The key ingredient is people

What do changing technologies, organizational expectations, politics, and market competition mean for campuses and university systems as you re-envision and build your next generation data infrastructure and analytics team? Bottom line: Your people and how you support them are the keys to successfully navigating the changing landscape and building a solid data strategy.

Frequently, I tell people that in building a multi-institution, federated data system and analytics platform, technology was the easy part. That’s generally true. Not to diminish the complexity of the various technologies and the work required to keep them running efficiently. However, the big lift for any enterprise is all the people-related processes and changes required to plan, implement, sustain, and improve. Culture will eat the best technologies for breakfast.

We know what to do. But doing it takes work. Namely: build a great team; minimize turnover; work well with others (effective communication); embrace simple governance; and share a workforce vision.

  • Build a great team. Hire people with skills, work ethic, subject matter knowledge, team orientation, curiosity, and initiative. Be collaborative and collegial. A strong data strategy must prioritize human capital and relationships.
  • Minimize turnover. It is rare that any enterprise has a deep bench and ample talent to step in when a productive employee leaves. When I led the development of a new data system for the UNC System, we did a lot of things right. And, with regard to our people, they were our biggest asset and our biggest risk – if any one of a handful of key staff had left, it would have set us back months. Create an environment in which your team feels valued, and they will work harder and stay longer. It’s about more than compensation. It’s about cultivating a positive environment and paying close attention to employee satisfaction. And data strategy should explicitly address managerial skills sets.
  • Communicate. Effective communication is essential. Communicate and collaborate within your team as well as across the enterprise, building strong relationships with the other business units and with stakeholders outside of the organization. Elicit constructive feedback, and respond to it. Have a robust communication strategy.
  • Embrace simple governance. This is just about organizational discipline, about formalizing basic rules of engagement so that everyone is working off the same page. Agree on standards, communication protocols, prioritization process, roles, and responsibilities. Implement with fidelity. Keep it simple and transparent.
  • Share a workforce vision. Hopefully your data strategy is tied to your overall analytics vision, and presumably that vision includes aspirations for your future team (skills, roles, etc.). Articulate those aspirations. Be transparent about expectations for the future. Your immediate team and wider partners will be more likely to invest in the data strategy when they understand what it means for their future.

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