Why do we care about basic business data management?

We care about basic business data management for two important reasons. Firstly, information is nowadays considered the fourth main production factor next to materials, labor force and finance. Through the ages, most companies have understood how to manage the original three production factors, but many are still struggling with managing their data properly. Badly managed data leads to bad information, which leads to bad decisions and in turn to sub-optimal business. Secondly, basic business data management lays the foundation for the digital transformation in any company. Data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, the internet-of-things and the likes are some of today’s most hyped technologies, and new applications are discovered right at the moment. This has not gone unnoticed to Supply Chain Management professionals as they aim to put these technologies to use in their business. Yet doing so requires proper data management, which is still a struggle to many.

Data is often inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent. We still see essential business data sharing via mechanisms like USB-sticks or email. Therefore, Data2Move invited its partners and professor Paul Grefen to discuss current company practices and how ‘basic’ data management can be improved as the first step towards proper data-driven business management and advanced data analytics. As testified by the partners in a poll during our event, there is a lot to gain by proper data management:

How can we improve our data management?

In practice, data quality problems often occur as a result of decentralized and disconnected data. The Logistics department may record order prices excluding taxes, while Marketing stores order prices including tax, resulting in poor conformity. An operations manager may take a USB stick with HR data home, resulting in security vulnerabilities. Sales may only send updates once per week, giving rise to longer lead times as a result of poor timeliness. Conformity, security, and timeliness are just three of the common types of data quality problems.

Data quality problems can be improved by having one centralized enterprise database, in which the rights and responsibilities of each department are clearly defined. We can distinguish two components within this database: the data store and the data warehouse. The data store contains low-level data that can be used for operational decision making, for example the number of orders due this week. In the data warehouse, filtered and aggregated data is stored based on the basis of which more high-level management information can be generated.

What can you do now?

Although good data management is not rocket science, it does require effort and time. When data quality is not in order, data analytics cannot help us to make better decisions. A solid database management technology is key to guarantee a minimum level of data quality. There is no single solution that works for all companies: you need to be aware of the decisions being taken in your company and which information can help to improve decision making. Operational decision-making needs much more low-level information compared to decision-making at the tactical/strategic level, and you may thus need different solutions at different levels. To get you started, here is a checklist that can help you to get an overview of data management problems in your company:

Finally, it is good practice to appoint a data manager (preferably not an IT-only expert, but someone with business knowledge) to prioritize and design your company’s plan towards proper data management. Welcome to the Chief Data Officer!

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