Why trustworthy data is core to being data-driven

by Zachary Zeus
March 12, 2019
a computer screen with a bunch of data on it

Trustworthy data produces reliable decisions

The pursuit of trustworthy data has become a quest for senior managers in the Australian financial services sector. With businesses transforming inexorably into organisations where data heavily guides daily decision-making, there is an obvious need for ‘data’, and the associated ‘information’, to be extremely accurate. If the data is ‘off’, the information is ‘off’, and this leads to fractured decision-making.

“We live in a data-driven world and the ability to leverage business data and turn the data into valuable insights is critical. Not trusting your business data is a scary thought, but it is also a reality for many businesses today,” warns Sam Daynes of Expert360.

Trustworthy data, unsurprisingly, translates into trustworthy information, which underpins trustworthy decisions, empowering better decisions which drive the business forward, based on the best available information.

However, surely data is inherently reliable?

Far from it! There are numerous reasons why your information may be inaccurate and hinder the creation of trustworthy data. One of the most common causes in the financial services arena – given the longevity and large size of many financial services businesses – is software disparity.

Organisations may have many software systems in place to manage different processes. ERP systems, CRM systems and bespoke software solutions all form part of the equation. The more established the company, the more systems it often has in place supporting the business operations. Many of the systems are legacy systems which are no longer entirely up to the task. Yet replacing them would result in complexity and additional costs, hence, replacing the systems is a challenge.

“Running multiple systems leads to ‘confusing’ data as business users may not be aware of which data source is the most accurate. Lack of integration between disparate systems may mean that multiple data sources are required to get a complete picture of business operations,” Daynes explains.

Even if your systems are centralised and modern, you may still lack trustworthy data because the software is faulty. Incorrectly configured software tends to be more common in bespoke systems that have not undergone the same rigorous debugging processes as off-the-shelf commercial software.

Human shortcomings are a key factor in any business requiring trustworthy data. Even in tech-savvy companies that are driven by technology, this issue persists. If you have hundreds (perhaps thousands) of employees, brokers, consultants and suppliers inputting data or interacting with your system in some way, then almost certainly somebody will key in incomplete information, short-circuiting established protocols, or implementing their practices. Multiplied many times over many years, the net effect is a data set of poor quality that does not lend itself to generating reliable decisions and creating trustworthy data.

Even if you’re confident that you have trustworthy data, do you have the right tools to interrogate that data and deliver the insights required by management to drive the business forward? Using an inappropriate business intelligence system will produce slow and cumbersome reporting at best, inaccurate reporting at worst. As in so many facets of life, if you’re unable to ask the right questions, it’s unlikely that you’ll generate the correct responses that will enhance your decision-making.

How does data become ‘trusted’?

If one, or a combination of the above factors are present within your organisation, acknowledge that you do not have trustworthy data and take steps to ensure that it does become ‘trusted’. One of the first questions to ask is how well integrated is your data? If you’re beset by having to work with many software and legacy systems, consolidate your information into a data warehouse and replace those legacy systems.

Do you suspect that you lack trustworthy data because your software is faulty? Bring in expert consultants to review your systems regularly. Also, check reported data against individual transactional data. Validating data at a granular level can be onerous, but the effort is well worth it if it produces trustworthy data.

Unless everyone who can access your system is truly exceptional and faultlessly disciplined, they are likely taking shortcuts or inputting incomplete data. Ensure relevant people receive regular training on the system and that there are clear procedural guidelines for them to follow. Also, consider whether the information that one inputs is genuinely beneficial to the company and in line with business goals. The more extended and more complex the process they need to follow, the more likely people are to make mistakes or short-circuit procedures.

Is your business intelligence software extracting the data that you require in a suitable timeframe? You should analyse the data sources you’re connected to, the format they’re in and establish where the data is within your software. These factors will help to steer you in the right direction. Ultimately, though, finding the best fit is complicated and you’ll likely need to consult a business intelligence software expert.

Remember, however, that extracting the ‘right’ data isn’t purely an IT challenge and you should engage with senior management to be clear on the questions they need the data to answer. Do the organisation’s executives know where they’re going in terms of the strategic direction of the business? If so, how can your IT team generate trustworthy data that will take them there?

“It helps if organisations are clear on what decisions are going to be made based on the data you have and the data you want to have,” emphasises David Lamond, Director of Strategic Analytics, Insights and Research at Scentre Group, which operates shopping centres in Australia and New Zealand.

In this instance, generating trustworthy data is dependent on being able to source appropriate answers to the right questions.

Management culture can help create trustworthy data

Trustworthy data depends on much more than sound systems, processes, and technology. Organisational culture drive attitudes toward data and information that directly impact how trustworthy organisational data will be.

According to Forbes, senior managers need to ask themselves a fundamental question: how well are you managing and reusing data? If the answer is ‘not well’, then the blame sits with the executive in question, not the IT or data engineering teams. Technology professionals may manage code, software, databases, and storage – but IT teams are rarely privy to the most important data of all – the business requirements that determine what the data management systems must hold.

Putting the customer first is essential for trust

Westpac state manager NSW ACT for Consumer Connect Now, David McQueen, states that brands needs to consider their use of data in terms of customer problems. “If you’re doing it purely from a commercial point of view, you will struggle with using data with customers,” he said.

In this respect, Westpac practice what they preach. One example of how the bank uses data insight is ensuring consumers about to embark on international travel inform the bank to avoid having their credit card put on hold. The initiative is driven through its mobile app and taps location to send real-time alerts to customers on their way to the international airport.

“There’s no rational corporate gain from us delivering that service,” David commented. The key is to think like a customer.

“You need to look from an ethical perspective, which is what we try and do as a bank. When you have 30,000 employees, who makes the choice on using data is an extremely complex decision,” McQueen said. “It comes down to having a robust ethical position. You can’t just have black and white rules, you need a customer-centric culture that puts the customer be at the heart of what you do.”

Trustworthy data requires effective reuse

An essential aspect of creating trustworthy data is ensuring that you reuse older, but potentially useful, information effectively when necessary. Balance data access protocols with ease of access for those who need to use it most. After all, data kept in a silo is of no use to anyone.

“Organisations looking to manage their data storage better should be sure that wherever their data is stored, it is easily accessible to the relevant groups in the business,” stresses Sam Underwood, VP of Business Strategy at data analytics consultancy Futurety. “As we continue to move towards a more data-driven culture, it’s important that your organisation is well-prepared to pull data into dashboards or other visualisations to guide future strategies.”

The final word on why trustworthy data is core to being data-driven goes to Cagle, who points out that creating trustworthy data will be the result of a successful organisational digital transformation process that does not take place immediately.

“There will be winners and losers as power and priorities shift, and this means that there will be inertia to make changes at all levels immediately. It requires that managers, especially, need to get more closely involved with the information lifecycle, to move out of the compartmentalisation between the front office and back office work.”

“Those companies that are able to master what’s involved quickly will be both more self and externally aware, will have far clearer metrics into their particular business functions and, ultimately, will be able to [take] that information into every aspect of their business … at a level that most CEOs can only dream of today.”

Portrait of Maxx Silver
Zachary Zeus

Zachary Zeus is the Co-CEO & Founder of BizCubed. He provides the business with more than 20 years' engineering experience and a solid background in providing large financial services with data capability. He maintains a passion for providing engineering solutions to real world problems, lending his considerable experience to enabling people to make better data driven decisions.

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