Last month I discussed the importance of an effective enterprise data strategy as a means of ensuring that a corporation's investment in information technology actually pays off, that it actually delivers the data and information needed to produce business results and, ultimately, enables innovation. An enterprise data strategy involves determining what analytic capabilities we need, how we should structure data and deliver it to the enterprise, and how we will care for our data once we complete the plan. What actually makes the enterprise data strategy work, however, is the action plan.

It may sound laughably obvious to say that you need an action plan to make something work. In fact, however, the information technology (IT) industry as a whole has been more than a little guilty of delivering thick binders with very detailed enterprise data models and white papers with wonderfully logical data strategies, but with no real imperative to turn the binders and white papers into actionable business benefits. The question for this month and next is: How does a company create an action plan with real "teeth"?

What is an Action Plan?

Several people and functions within an organization need to participate in the creation of the action plan including functional directors, functional staffers and technologists. These people typically meet over a period of several weeks and create the plan. Whatever medium is used, a good action plan has five components: business challenges, people, process, technology and delivery schedule. This month I want to focus on the first two components of the action plan.

Business Challenges

The critical component of an action plan – and one that has often been missing from enterprise approaches – is a clear delineation of the business challenges that will be addressed by the enterprise data strategy. Why should the enterprise have a data strategy? What problems will it attempt to solve? It's just not enough for an organization to state that an enterprise data strategy is needed because "enterprise data is a valuable resource that must be managed well."

Instead, the business challenges need to be stated as real business problems within the context of the enterprise. Here's an example: My customer data is so fragmented across legacy systems that I can't identify my most profitable customers. Why is that a problem? Without that knowledge, a company can't provide those customers with the special attention needed to retain them. The absence of clear customer information may also obscure some bad business decisions. Sales representatives may be so eager to retain large customers that they are offering huge discounts and taking losses on each sale, hoping to make up the losses through volume – a common business misconception.

Articulating clear business challenges isn't as easy as it sounds. It often requires that a project team engage in rigorous research in order to determine the real issues that will get the attention of enterprise executives.


Who makes the enterprise data strategy operational? People, of course. However, ironically, people are often neglected in an enterprise data strategy. When thinking about the people who will drive the work and then sustain it, several areas need clear definition:

Roles and Responsibilities. Who will sponsor and advocate the solution going forward? What will be the users' roles and responsibilities? What user processes must change to ensure that business benefits are achieved? How will users be incented to accept the changes? Most enterprises fail to capitalize on data as a corporate asset because they lack analytic skills (see last month's column for more on this subject). If those skills are lacking, the action plan must specify how such skills will be built or acquired and where they will be housed.

Project Management and Accountability. Who will be assigned to deliver results from projects identified in the action plan? Will those people be given the time to do it? Important projects typically need full- time people assigned. Will people in these roles be given the freedom to focus on their new jobs or are they likely to be pulled back into their old roles? Should the company pursue a mixed staffing model of employees, contractors and consultants?

Organization Structure. If a data administration organization will be created to build and maintain an enterprise data model (a common recommendation of an enterprise data strategy), what responsibilities will those individuals have? How will they work with project teams designing an application?

With a clearer sense of the business challenges to be addressed and the people needed to make the strategy work, an organization must then move on to consider the processes and technologies at the heart of the strategy as well as the delivery schedule and rollout plan that drives the implementation. More about those components of the action plan next month.

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