Enabling strategic alignment & collaboration through structured data
Read more by Anandita Punj
Read the full interview with Martijn Hazelaar here
“It’s a full-time job to involve and align new people and departments. With so many people, it can be hard to figure out who the stakeholders are.”
So, what strategies can organizations like VanMoof deploy as they scale up and grow? With multiple internal digital products, the need to deploy system-level thinking and understand that transparency is paramount for growth. “Transparency is everything!” Hazelaar laughs. He adds that in order to keep everyone aligned, “you actually have to communicate more than feels natural. You need a fixed pattern, to instill some kind of rhythm”.
Read our blog on how Just Eat Takeaway.com enabled transparency in their organization.
Data: past and present
Despite heavy, long-term investments in data management, managing data poses a problem for many organizations as they continue to grow. Traditionally, data has been perceived as just one aspect of a technology project or as a byproduct of business activity; it has not been treated as a corporate asset or tool. There might have been one or two other applications that needed to access the data for follow-up (e.g., customer service, special reports, audits, etc.) but these were usually one-off activities.
Circling back to the present, data is quickly becoming an asset for many organizations. App data is commonly shared with multiple systems and teams. As co-creation and cross-collaboration became a hot topic of innovation, enabling access to data and having a strategy around it became imperative. Although the value of data has evolved tremendously over the past decade, not many organizations and enterprises have adjusted their approaches to gather, synthesize, share and manage these data assets. A key reason for this is that many organizations lack the know-how on how data can actually help achieve alignment or meet strategic corporate goals.
Organizational alignment through data
VanMoof believes in a digital approach to strategize and optimize all internal operations, products, and processes to support their core product – the electric bike. All platforms that VanMoof uses collect a considerable amount of data. They understand the value of data and its potential to bring about alignment. But how do they ensure that all the data is accessible, transparent, and intelligible for the entire organization? There are four key aspects they focus on:
1. Enable data sharing
Hazelaar emphasizes the importance of transparent communication across the organization. He believes alignment should be integrated from the start, by involving all stakeholders at the beginning of the project: “Make them part of the process and make it easy for them, so that even non-techies can understand and follow the process. That way, it’s more fun for everyone.”
Sharing data is no longer a specialized technical capability to be solely addressed by application architects and programmers. It has become a bonafide production business. Businesses depend on data being shared and distributed to support both operational and analytical needs. A company’s data truly becomes a corporate asset for alignment when all data is prepared for sharing. To treat data as an asset instead of a burden, a data strategy has to address data provisioning as a standard business process.
Most companies are struggling with sharing data and eliminating silos within their organization. Investing in new technology or digital platforms alone won’t resolve that issue. Creating a more unified or centralized view of company data with relevant data-sharing capabilities ensures one source of truth. VanMoof understood this principle and worked towards addressing it through:
A. Combining data: combining data residing in disparate systems, and so providing a unified, consistent data view
First of all, they have one central, dedicated team to ensure that data best practices are used to collect and host data. Additionally, each team has a data analyst with their own dashboard, who ensures that all new data coming in is easier to read.
The Data team collects the data and comes up with mechanisms to seamlessly include the data in a system. Then, the team feeds the data through a BI tool, so that it can be used by other teams as well. Hazelaar: “With data, it’s useful to have a company-wide strategy and a dedicated team. This ensures the data can be managed, is used properly, and is communicated to the people who need or want to use it.”
B. Governing of data: enabling access
As more data becomes available, employees at all levels of the organization need access to tools and channels that improve the collaborative use of data. Rather than relying on workarounds, your employees and teams need dedicated mechanisms and tools (like data dashboards, which are easy to create with Google Analytics or Datapine) to work with data, share data insights and work towards mutual objectives. As we see in the case of VanMoof, access to data is not limited to the creation of data platforms and tools but rather a way to ensure the teams are equipped to use these platforms. Employees are more likely to continue to use your new platform(s) if they are experiencing the added value from those tools in their individual capacities. Data literacy is a crucial part of this.
