Ed Toner, CIO

Blog: ...all others bring data

Talking to our BSM (Business Service Manager) team a few weeks ago we discussed my favorite topic which is data and data analytics. A state technology magazine mentioned my thoughts about data in a recent article “What makes a good state CIO?”. There was a comment made from a Chief Enterprise Architect on LinkedIn that summed up my views expressed in the article incredibly well, “….all others bring data”. This was a reference to a quote by W. Edwards Deming that every Industrial Engineer and Six Sigma professional should know by heart in which he stated, “In God we trust. All others must bring data”. Data brings context. It facilitates logical thought by making connections from various distinct data points that when organized provide meaningful insight. An insight that allows an organization to objectively evaluate data points to make more informed decisions.

I wish the article had expanded on the importance of a good leader starting every journey (every major project) with data. Our IT Consolidation began its journey with data. Presenting the data on projected availability gains, cost savings and improved service through economies of scale backed up the decisions that were made. It provided the evidence that convinced agencies to buy into the new vision and direction.

Deming wrote that the point of collecting data is to support continual improvement through informed decision-making. Data-driven organizations provide insight into where you are in your efforts to improve, and most importantly when and how do you get there? Continuous tracking of appropriate data helps to focus your efforts in that journey, allowing us to compare our performance against established benchmarks and industry peers to gain context and deliver a better customer-focused experience.

all others bring data
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

The OCIO team performs continuous reviews of our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and shares them monthly with the Governor’s Office. Providing these metrics forces us to focus on our strategic goals and guide our decision-making to ensure we are aligned with the Governor’s vision. Our KPIs focus on measures of both business and technology performance and include a summary of variances between budgeted and actual costs. We also annually publish the OCIO “strategic goals” on our Teammate Site. This annual process ensures that we all understand our plans for the current year, and make adjustments for future years based on our performance indicators.

The article downplayed these objective measurements in favor of subjective personality measurements such as humility, relationship manager, motivator, keeping a low profile and being non-political, maintaining that CIOs are more about people and money than technology. How does someone quantify these characteristics actually work or have any positive impact on an organization that is in need of change? These certainly are admirable traits, but I have never seen a business or technical strategy succeed without decisive leadership based on facts. Deming again stated it well, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”.

Without data people are allowed to simply speculate on changes needed, grounding their process of decision making on hunches rather than objective measures. A hunch may not be what is necessary to complete or certainly justify a significant change or gain support for a major project. To make a substantial change one must collect and share the data (objective facts) which form your basic rationale for action and invariably builds the support necessary from various leaders to move forward as a synchronized unit.

In a prior position in the private sector, I worked for a company with two distinct business units. One focused on financial institutions and one focused on retail institutions. The “perception” that had been in place for years was that the retail side was much more mature and provided a better experience than the financial side. The financial side gathered and posted their metrics conscientiously and analyzed every software release collecting data on the number and types of defects per hour of development found in Customer Acceptance Testing, the number of change requests, optimum size of the release, time spent in each phase of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)…etc. They had matured to the point that they could predict the success of a release with an incredible level of accuracy.

The retail side did none of this analysis and instead took the approach of not gathering and analyzing the data but rather announcing success based on nothing more than opinion. When they finally began to produce data, they found that the exact opposite was true. The data-driven side of the business was light years ahead in terms of the quality of product produced. Data very simply exposes the truth.

Over the past 25 plus years, businesses have strived to create Data Warehouses and then Data Lakes to gain insight into their environment to make informed business decisions. It is just as important to utilize data to make technology decisions and yet many in technology leadership roles do not appear to appreciate its value in decision making, nor do many even collect the basic data necessary to adequately access their team’s performance. Businesses for years have understood the need, and fully embraced the concepts of collecting appropriate data. Not only collecting, but analyzing all types of data for correlations, patterns and identification of potential areas of customer growth, service and retention.

What metrics should we be tracking? Those we gain value from and utilize to make informed business decisions related to our financials, effective project delivery and as always quality services for our customers.

I appreciate your efforts each and every day to provide a high level of customer service to the State and the Citizens of Nebraska!

Ed Toner