by Rohan Light

For enterprise analytics, good governance isn’t centralized governance

Mar 21, 2017
AnalyticsCIOIT Leadership

The proliferation of self-service analytics tools in the enterprise presents corporate IT with breakthrough opportunity. Governance of analytics is perhaps the only domain that the strategic CxO should be expected to have primary responsibility for.

Enterprising Analytics

To be “enterprising” is to be eager to undertake or prompt to attempt. To show initiative and be resourceful. These are leadership traits, so to be enterprising is to lead. “Analytics” is how we use data to inform decision-making, in the context of achieving business objectives. These are management practices, so analytics is about management.

“Enterprising Analytics” is about being creative, resourceful and adventurous with decision-making to achieve business objectives. It is about the set of leadership and management practices that need to be in place for an organization to make the most of its analytics investment.

Self-service analytics needs a different set of rules

The ease with which customer-facing business units obtain self-service analytics platforms is leading to a proliferation of analytic tools within the enterprise. Because much of the load-bearing capacity of the modern organization is distributed out into its value-producing ecosystem, the strategic CxO knows she just can’t declare from on high that everyone needs to play by corporate IT’s rule book.

The outcome of such pronouncements tends to be a weakening of the value that corporate IT can provide. Given the struggles of corporate IT in providing effective growth-oriented services to customer-facing business units, reading from the tablets isn’t in anyone’s interest. Furthermore, raising the ghosts of security and risk doesn’t usually have the desired effect. Which means the strategic CxO has to take a different route.

The situation might not be so challenging if IT didn’t have to simultaneously manage the data burden. While the periphery is fragmenting, the core is clogging up with data lakes that need constant dredging. And every new analytics installation tends to discharge a fresh stream of muddy data into the lake. Taken together, is it any wonder that corporate IT is so misunderstood? Because few people like standing in mud up to their necks, and because the exciting world of customer analytics looks shiny and new, doing the really important data work can be neglected.

There are genuine service niches for corporate IT

The sustainable way forward for the strategic CxO to make organizational dynamics work in her favor is to encourage customer-facing business units to take responsibility for cleaning up their part of the lake. It’s the proliferation of self-service analytics that gives the breakthrough opportunity for corporate IT. The catch is that it won’t take the centrally managed form most familiar to corporate IT veterans.

There is a genuine service niche here. It’s about helping enterprise analytics participants understand who contributes to their success and whose success they contribute to. It’s about helping stabilize the internal enterprise analytics “market.” It’s about establishing an effective network leadership in organizations separate from management of the central IT stack. It’s about avoiding the poison chalice of taking responsibility for enterprise-level data. It’s about exiting thankless infrastructure maintenance. It’s about entering a genuine service relationship with the customer-facing business units.

Doing so requires a substantial re-population of the IT work environment. This is less about putting employees through training programs, and more about changing the way we look at what an effective IT workforce looks like. The good news is that there is a growing segment of HR professionals working this through. The bad news is that it creates winners and losers, and the losers are often incumbents with grandfathered employee benefit plans.

Good governance is different in knowledge organizations

But this is why we need strategic CxOs in the first place. If it were easy, someone would have done it already. And built an app for it. Leadership in enterprise analytics means changing the paradigm of what work looks like and helping people contribute to that new paradigm. This is no place for the hero leader. It is a place for leaders who gather people around a new center of gravity within the enterprise. Because this is what analytics does: It changes what people believe to be true and to be possible in the context of work.

That there is a new center of gravity in organizations is, to my mind, without question. The issue isn’t that it has occurred, it’s that the functional model no longer explains what has occurred in such a way that the outcome can be managed. This is about letting go of ineffective and outdated concepts of the enterprise. The model I use is that of the “Levitin organization.” Daniel Levitin wrote in his 2014 book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload that an organization can be thought of as a transactive memory system.

If we assume this is closer to the truth of the modern enterprise than that of the functional model laid down by Henri Fayol at the turn of the 20th century, then the strategic CxO can see her way toward a better way of managing. And by managing, I mean governance.

Governance in a Levitin organization is quite different from governance in a Fayol one. In specific terms of enterprise analytics, this means having several gears to the governance mechanism. And governance of analytics is perhaps the only domain that the strategic CxO should be expected to have primary responsibility for.