Travel company bucks odds, touts success of data governance programme

Three-quarters of data governance programmes don’t achieve much success, based on survey results. The Travel Corporation bucked the trend with a three-step programme that goes beyond IT.

Less than a quarter of surveyed organisations that have undertaken a data governance programme would describe it as “quite” or “highly” successful, with the rest really not very happy with the results at all.

In fact, according to a survey undertaken last year among 134 mainly US and European companies by analyst firm The Information Difference, a worrying 16% of the respondents felt that their efforts were downright “unsuccessful” compared with a tiny 2% that believed them a complete triumph. The rest of the respondents placed themselves somewhere in the middle.

And when the mean one-off price tag of such enterprise-wide programmes is $3.5 million, plus an additional $1.2 million in annual maintenance costs, such findings are scarcely a ringing endorsement or evidence of money well spent.

So what has been going wrong for many organisations? According to Andy Hayler, CEO of The Information Difference, which currently is conducting a new data governance benchmarking study in conjunction with the US-based Data Governance Institute, there are a number of statistically valid factors that correlate directly with failure. These include not having

  • A clear business case or written mission statement.
  • A clear process for resolving interdepartmental disputes about data.
  • Well-designed policies to control who has access to what business data.
  • Well-documented data definitions, models and standards, or proper documentation of internal business processes and data governance roles.
  • An active register of potential data-related business risks.
  • Regular data quality assessments.
  • Links between overall data governance goals and staff’s personal objectives.
  • A comprehensive communications and training programme.

Key factors in successful data governance programmes
Alex Cox, director of information at The Travel Corporation, agrees with Hayler. However, Cox boils the critical success factors for data governance programmes down to three. These are a compelling business case, a well-defined framework or set of governance structures, and being able to get the message across to data owners that corporate information belongs to them rather than the IT department.

The Travel Corporation, which comprises a raft of travel and tourism operators such as Contiki Holidays and Trafalgar Tours, introduced its data governance initiative in 2008, four years after embarking on a data cleansing exercise in preparation for introducing its new CRM system.

Cox explained: “When we’d been cleaning data for a few years – experiencing frustration in having to react to problems after they’d occurred, spending time cleaning up the same problems and feeling that no one appreciated the amount of effort required to achieve the goal of good data quality – we decided to introduce the concept of data governance. The idea was to deal with things up-front and proactively, rather than simply reacting to things.”

As a first step to try and get the importance of such an approach over to senior executives, he showed them a four-stage data governance maturity model. The document served as a wake-up call by demonstrating in black-and-white terms that the firm was at best only at stage two in terms of maturity.

The second step was to come up with a viable business case, which outlined where The Travel Corporation was ain the process what business challenges it faced in relation to data governance and the tangible costs and impacts of those challenges. Cox said that when developing any system with a data integration element, 30% of project time is routinely spent on dealing with such business issues.

“So we were able to look at the development we were doing and, when we thought about what 30% looked like, it was a quite compelling argument. We could then point to people who were spending three days a week fixing problems like that,” Cox said. “After identifying three or four issues that we could attach man-hours for firefighting to, we were able to come up with some very tangible cost savings.”

Data governance framework not created from whole cloth
Other, more intangible potential benefits included being able to provide more effective customer service and personalised communications as a result of better quality data. After buy-in was obtained, the next stage was to set up a new data governance framework, in some instances simply by extending the remit of bodies that were already in place.

For instance, the company’sexecutive board agreed to sponsor and support the data governance programme. An existing IT steering committee, which was responsible for overseeing new projects, was also tasked with ensuring that the necessary data governance checks and balances were in place.

In addition, a regional steering committee with business executives from key extra-UK geographies such as the US, Canada and Australia was set up to ensure that data governance was at the forefront of any global and local CRM initiatives.

The final piece of the puzzle, however, was to appoint data stewards to “define and police measures and metrics, so as to determine success and enable enforcement,” Cox explained.

The data stewards played a core role in defining business rules, such as the criteria for merging duplicate records. They also came up with rules for entering new information such as customer names and addresses into the CRM system, according to Cox.

The aim was to ensure that all of the data was recorded in a standard way. In addition, training was provided to business users, and subsequent integrity checks were introduced using a combination of automated tools and manual efforts to ensure conformance.

But, Cox said: “While there was IT involvement in putting in the tools and business rules behind the scenes, this was very much a business project. For the first time, we started to get the message across that ‘this is your data and you have to take responsibility for it’ and that it wasn’t the responsibility of IT.”

Data governance programme yields single view of customer
As to the benefits that have resulted from the move, a key one is that it is now possible to gain a single view of individual customers, no matter which channel they use to interact with the company, its brands or the third-party travel agencies that act as its sales representatives.

“Having a single view enables us to personalise communications with customers at various touchpoints and also allows us to make our communications more relevant to them,” Cox said. “We can now also proactively send out leads to agents to follow up, which we could never do before. So everyone benefits.”

Nonetheless, he warns that data governance is not a one-off project, but instead has to be treated as an ongoing programme or it will be doomed to failure. “It’s about continually championing the need for data governance and the importance of having good, clean data, so that everyone’s aware and understands what’s at stake,” Cox concluded.

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