November 1, 2018

Burj Khalifa and the importance of strong foundations

Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai

What’s the point of devoting so much time and effort to the foundations of data management? Well, if your foundations are questionable, you can only go so high.

However, if you are prepared to identify and fix the weaknesses and deficiencies in the foundations of your data management strategy, then you’ll find that the sky’s the limit.

Look at the world around you. Everything relies on solid foundations. From the buildings we live and work in to the roads we drive on or the tracks that trains run on. We simply can’t function without the right foundations in place.

Process is as important as system

This begs the question – why do so many organisations try to cut corners or do the bare minimum when defining their data management processes? Why do they put in place such shallow foundations and act surprised when, down the line, they run into the same problems again?

Incomplete records or duplicated suppliers are always going to be a challenge if you don’t implement a thorough master data management strategy when introducing a new system or platform, regardless of how good the system is.

You may have heard the phrase ‘garbage in, garbage out’ in reference to what happens when you create bad data. Well, you can add garbage processes to that.

The importance of foundations

Allow us to indulge in an analogy. One that will hopefully make the importance of foundations even clearer.

It’s helpful to think in terms of some of the world’s most famous buildings. Take, for example, the leaning Tower of Pisa – with the emphasis on leaning.

The famous Italian tower started subsiding soon after construction started in the late 1100s, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was built with a foundation of only three metres. Secondly, it was built on dense clay.

One of these in isolation would be bad enough, but the two factors combined are clearly a disastrous combination. You could call this an example of inadequate planning, which has resulted in the tower requiring a huge amount of (costly) maintenance since its completion to prevent it from collapsing all together. That said, if you are visiting, don’t worry, it hasn’t moved at all since 2008.

Fixed at the point of creation

When you apply the same logic to supplier master data management, you begin to see how problems can easily arise. Especially bearing in mind the two moments that matter in the lifespan of a piece of data – when it’s created and when it’s used.

Therefore, if the data is of poor or insufficient quality when it’s created then – much like with the leaning tower – it’s going to be something that requires continual maintenance and input to make it remotely useable. That’s before you even consider the long-term cost of data cleansing as opposed to the benefits of keeping your data clean.

Staying with the theme, in stark contrast to the Tower of Pisa is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – the world’s tallest structure (for now anyway).

It’s not what you see – it’s what you don’t see

As you can imagine, the building’s statistics are ridiculous. It stands at 829.8 metres / 2,722 feet high and, apparently, if you lie all of its component parts down end-to-end then they would stretch across a quarter of the world. Not to mention the fact that the weight of the concrete used in its construction is equivalent to 100,000 elephants.

However, while this is all undoubtedly impressive, it’s only possible thanks to what’s below the surface. The huge structure is built upon a 3.7-metre-thick raft that sits atop 194 bored piles – each one of which is itself 1.5 metres in diameter – that extend almost 50 metres below the base of the raft. Each of the piles has a support capacity of 3,000 tons.

What this all goes to show is that you can only create something truly exceptional if you have the base on which to build it. It may be the least appealing part of any project – the planning, rather than the doing – but without it you can’t achieve your aim.

True, it’s not the most glamorous part of a project, and you may not get instant recognition for your efforts. But it’s always worth remembering what it is that you’re aiming for. Put yourself in the shoes of an architect. It may take you many years to build something as impressive as the Burj Khalifa, but when it stands tall it’ll be the envy of the world.

Supplier data management is exactly the same. If you want to manage your data effectively and increase your competitive advantage, you need to build a foundation that includes a clear vision of what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it, which takes the following into account:

  • a flexible data model that allows you to adapt to change and be proactive, rather than reactive
  • enabling the consolidation of data
  • streamlining your data flow from one centralised solution, allowing you to gain greater visibility and make better decisions
  • responsibility for data governance.

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