How to Convince the Board to Invest in Data and Analytics

March 01, 2018

Contributor: Rob van der Meulen

Data and analytics leaders must show how their programs both contribute to and are necessary for an organizations strategy.

Data and analytics (D&A) have been top of the CIO’s agenda for several years. However, to reach levels of maturity in D&A that have potential to bring about the biggest advantages, every area of an organization should be developing some proficiency. This means that data and analytics should be on every executive’s agenda, and in some cases even a topic for the board. D&A leaders should be ready for that.

“ Remember that almost everything presented to the board is framed as “vital” or “critical””

Gartner analysts Lydia Clougherty Jones and Frank Buytendijk say it’s important to remember that almost everything presented to the board is framed as “vital” or “critical” and so it can often be a challenging, skeptical environment in which many initiatives compete for attention. The best practices for presenting to the board are not that straightforward. Boards often pose conflicting requirements. Clougherty Jones and Buytendijk offer the following tips.

Use business language while being prepared to give insight into technical details.

It's common to try to explain everything you are passionate about, but at board meetings, get to the point and focus on business benefits. It’s crucial to link D&A to the high level organizational strategy as defined by the board.

“ Show you’ve done your homework by including additional detail as part of an appendix”

For example, a D&A leader could say the following about a strategic growth target: "We have an aggressive growth target of 20%. At least 60% of that growth opportunity is in upselling or cross-selling within our existing customer base. This means we need to have a better understanding of who our customers are and what they need. This is the core of the 360 degree customer data and analytics program." However, at the same time, show you’ve done your homework by including additional detail as part of an appendix. Not every executive will go through it, but providing the information shows preparedness and respect for the audience.

Be fact-based and brief, but tell a story.

Make sure that when you cut down your presentation to make it succinct, you don’t lose the engaging part. Storytelling is an important part of catching the interest of the board. One way is to divide the story into four sections. Here’s an example explaining the need for master data management (MDM).

  • Step 1 — Descriptive: "17% of our invoices contain errors, leading to average delays of a week paying these invoices."
  • Step 2 — Diagnostic: "The cause is not having a single way to identify a customer. We have different standards in 12 different billing systems."
  • Step 3 — Predictive: "Every quarter we continue to do this; it costs $100,000 in working capital and short-term credit."
  • Step 4 — Prescriptive: "We should implement a technology called MDM that helps us fix this and manage it moving forward."

Be clear about what you want, but also provide multiple scenarios of how to get there.

Issues that reach the board level are often complex and do not have simple yes or no answers. Providing multiple scenarios of how a D&A initiative can work will provide a platform for discussion and help secure executive buy-in.

“ Explain which scenario you prefer and why, but leave room for discussion”

It’s crucial to be very clear about what you hope to achieve with the board meeting, and if possible, to discuss this objective in advance with the board member who is sponsoring your meeting. Then present different scenarios about how to reach your objective. Explain which scenario you prefer and why, but leave room for discussion because board members may prefer other options for reasons you are not aware of.

Be specific about what D&A means to your organization, while at the same time presenting an outside-in perspective.

It’s great to refer to larger trends in the market and your industry and show examples of what other organizations are doing. It can provide clarity, inspiration and even a sense of urgency within the board. It’s important, however, to ensure external examples are always translated to be relevant to your own organization.

“ Identify the personal ambitions and passions of specific board members”

This should extend beyond translating outside examples into the context of the official organizational strategy. Identify the personal ambitions and passions of specific board members, and show how D&A initiatives can help realize them.

Point out timely, unique challenges of D&A

Here are a few hot D&A topics likely to capture the board’s attention.

  • The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): The deadline of May 25, 2018 looms large with potentially very severe penalties for non-compliance. Moreover, GDPR privacy requirements and the data management momentum they have created are an opportunity to drive business value.

Read More: How GDPR is an Opportunity to Create Business Value

  • Ethics: The board act as the moral compass of an organization. Digital transformation raises the question of digital ethics, and in today’s world an organization’s ethical reputation is tightly related to the bottom line. They should be involved in how data is collected and used, and they should be leveraging the output to enhance the organization’s mission.
  • Infonomics: Modern businesses understand the importance of treating information as an asset. Introduce infonomics as an emerging discipline that can drive competitive advantage, open new markets and deliver new revenue.

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