The Data Map – The Road to Managing Data as an Asset

You won’t be surprised to learn that here at RUMBLE, we believe your data is an asset to your enterprise – just like your people, your innovation, your plant, and your capital. Smart business managers are in the business of maximizing the utility of their assets. They make sure that people, money, and equipment aren’t left unnecessarily idle, and they are constantly seeking ways to leverage those assets to achieve the fundamental strategic goals every business has to serve if it expects to prosper:

  1. Drive Revenue
  2. Decrease Expense
  3. Increase Productivity (Efficiency)

Given this, you’d be surprised how many businesses fail to leverage their data. Actually, you’d be surprised how many businesses fail to even evaluate the potential in their data. In all the ways that matter, it’s like leaving money on the table.

Remember Science Class in junior high, specifically the experiments we performed with inclined planes? You’ll recall that a weight positioned at the top of the ramp is full of potential energy – and has the capability to do work (in this case, roll down the plane). As a business manager, you need to start thinking of your data that way – it’s full of potential energy to do work on your behalf and on your customer’s.

In the IoT space, this topic isn’t just academic: it’s central to the fundamental value equation we bring to our customers. IoT is all about data generation, transport, evaluation, and manipulation. It’s one of the fundamental engines driving this forecast:

Recent growth in the amount of data stored


Forward looking business writers, like Victor Mayer-Schonberger and Thomas Ramge, the authors of “Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data” are predicting data is going to become an asset in the more traditional sense. Markets will replace valuation based primarily on price with a valuation that encompasses the supplemental data that a party brings to the marketplace as part of the transaction. This is data capitalism – where data becomes a currency. That’s an interesting future for IoT players to be thinking about, given the vast quantities of data they will be generating.

So where do you begin with data capitalism? Given that rising tide of data, we all know examples of enterprises that wind up flailing at the topic, metaphorically drowning in the wave of information. Well, just like early sea-farers that are navigating dangerous waters, we recommend you have a good map.

The Data Map – Inventory and Audit

A data map should be a fundamental tool in your business, just like a general ledger. It should be an evergreen instrument, and it’s likely every part of your data capitalism team, not just the analytics group, is going to have a role in either creation, maintenance, or management of the map. The analytics team is probably the best functional owner, but as stewards, not proprietors. Likewise, business leaders own the business fundamentals we mentioned, and the map should be a strategic asset as they develop their plans to grow the business by driving those priorities.

If you claim to be managing an asset, it goes without saying that you have inventoried that asset, correct? Start here. Do you have a data inventory? Can you reliably claim you understand, across the process map of your business, that you know what data is generated at each node, across each link, and as part of each transaction? Is that data classified as primary, generated by the element, or is it derived from some combination of primary element interactions? Is that data captured, and if so, where is it stored? For how long? What is its periodicity or update cycle? The point here is probably clear – you can’t manage what you can’t enumerate.

Odds are high that you already have process flow maps, and those are a great place to start. Combine them with your physical topology pictures, and create a cross-functional working team that will march their way across those pictures to create a third view – the data map overlay that exists on top of both.

As you already may have surmised, that team needs to include the people who own the elements, the links, the nodes and the transactions, not just the data, analytics, and reporting teams. The goal is to examine each link in the chain, capture all the outputs, and catalog their definitions, details, and depths. Designers, engineers, technicians – all have a role in terms of audit to make sure the data elements are comprehensively documented.

The tool you use to capture this is up to you, but make sure it’s robust, capable of comprehensive versioning control, and, ideally, accessible by all the parts of your organization. Creating a map using an arcane utility that requires expensive licenses and becomes a jealously guarded asset by select owners is not what you’re after here. You want to democratize the data: the model you’re seeking is more of a blockchain – secure, but open, redundant and ubiquitous. You want to train all of your teams to think about data as asset, and that means everybody needs to be part of mapping and managing it, and therefore has to be able to access it.

The idea and philosophy you’re propagating is that all information has value – and you’re not in the business of throwing value away. You want to build a data-centric culture, and you want to train your teams to think that way.

This kind of thinking needs to be baked into your development process – no design is issued without a section that details the data elements produced or modified, and shows how the enterprise data map is altered or enhanced by deployment. Any report produced should, as part of its key, be tied to the data map so that sources are clearly identified. Does this sound like overkill? Think back to that point about money left on the table. Neglect this discipline in the environment of a rising data tide, and don’t be surprised when water starts coming into the boat. You expect your accountants to be able to show your financials to the penny. Bring the same exacting attitude to the task of mastering your enterprise data sets.

Going Forward

Cataloging and auditing your data is the critical and necessary first step to leveraging that asset. Think of the map as the circulatory system of your enterprise, mapping the flow of information rather than oxygen, but delivering the same end result – enabling work, growth, and protecting the health of the business.

(Article by Chris Schultz, a principal at Analytic Marketing Innovations (AMI) and a RUMBLE Strategic Partner. Their solutions delivery approach identifies executable steps and recommends both near-term and long-term courses of actions, helping your business leverage data insights for growth and transformation.)

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