by Dan Hartveld

The 7 deadly sins of enterprise data management

Nov 06, 2017
Data ManagementIT Leadership

From lust to sloth to pride, many businesses are guilty of sins against data. Here’s what to look out for and how to turn from data sinner to data saint.

seven deadly sins bible erm mistakes signs
Credit: Thinkstock

Anyone involved in big data knows about the challenges businesses face when it comes to the massive amounts of data that need to be wrangled, tamed and made sense of to stay competitive, meet customer expectations and, increasingly, comply with the law.

While we’re in the ‘Wild West’ phase of data integration and management – it’s not even clear who owns the data being generated second on second – it’s hardly surprising that some CIOs and board members have made IT decisions based on strategies which are not entirely driven by sustainable ideals. So here they are – the seven deadly sins of enterprise data management:


It’s easy to be swayed by the allure of shiny things – a new gadget, the latest hi-tech installation, a ‘miraculous’ virtual reality gimmick. But using budget to paint a pretty veneer on top of your systems without tackling how your underlying data works and connects will give you more problems than solutions. Beacons are a great example – many retailers have been attracted to the way they can track customer movements, but beyond this very few have a real strategy for using and managing the information.


When you know you need to do something about data but you’re not clear what it is, it’s tempting to go for everything – introducing new systems and data packages on top of legacy processes and adopting a ‘more is more’ attitude. This may be a quick fix, rather than going through the painful process of auditing, analysing and assimilating – but often the result is ‘all data, no insight’. More information is of no use unless it can be put to work, which means getting systems to communicate and ensuring you have right tools to analyse the data.


While the data ownership fine print is still being written, wanting to keep hold of and protect your data is no bad thing. But when it comes at the expense of business opportunity, greed is not good. If you’re unwilling to share information with proven third parties and platforms with the potential to make your business better, your bottom line is going to take a hit.


Possibly the worst sin of all. A surprising number of businesses that should know better have decided to tackle the data issue by burying their heads in the sand and hoping it will go away – for example, according to research by cloud service provider Calligo, 69% of IT decision makers don’t have board backing for GDPR compliance. After all, it’s hard work building a good, future-proof data management strategy – if everything’s ticking along, albeit inefficiently, what’s the worst that could happen? The answer is bankruptcy or prosecution.


Businesses that have been around for a while will have legacy systems that they’re very happy with – they want to carry on doing things as they’ve always done them. Inertia is a powerful force – business boards will be angry if they’re made to get out of their comfortable rut, ploughed by old-school thinking and patched, mended systems made to work way beyond their original purpose. And decisions made in anger about vital business strategies will not be practical or long-lasting.


‘I want what they’ve got’ can be heard in boardrooms everywhere – once a competitor takes action, there’s a scramble to catch up. But knee-jerk reactions lead to hasty decisions and implementations which usually turn out to be expensive mistakes down the line. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for data management – you need to work out what you want for your own brand, customers and sales colleagues before you commit to a platform for change.


While others bury their heads in the sand or worry about competitors, some businesses will be thinking ‘we’ve got this nailed’ – an equally dangerous assumption. Even the most clued-up data scientist can’t know everything – as data points multiply, so do systems, platforms and connections, and there’s just no way to anticipate them all. And, when it comes to legislation such as GDPR where the requirements are not crystal clear, it’s important to accept that the approach you start out with needs to adapt and evolve – document your decisions and justifications but be ready to change when best practice becomes clearer. Pride comes before a fall, as the saying goes – accepting there are ‘known unknowns’ and being prepared to communicate doubt is the only way to avoid taking a tumble.

…and one saving grace

Seven deadly sins and seven ways of thinking, each capable of hampering progress when it comes to managing data. Fortunately, there’s one simple saving grace which can set IT strategists on the right track – honesty. As soon as you start a truthful dialogue about what you have, what you need and how to bridge the gap, you can rapidly elevate yourself from data sinner to data saint.