Does Your Company Need A Data Czar?

Engineering Data
Darron Pustam

Twenty years of my life have been spent in the company of surveyors, engineers, geographic information systems professionals, and cad-designers. I have always had a great admiration and respect for these disciplines. The calculations, maps, instruments, the whole nine yards.  Knowledge of the inner workings of these systems coupled with business-information technology expertise; shed insight into of how companies in these industries could be better served by efficiently structuring, integrating, and routing the data embedded within technical and business software systems and incorporating them into their underlying business processes.

Surveying and mapping disciplines as well as that of engineering require technical software application tools which all serve to greatly enhance the professions. These programs simultaneously exist in one form or another. With so many software solutions, it is easy to lose sight of your data through the numerous interfaces and formats that currently exist. Even more worrisome is the lack of data integration and duplication perpetrated by disjointed systems.

When CAD software emerged, the first version would probably have been installed by a resident engineer or drafts person \ mapper. In other words, the person technically trained in the discipline – not necessarily IT. Back in the day the IT function for small businesses was assigned to the employee with the least aversion to a keyboard. Imagine installation carried out solely by technical users only trained in a particular software application but who also doubled as your IT resource.

Software installations would have probably proceeded without concern for how they would affect or integrate with the multitude of other processes making up the entire business system. Lethal combination of technical power user and latest software caused a blurring in functionalities, severely restricting computing operandi and allowing power users to essentially pave an electronic cow path. This also resulted in widening the gaps between legacy and newly minted systems.

In other words, lack of integration of data from the different software applications and disciplines caused double work and misdirection of data. Engineers, designers, technicians, administrative staff, and managers were all simultaneously creating information and being paid twice, maybe more for work that could have been already created or incorrectly routed.

Engineering software applications are designed to support compatibility and database connectivity. The actual usages of these advanced functionalities however, were not the domain of the technical power user base. Over time power users have evolved as a result of their discipline and software moving to the next technological level. Since the average IT resource may not be familiar with engineering per say; installation and usage was left up to the technical power user to direct.  In this case these applications where possibly installed without consideration for the rest of the applications or processes already running within the company.  At that time, the IT resource that installed the software, may have never knew the full capabilities for instance, of CAD or GIS systems; since these were the realm of the power user.  Thus, IT could not truly harness its potential by aligning them with business systems. In each department everyone was getting the job done and some becoming proprietary software experts along the way. These software implementations though advancing in functionality ineffectively expensed the organization’s data structure. We might say that software went in one direction and business processes went in the other.

Eliminating wasted efforts, increasing efficiency, and reducing cost are currently the staples of this economic era. Using software applications, without an inkling of how it could be integrated into the macrocosm of the company’s business strategy, severely debilitates the performance of your systems and your ability to effectively deliver timely products and services. The leveraging of these systems as a whole for the benefit of the entire business is thus left to chance.

Believe it or not, software companies are partly to blame. They have tried their best to take the guess work out of installations, to facilitate user friendly and speedy startup applications.  Many companies that purchased AutoCAD and ArcGIS software have them installed by in house expertise such as their resident CAD \ GIS gurus. Many times have we heard managers saying that they have the latest software functionalities and the latest versions installed. Yet, projects are taking roughly same time to complete.  As your CAD guys continue to install version after version of AutoCAD, do you think the length of the project time will decrease as a result of software version enhancements?  We cannot keep doing things the same way and expect a different result.  CAD is continually integrating with geographic information systems and vice versa. The inherent spatial database structure and methodology of CAD files preparation needs a well thought-out approach such as that taken by the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). We need to think about how data can be used and where it can be recycled for use. Data integration is a mandatory part of the equation for any organization that intends to harmonize its business intelligence with operating as well as growth strategies.

Organizations need a multidisciplinary team comprised of power users, managers, and business analysts guided by a ‘Data Czar’ – someone with knowledge on effectively incorporating software systems with business processes. The team must be set up to look at the big picture and create a strategic data realization pathway. This team should have the authority to direct all information-based implementations.

The team should first, identify all business processes that contribute to the successful delivery of a company’s product or service. Next, take a surgical look at each, taking note of the information required and reviewing whether these processes are still valid.  The team must assign, automate, and streamline their systems to accept data from centralized sources and strategically integrate them to the relevant processes. Data capture must be moved as close as possible to the responsible party. Your goal is to create your core data one time and one time only. The data must reside in an accessible location. By accessible, the data must be easily disseminated to all the appropriate people and systems that require that specific information. We can all understand that duplication doubles employee time and also produces errors. What clearly resonates in the minds of the shareholder is that they are paying different employees to simultaneously perform the same job!

We are not limited to cost cutting initiatives by applying this methodology. No business can survive by only reducing cost. Having access to all the data sources in your company, gives you the ability to apply and re-apply intelligence into your business. Your data must become like ‘Lego’ building blocks, to fashion in any way you choose. When used successfully in accordance with the initiatives presented above, you have more options, more choices, and more avenues from which to analyze and identify new streams of revenue.

A clear business-information strategy is needed to mend these inefficiencies in our industry.  We need to take a visionary and multidisciplinary look at the inherent data structures within our companies. CAD, GIS and other applications are requiring the use of robust database management systems to manage its data. Focus must be placed on bridging these data dissemination gaps. We must engineer our business processes to be fully integrated, facilitating, reliable and efficient while simultaneously exploiting the capabilities provided by each software application in a way that will profitably maximize its use.

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  1. Data Czar ????

    sounds more like another case of the tail wagging the dog.

    As important as Computers are
    and as important as integration of techologies is for efficent production

    A design firm is still driven by people, not computers. A computer manager is a support function and always will be. When firms forget this it is just a matter of time before disaster strikes.

    Long live “dogs wagging their tail”

    David Perrings, PE
    Civil Engineer

    1. Thanks David,
      Great comment. I agree with you. This is why the strategy is team based.
      Although driven by people, many of these processes are computer-based.
      This is not to say that I am proposing entirely taking the human aspect out of the picture. It is based on making the computer do the work for you. As you rightly said as a tool. Many times we make work for ourselves where the computer can be a key asset in the equation.

      Data Czar

    2. Valid point.

      But sometimes dogs tails get tangled in an unwieldy legacy hairball. Then, wagging becomes very hard or impossible. And sometimes those closer to the tail are the first ones to spot that it needs some grooming.

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