2. Enable data literacy for non-technical teams
While most companies have invested millions in improving data management, most activities are point solutions addressing individual problems and issues. The risk of investing in a point solution is that its focused nature prevents it from addressing cross-organizational issues and transcending project boundaries.
The challenge most organizations face is realizing that data access and usage stretches across every department and skill level at their company. Additionally, data can be daunting for new teams and it also tends to repel people who feel using data requires a special set of skills. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies that can be deployed to ensure your employees feel that the data belongs to them, that they feel confident working with it, and feel a sense of ownership.
Self-service platforms with a simple interface can empower non-technical users to derive insights. Basic training or built-in tutorials can be helpful here and can enable employees to feel more confident while working with this data.
Dedicated specialist in product teams
A great strategy as deployed by VanMoof is empowering teams with specialists dedicated to enabling access to centralized data. Whether you have Scrum squads, chapters, or tribes, adding a dedicated data specialist to each team or having a dedicated lead from the data team assigned to you, will help ensure your teams can access your data and configure it to their needs. “Alignment and processes aren’t an afterthought. They both need time and attention. That’s why there must be a dedicated team member who continuously monitors the process,” Hazelaar advises other fast-growing companies and people in similar positions.
As you enable access to data, diverse teams will view and interpret this data through a unique lens. So, how do we align teams on the meaning and interpretation of this data?
3. Create a data dictionary
With so many teams and stakeholders assigning and interpreting data in their own way, it becomes a real necessity to establish universally agreed-upon meanings to the data. This can be achieved by creating a data dictionary. IBM Dictionary of Computing describes a data dictionary as a “centralized repository of information about data such as meaning, relationships to other data, origin, usage, and format”. Invest time in understanding how your team interprets data, creating a catalog of all terms and how they assign meaning and definitions to them. This can be facilitated through a workshop for grouping, identifying similarities or conflicts, and finally arriving at standardized terms and definitions.
Read our interview with Duco Berghuis, Product Team Lead at Just Eat Takeaway.com about, among other things, the need for a data dictionary as you scale up.
The upkeep and maintenance of your data dictionary is as important as the creation of it. As new streams of data are plugged into your system and new changes are introduced by the product or business team around the parameters of your product/service, maintenance and upkeep of your data dictionary are paramount to ensure there are no redundancies, duplications, and/or omitted meanings.
4. Enable flexibility in the data system architecture
As Hazelaar mentioned, VanMoof has many digital products that generate huge volumes of data from various sources in various formats. Traditional IT infrastructures tend to contain data silos that are complex and time-consuming to integrate. As a result, information is often inaccessible to users outside a certain department, causing reporting gaps or bottlenecks. These environments conceal the end-to-end visibility businesses and teams require to derive accurate insights from their data and use it strategically.
When thinking of a data strategy as a tool for strategic alignment, it’s important to also evaluate the technical vision and map out if your current systems and architecture support that vision. Taking advantage of cloud economics for storage, rapid provisioning, and near-infinite scalability from the get-go will enable your organization to meet unknown future data demands and always have the capability to reassess your data strategy without restrictions of rigid architectures and archaic systems. The infrastructure and technology you choose should go hand-in-hand with your corporate culture and reflect your organizational goals. As mentioned earlier, most teams and employees look at data through a unique lens, and the tools or technology you deploy to enable access to this data should reflect this diversity.
In today’s world, data holds the power to bring transparency to the whole organization and help teams gain visibility on the source of all decisions. But, as was the case with VanMoof, as businesses and teams scale up, so does the volume, source, and types of data. With that arises the need for businesses to integrate, manage and secure data in new ways that actually enable this transparency and agility for decision making and so enable alignment across their whole organization.
By providing teams and employees with a universal data analytics tool – a single source of truth – that everyone can understand and use intuitively, leaders ensure their people have everything they need to make independent and successful decisions for themselves, their teams, and the company mission, and to become truly aligned.
Are you looking to understand how your organization can align itself through data or how alignment fits in with the organizational structure of your company? We can help you build strategies and platforms using human-centered approaches to enable alignment across your organization.
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