South African businesses have been increasingly concerned about their data governance practices since the first whispers about the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), also known as the POPI Act, of 2013. This was followed closely by Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016.
Data storage and management practices continue to be in the spotlight as companies scramble to get a view of what data they have, where it is housed, who can access it, and how secure it is. Whenever business speaks about data, the concern is with compliance, but there are other data principles that should also be fostered by every organisation, i.e., data as an enterprise strategic asset.
While legislative and regulatory compliance is certainly a good reason to reassess your business operations, proactively using data analytics to obtain deep insights and reliable predictions into organisational operations and customer behaviour is where an untapped wealth of value lies in enabling evidence-based business decisions. The saying goes, “data is the new oil”. While it has become somewhat cliché, it is nevertheless true. Data has become an unrivalled asset for business decision making, but without proper data governance, the quality of the data could render it useless.
Your company’s data strategy needs to be decided early on in a business lifecycle, and will be informed by the wider enterprise strategy. Once you fully understand your busines goals and objectives, you will be able to plan your data requirements. Will you need to collect data about the services you offer? About the quality of service? About the way your services are used? In ten years from now, what historical information will you need about your clients? People tend to think about data as what they have at present, rather than what they could have in the future.
Of course, business objectives change and data is time sensitive. In our experience, if you want to know anything about your business, you should have at least 12 to 18 months’ worth of data. This bank of information could be used to derive trends and insights that will allow you to make a confident business decision. Our recommendation is to use your long-term business strategy to determine the questions that you will need answers to in the future, then collect as much data as is relevant as soon as possible.
However, it is no use storing years and years of unclassified data that is not catalogued so that people can find it. It is vital to classify your data for security and legislation, but beyond that, you need to have a data catalogue. Businesses, which remained calm when the POPI Act was announced, are those with a comprehensive catalogue detailing meta data, classification, who owns the data, where it is physically housed, how it is protected etc. Properly classified data is a valuable asset to your business; it is a differentiator. In a world where products are harder to differentiate, customer service and solid business decisions are what sees a business to success.
Data is a powerful tool. That’s why legislation and regulations had to be put in place. And it’s why you need to think harder about your data governance principles. If you don’t know where to start, partner with an appropriate enterprise solutions provider who will help you leverage one of your biggest assets and sharpen your cutting edge.