The Case for Standalone Data Teams

When data you need is held hostage by another group, bypassing the painful roadblock is a calculated move reserved for when all other options fail.

Inter-Departmental Data Dependence

The metaphor of data being held hostage is admittedly extreme, and it’s rare for those responsible for the coagulation of information flow to be intentionally apathetic. Unfortunately, whether the cause is maleficence or lethargy, the result is the same: you don’t have access to the data you need to run your business.

There are countless examples of how such situations arise. Finance may require operational extracts for reporting, yet they routinely hear “it’s not IT’s priority” to turn data around in a timely fashion. It’s the marketing department who needs social media data for CRM purposes, only to learn that social media is handled by “another team.” It’s the sales organization who needs near real-time store inventory, and must deal with a reluctant retail general manager along the way. I could go on forever.

Going Through the Motions

The lure of liberating one’s self from the oppressive chains of others is seldom the first stop on the road to improvement. Teams that don’t see eye-to-eye must at least “try” to work with one another in attempt to forge a somewhat aligned set of priorities. Truth be told, this isn’t as inevitably fruitless as it may sound. Sometimes this process alone is actually sufficient in breaking the log jam, and even in the worst case scenario, you at least walk away with a better understanding of the “opposing” team’s perspective and challenges.

As a quick aside: there are times when departmental misalignment is a sign of a greater issue; one of strategic-level importance. For example, if the HR department’s fiscal year goal is to grow the employee population by 25% and finance isn’t enabling HR budget for recruiting, then there’s a major strategy gap here; possibly due to a lacking cascading goal system.

Moving Towards Self-Reliance

When all options are exhausted and every venue to cooperate has failed, the once fantasized option of bypassing the disinclined department may actually become reality. This is especially true when your department is held accountable for results; regardless of internal “data supply chain” issues. Put simply, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do in order to run your business. However, sidestepping the reluctant department isn’t some suicidal charge towards data previously kept at arm’s length. It’s a calculated move that requires both political finesse and a sound technical strategy.

Focus Versus Fiefdoms

If you must build your own solution, my suggestion is simple: keep it focused. The “taking over” of business intelligence, or the management of the retail sales system, or the ownership of social media is like a political coup; a defiant insurgence intended to overthrow the existing regime in a highly visible fashion. These overly-general land grabs will be met with resistance, and success is unlikely.

Battles are won not only with bullets and bombs, but also with sympathy and support. Winning the hearts and minds of your peers occurs by focusing strictly around the securing of key ground needed for business “survival.” Yet unlike real warfare, your battle plan should not be kept secret. It should be shared with utmost transparency to not only demonstrate why such a move is warranted, but also as an olive branch for future roadmap alignment. In essence, you want to convey that they move to sidestep is a temporary measure and the two conflicted teams will “eventually” coalesce their strategies and services later on down the road.

Be Prepared for Success

As the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for, as you may just get it. Making a move to build your own solution may actually result in success. Only then will you get first-hand experience in just how challenging it is to manage a solution others want access to.