What is a Central Version of the Truth?

Highlights

  • A central version of the truth is an established understanding of data that is used company-wide.
  • The road to a central version of the truth is not a straight line and will happen over time through various iterations.
  • If there are competing versions of truth within your organization, it is impossible to hold meaningful discussions.

Businesses are tired of old styles of reporting.

Past methods of compiling Excel sheets and funneling information from one department to another are quickly being replaced by smarter, more adaptive methods. The game is changing, largely because of the availability of intelligent business reporting and analytics software, but also because of a greater willingness to learn how to use this software by the workforce.

Analytics is a huge market. The global Business Intelligence and Analytics Software market size is projected to reach 33.7 billion USD by 2026, from 23.940 billion USD in 2020 at a CAGR of 5.9%.

Despite the huge investment companies are making in data, data silos continue to cause problems for organizations attempting to optimize analytics. If different departments within your organization are using competing versions of data and processes, it can be difficult to hold meaningful discussions and come to agreements on business decisions.

We hve all been there before. Think of the last time you were in a meeting to discuss information such as payroll, inventory, accounts receivable, customer service, employee satisfaction, or dozens of other metrics. The conversation quickly devolves as people from different departments have different ideas and representations of the same data set. Now, instead of answering business questions and developing strategy, the meeting has turned into a debate over which version of data to use.

Meetings don’t have to be this way. Establishing a central version of the truth can help solve this problem. Executives are now recognizing the need for better quality data reports because of the evolving digital landscape, constant changes in business trends, and other factors. This article aims to explain what, exactly, a central version of the truth is, what it is not, the benefits of a single truth, and how to get the process started.

Sections

Defining the Central Version of the Truth

A central version of the truth is an established understanding of data that is used company-wide. It ensures that sales, marketing, finance, and other departments are using the same data sets, tooling, and definitions to reach various business decisions.

Agreeing on a central version of the truth inspires collaboration and communication by removing barriers to data analysis. We’ve all been in meetings where different departments are using competing versions of data. Instead of discussing important strategies and forecasting, the conversation turns into a debate over which version of data to use, slowing decision making, and ultimately putting projects on hold.

When everyone within your organization has access to accurate data, clear definitions of terms, and a shared understanding of how to calculate these things, you can have meaningful discussions across departments.

Here are a few business benefits of a central truth:

  • Improve data quality
  • Eliminate duplicate entries of data
  • Increase collaboration and communication among departments
  • Save time determining which data sets to use
  • Optimize processes

Is There a Single Version of the Truth?

Not every organization that aims to establish a single version of the truth will succeed. This is because of misconceptions around what a single version of the truth is, the roadmap to getting there, and the willingness of staff to adapt to new technology.

Let’s first take a moment to cover what a single version of the truth is not.

  • It is not a mega warehouse. You don’t need to spend two years creating it before any of it is usable. It’s much more effective to start small and iterate over time.
  • It is not set in stone. Businesses move quickly, so your single version of the truth should adapt and change also.
  • It cannot exist in a vacuum. Share the truth with the entire organization so that everyone is on the same page. Building a Center of Excellence can help with this.

When we consider the above, achieving a single version of the truth can start to feel like shooting at a moving target. And in a lot of ways, it is. That’s why it’s difficult to give a clear-cut answer to whether there is a single version of the truth. Theoretically, yes, there can be. But your truth must be fluid to allow for change over time. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People just have to be willing to change as business processes change to ensure the truth is always relevant and helpful to the organization.

Are There Versions of Truth?

If different users are constantly pulling information from multiple sources, it is only natural for versions of truth to emerge. For example, marketing may define an active customer one way and finance another. The problem with having conflicting truths is that business strategy suffers when teams cannot agree on data and definitions.

This is why it is so important to establish a source of truth that is recognized company-wide. If there are competing versions within your organization, it is impossible to hold meaningful discussions.

It is also possible that on your business’s data journey, you will move through several versions of the truth on your way to the one, ultimate source of truth. These iterations of the truth will evolve.

One common example of incremental improvements over time is moving away from Excel sheets. A department may currently work off of a pile of disagreeing Excel sheets. On the journey to achieve a source of truth, you can expect to consolidate these sheets from lots to fewer to less to one.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is another great example. Many businesses will start by saying that CRM is their source of truth for customer data, only to realize that may not always be the case. Here’s a quick process flow of how you can iterate your way to a central truth for customer data.

