Do you trust the data in your organisation?

Can you put your hand on your heart and say that you feel confident making decisions and forward plans based on the information you can get your hands on?

Those stock figures for your e-commerce division and that gross-margin for your highest volume product - do you feel confident and empowered by this data?

Does everybody refer to one consistent and trustworthy source of data, or are there multiple answers to those questions depending on which department or which person you speak to?

Getting to a single version of “the truth’, that one data source that everyone agrees is the real, gold-standard is the holy grail.

The lack of a single source of truth in a commercial setting can mean the difference between profit and loss and customer success vs customer frustration.  Since data is the key to informed decision and strategy making, long-term variances of data between departments can lead to revenue quite literally leaking away, with lost productivity, financial losses and the ability for competitors to steal market share. In fact, 69% of CFOs said that keeping information siloed is the biggest mistake that their companies keep making.

So how do we define the idea of a ‘single source of truth’ for data within the organisation? As defined by InformationWeek, the ‘single source of truth’ is the one source of data that everyone in a company agrees is the real, trusted number for some kinds of operating data. It sounds simple enough. There are a number of reasons organisations end up with so many different versions of the same data and metrics though.

Often people don’t know what data exists, where it is and where it should be stored. A lack of communication can mean that versions of the same data end up in different silos. This represents duplicated effort, where projects are happening in parallel in a disconnected fashion. With the rapid onslaught of digital transformation and the adoption of multiple IT platforms, people are drowning in too much data and lack the actionable insights to make informed business decisions. Given this lack of visibility, it’s led business people at all levels to create their own dashboards and reporting systems as, quite simply, they don’t trust the integrity of other people’s metrics. Ultimately, this leads to people making decisions based on different data sets and different assumptions.

There are many reasons why now is the time to think about creating an SSOT (single source of truth) in your organisation.

No industry has been spared from the disruptive forces of digital transformation. This means that organisations of all sizes are increasingly reliant on data and the number of different sources and platforms that need to work together are only increasing. In the consumer goods industries, the product innovation cycle is speeding up. The old fashion seasons have disappeared. Consumers are used to finding new products on shelves (or online) on a monthly or weekly basis.

To succeed in these industries, businesses need to move faster, understand their customers better and take ideas from concept to reality with greater speed. This can only happen when executives have access to up to the minute market and business intelligence. Customers want delivery on-demand, in a matter of hours or even within half an hour. With the speed of business, people across the operation need to have faith in their data and have one single view of the customer. There needs to be one single view of stock levels, so the business can ship with confidence. All it takes is one failed delivery for a customer to switch to another brand.

The solution - optimise your data with an SSOT across the organisation

A single source of truth will bring multiple benefits to an organisation, that together will be greater than the sum of its parts.

  • First and foremost, people and departments across the business will have confidence in the integrity of data and their ability to make informed business decisions that are built on sound evidence and assumptions.
  • The whole organisation will become more data fluent with more time spent on strategic work, instead of time wasted hunting for data and trying to decipher which is the most recent, the most accurate or the most valid.
  • Teams will know where to find the right sources of information and the right templates and guides for recurring work.

Imagine having one single destination for a particular dataset, instead of trawling through a shared drive where there are multiple document versions, all with inconsistent and hard to understand document names (not to mention the dreaded .DRAFT1, .DRAFT2, .DRAFT1.1.2 scenario for ‘version control!). Imagine not spending a day building a forecast and then realising that you built it with data that no longer even applies anymore.

The benefits go beyond the time and effort saved. With a single go-to data source, your organisation will be more agile and more nimble, with the ability to make go-to-market decisions faster, enabling success in today’s commercial arena.

Getting started with your first SSOT project

The first thing you’ll want to do is build a business case and get buy-in from across the organisation. Build your business case by showing the magnitude that even simple disparities in data can have for the organisation. Think about some of the following scenarios:

  • Over-estimating gross and net margin across your product portfolio
  • Under-estimating demand for products, and the opportunity cost when you fall out of stock
  • The impact of incorrect stock levels in your warehouse - the impact of not fulfilling delivery promises and the backlash as customers take to social media to complain
  • The implications of launching or withdrawing product lines (based on inaccurate demand and trend forecasting data in your business)
  • The impact of mis-calculating cost of goods and not taking into account increased commodity prices
  • Failing to see a shift in consumer tastes and preferences

These are just some basic examples - but as you’ll see, even slight variances of data in these examples can be catastrophic, leading to profit loss, loss of market share and a dent in business competitiveness.

Involve people across the organisation - including everyone who uses the data

It’s crucial to involve the whole organisation in scoping the needs of your SSOT for data. Don’t fall into the trap of designing a system and approach just for your own department’s needs. When you involve people from across the organisation, you’ll earn buy-in and maximise your return on investment (and chance of project success). Think about your C-suite, Sales, Marketing, Finance, Manufacturing, Warehousing, R&D, Logistics, Commercial and HR. Don’t forget to think about external parties who are reliant on a single truthful view of your data. This could be distributors, partners, retailers, agencies and even end-users and customers. Leave no stone unturned to identify the people who have a vested interest in making your project a success.

Don’t just think about data - think about actionable insights

As you scope out your data needs, think carefully about the end goal; the insights that this data will be able to give you. Challenge yourself; will your data sources be sufficient to drive the level of reporting and insight development that you want and need to deliver. By carefully considering the insights that are critical, this will help you to identify data sources that must be included in your SSOT project.

Which source or feed of data will become the “Gold Standard’?

Jeanne Ross, director of MIT Sloan School’s Center for Information Systems Research, has put forward some advice for how to create one version of the truth: just declare it. She recommends picking the source and declaring that this is now the one version that executives and employees will need to use to make decisions.

According to Jeanne “getting to one version of the truth "doesn’t have anything to do with accuracy, it has everything to do with declaring it. Once you tell everyone 'This is our single source,' they work pretty hard to make it more accurate.”

Based on Jeanne’s advice, we recommend looking at your legacy systems and existing IT to identify what is likely to be the most reliable source of data as a starting point. When you then declare and communicate that this is “the source we use”, you’ll find that people across your business will put in more effort to keep this up to date and accurate for everybody’s benefit.

Is there anything else to think about?

Think about the following when designing your SSOT programme:

  • Excluding certain types of data (e.g. out of date, no longer relevant).
  • Create rules and protocol about which data feeds are visible and usable by who.
  • Ensure your initiative is well communicated and documented (so that it’s accessible and known to those who need to use it. After all, we don’t want to encourage any duplication of data in the future).
  • Evaluate your IT systems and existing infrastructure. Are they up to the challenge? Are they scalable?
  • Think about how you will protect confidential or sensitive data - carry out a data audit to think about where each data source is coming from.
  • Understand local legal and compliance requirements. For example, data processing legislation such as GDPR (that defines how and where data can be used, stored, and processed).
  • Take an iterative approach - keep on improving your SSOT program. Keep open lines of communication with cross-functional users. Use feedback to keep improving and testing.
  • Keep communicating about your SSOT - you can’t communicate too much.

And of course, seek the advice and support of a trusted Business Solutions partner who has a proven track record of helping organisations find (and use, and benefit from) their Single Source of Truth.

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