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The next big things are all the old things

June 13, 2019

By Aaron Fuller

We are entering a time of amazing data processing capabilities. It seems there is no data volume too large or no analytical process too complex to be handled by today’s technology. Yet most organizations continue to struggle with the basic aspects of data management.

Despite all the fantastic technology and the even more fantastical hype around it, the next big thing is to finally get good at all the “old” things—many of which have little to do with technology and everything to do with people and process.
It’s time to get back to basics.

Today’s data processing capabilities are amazingly powerful, but most organizations struggle to get value from their data assets. We have the technology and a greater availability of raw data to help us. So why aren’t we seeing value?
Because we’re looking for technology silver bullets instead of establishing long-term programs to achieve business goals. This lack of consistent excellence with the fundamentals means companies of all sizes struggle with the basics of data management. That holds them back from accomplishing higher-end goals of business performance management, business intelligence and advanced analytics.

While leading organizations—often the largest companies with the largest pocketbooks—are using the outstanding 
capabilities available to derive business value from their enterprise data assets, most businesses need to spend the next several years trying (or possibly trying again) to succeed at underlying data management functions such as governance and data quality management.

Back to Basics
Plenty of good tools exist, but thinking the data management challenges of our organizations can be solved simply by implementing the right software is much of the reason these organizations find themselves failing again and again at analytics, business intelligence and data warehousing efforts.

So how do we get back to basics?

THE STRUGGLE: Being too dependent on one vendor for most software needs is simple and can feel easier for an organization. And everybody loves a discount that comes with such loyalty, but dependency can mean the vendor’s weaknesses and gaps become your weaknesses and gaps.

BACK TO BASICS: The best approach is to use the tools available from a preferred vendor and then fill in missing needs with niche tools. Don’t be afraid to develop small capabilities on your own that fulfill these niches, or look to have a consultant or small business customize your tools to ensure you’re getting the information and intelligence you need.

THE STRUGGLE: Oftentimes, small and mid-sized organizations only need a fraction of the capabilities the large, expensive tools offer, and smaller organizations don’t have the funding to purchase and properly maintain those large software packages.

BACK TO BASICS: Use lightweight, low-cost or free software to stitch together the capabilities you need and pair them with low-cost, custom development to make it work for your organization. Smaller-organization access to large tools is coming. We can expect this to turn into a full-blown trend over the next several years, and it’s likely vendors will begin to provide a better variety of data management tools for smaller orgs in the future. In the meantime, it comes back to stitching together free and low-cost options with lightweight, low-cost development. Think: An enhanced Sharepoint site which could meet your needs, while costs for data catalog suites decrease.

THE STRUGGLE: Big companies are further ahead on data cataloging because of their ability to buy big, expensive tools and launch massive projects to implement them. But even those organizations struggle to make good use of such complex tools.

BACK TO BASICS: We can all focus on using the features of these big tool suites that provide direct value—don’t let the software tell you how to do your job. Develop goals and strategic needs around what you’re trying to understand, learn or do and then structure the tools, reporting and information to contribute to those goals, not the other way around.

Perhaps the ultimate “old thing” philosophy of good business is that people and process matter far more than technology. Focus first on who will improve data management and then have them define the various system needs. Ensure you have the team—either in-house or through your vendor or consultant network—to set the goals, build the system and processes, analyze the findings and act on the information to strengthen and grow the organization. Only then should you buy or build software as needed to meet the organization’s needs.

People are power—far more than the buttons on our machines—and that’s one of the most basic business principles we all should remember.

Aaron Fuller is the principal consultant and owner at Superior Data Strategies and is responsible for guiding clients toward reliable and valuable business solutions as it relates to their data warehousing, business intelligence and enterprise architecture programs. Fuller is skilled in dozens of software, databases and standards and methodological programs and serves as a faculty member at The Data Warehouse Institute. You can reach him at or on Twitter, @AaronTheDataGuy.

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