinated business units and mergers/acquisitions;
– Critical processes relying on temporary ad hoc ?solutions? thrown together to meet immediate needs;
– Lack of asset reusability; difficulty communicating and defining standards;
– Difficulty keeping pace with technology change and vendor competencies;
– Enterprise architecture models that are too technical and detailed for anyone aside from those who designed them to understand and follow.

And that?s just the short list.

For successful execution to be a remote possibility, an enduring transformation requires a management framework that unites a company vertically ? from the board room to the project team, as well as horizontally ? across all divisions and including external partners and customers. It must delineate the organizational structures, processes, information, and automation necessary to make this unity work in practice.

So what does this type of organization look like?

Transformative organizations have consistent processes with integration across the organization, a fully developed Strategic Enterprise Architecture, and the means to simultaneously address a broad array of issues. In the area of strategic investment management, they have consistent processes for sponsoring, selecting and managing initiatives. They have a standardized means of structuring projects and of ensuring that they are managed in accordance with enterprise standards. They have established standards for determining the demand and the supply of resources?human, financial, fixed, and other?for future initiatives. They have management entities that actively monitor and manage the performance of all initiatives according to commonly accepted frameworks, and serves as the ?early warning? system for elevating issues to upper management and the board. And they have fully developed structures with defined roles consistently executed.

In addition to the type of organization described above, which monitors and manages the performance of all initiatives, these leading superstars consistently have governance bodies that place the responsibility for making business technology decisions into the hands of both business and technology professionals.  

For these organizations, data has become information, which is managed effectively across the enterprise and used as the basis to make decisions accordingly. And, in large measure, this information is available through and managed in an integrated, enterprise-wide automated system that facilitates decision-making. These organizations understand both the specific strengths and the limitations of point solutions, and they have created management dashboards and other tools to make decision-making and management consistent.  

Now engaged in continuous process optimization: they learn, adapt, implement, and improve, in an ongoing cycle. Their organizational structures are optimized to ensure they have the right structures in place at the right level, and they make decisions appropriate to their status. They conduct fully data-driven decision-making enabled by a consistent, coordinated, and integrated use of automation. Every professional has an appropriate level of access to enterprise-wide information, analysis, and management tools, and the enterprise makes this uniform, data-driven model fundamental to its way of doing business.

These management practices are a practical, proven response to the process of creative destruction that surrounds us. As economist Joseph Schumpeter said so presciently, ?Every piece of business strategy acquires its true significance only against the background of that process and within the situation created by it.? While it may be difficult for Iowa farmers, Detroit automakers, and Wall Street investment bankers to accept as they relate to their respective industries, the reality is those same principles and a transformative set of repeatable processes are what?s needed to build strong, healthier companies and, ultimately, a more stable economy overall.

Faisal Hoque is the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation. A former senior executive at GE and other multi-nationals, Faisal is an internationally known entrepreneur and thought leader. He has written five management books, established a non-profit research think tank, The BTM Institute, and become a leading authority on the issue of effective interaction between business and technology. His next book, The Power of Convergence, will be available in May 2011. ? 2011 Faisal Hoque