  • Step 1: Start with the central truth that CRM is the best source for customers.
  • Step 2: After working with the CRM data, you realize that CRM is only good for Customer Name and Email, but doesn’t work well for Customer Address.
  • Step 3: Add in another system to use as a source of truth for Address.
  • Step 4: Establish a set of rules to reach a central version. For example, “If [customer] has a business email, then do ______.”

This process can be repeated as often as needed to keep up with changing business processes.

Roadmap to a Central Version of the Truth

The central version of the truth first must start defining terms, definitions, and business rules. Followed by acronyms and synonyms. Source, ownership. This is often referred to as a corporate library or dictionary.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when working on a central truth:

  • What business process are we concerned with?
  • What supporting systems do we use and how can we establish a single system of record?
  • How do we want to define terms, definitions, and business rules?
  • How can we foster collaboration and communication?
  • Do we have a Center of Excellence? If not, how can we build one?

What is a Data Foundation?

A data foundation is defined as the existing data assets an organization has that are used to support smooth-flowing operations along with relevant and reliable data to be used for analytics. A solid data foundation is well documented, understood, contains high-quality data, and supports seamless integration of data across systems.

What are the attributes of a great data foundation?

  • Well-designed source systems that follow well-established database design standards and rules.
  • Well organized and managed, which includes the processes that are allowed to put data into the system. Well understood and defined processes lead to better quality data.
  • Well-defined master data and data standards will allow data to flow more effortlessly between systems, which is a first step towards enabling automation.
  • Clear ownership of systems processes.
  • Clear system purpose and boundaries.
  • Secured and governed, only allowing access to the information that you needed.

Once you establish a data foundation, you will be better equipped to reach a central truth. Now, a lot of businesses start their data journey without addressing the root cause of the problem. Remember that just like with a home renovation, renovating your data processes takes time, planning, and persistence.

Keep the following in mind when developing your data management strategy:

  • Data itself is simple. People tend to overcomplicate and obscure things as being hard. 
  • Reporting has often been hard due to the above point.
  • Sometimes it’s best to start from scratch. Don’t hold on to outdated processes that aren’t working. 

How to promote a long-term efficient ecosystem:

  • Separate data and reporting
  • Govern sources
  • Govern what is published
  • Establish a Center of Excellence for better self-service

How Getting Started With Power BI Can Help

We’ve set up a good baseline strategy guide for creating a central version of the truth at your organization. Now, let’s get into some of the technology that can help. Your technology should be capable of building a data foundation that is relevant and reliable.

Microsoft Power BI offers powerful capabilities that enable users to navigate and interact with data to improve business processes. Here’s how to make the most of Power BI:

  • Reduce the number of data sets: Instead of individual report silos that are common with Excel, Power BI offers shared workspaces and data sets that can be used across departments. Endorsements can provide a heightened level of trust and validity for reports and data sets as you work towards a central truth.
  • Dimensional modeling: The data model will be the center of your Power BI universe and someone needs to own and manage the data foundations. If you follow dimensional modeling techniques, report navigation and flow within Power BI will happen seamlessly. It is often the backbone (the original electrical circuits).
  • Unlearn old Excel habits: The time it takes to reach a source of truth will vary depending on your team’s skills, time, and desire to learn new processes. Users must be willing to move away from delivering pivot tables, exporting to Excel, and other outdated processes to make the most out of Power BI.

Additional features include:

  • Data discovery via apps
  • Shared data sets
  • Row and/or object-level security
  • Endorsement
  • Apps and shared workspaces

It’s common for businesses to feel overwhelmed at the thought of establishing a single version of the truth. Many approach it as a colossal undertaking that must be planned, but if you break the process down it’s quite simple. Instead of thinking of the path to a central truth as a straight line, remember that it will happen over time through various iterations. You just have to start somewhere and work your way to a source of truth. For help getting started and to start building your roadmap, contact us today.

FAQs

What is a central version of the truth?

A central version of the truth is an established understanding of data that is used company-wide. It ensures that sales, marketing, finance, and other departments are using the same data sets, tooling, and definitions to reach various business decisions.

How can Power BI help me reach a central truth?

Microsoft Power BI can be used to build a relevant and reliable data framework for your organization. It makes things like shared data sets and consolidated/shared reports possible, which were impossible in Excel. By reducing the number of data sets and reports and enabling sharing, Power BI offers the technology needed to improve data management and ultimately reach a central truth.

Does my business need a central version of the truth?

Having a central version of the truth is beneficial because it provides everyone within your organization access to accurate data, clear definitions of terms, and a shared understanding of how to calculate these things. This allows leadership to have meaningful discussions across departments. An established central version of the truth can also mean improved data quality, increased collaboration and communication among departments, and optimized processes.

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