The irreplaceable value of a single source of truth
As the old joke goes: predicting the future is impossible - it’s already hard-enough predicting the past!
Nonetheless, many great leaders have tried to glimpse the future. Ancient societies spent a lot of effort trying to predict what comes next. The Romans famously carried divine chicken with them to determine if a battle will be successful.
Even today, we can see these rituals in action, such as the annual Groundhog Day in the US. If the critter in question doesn’t leave its burrow on a specific day, everyone assumes it means a long winter.
Fortunately, today’s leader doesn’t have to follow fowl or wait for rodents to appear. It’s very feasible and affordable to find real answers to an organisation’s questions and challenges with modern analytics. This delivers something that, until recently, was out of reach of previous generations: the single source of truth.
“A single source of truth combines multiple types of data to make better decisions,” explains Gerhard Hartman, Sage Africa and Middle East’s Vice-President for Medium Business.
"If I’m in a service type of company, I would like to see a single source of truth to know exactly what my customers are using and what their needs are. Maybe as a retail company, I want to be able to pick up buying habits of customers. Maybe I’m managing a fleet and want to improve maintenance or routing. Maybe I’m chasing process efficiencies to save money and resources. Those decisions can be customer-related, profit-related or focus on another business concern.”
The power of integration
If a business only has one source of data, then it already has its single source of truth (SSOT). But very few companies are that fortunate. Instead, information is spread across many different places and often duplicated between multiple users. A spreadsheet is a data source, and every copy of a spreadsheet represents duplication. Likewise, every separate spreadsheet represents a piece of fractured data. This concept also applies to other types of information repositories, such as databases.
To create an SSOT, companies must combine all those into one coherent data pool that can be analysed for insights. For many, it sounds like a nightmare in the making: must they go and collect all that data, then transfer it into a new database? No, fortunately not. Modern data integration has opened the door to aggregating information from different sources, creating a federated data pool, without compromising or invalidating the various data sources.
This is critical for two reasons, says Hartman: “The first big benefit is that you don’t have to reorganise all those data sources. You connect to them and get the information from them, but you don’t need to alter them. The second benefit ties to this. All data has owners, and many of them are very territorial. Integration allows a business to overcome those data silos without stepping on the toes of data owners.”
Inevitably, though, once those owners see the benefits that stem from an SSOT, they become more flexible and involved. Aggregating data into an SSOT also creates a safe space from which to launch analytics projects, without fear of disturbing data-related activities and processes elsewhere in the organisation.
Building an SSOT
Yet the first step towards establishing and using an SSOT is not the integration, but the intent or outcome. Knowing the end-game of an analytics project - what you want to see - is the critical strategic guidance that leads to success. You want to be able to see data that makes sense to your business, so you can make decisions to increase your customer experience and to increase profitability.
A company creates and collects a dizzying amount of information, and not all of it can be useful all of the time. An SSOT can cover all bases, but that’s not its primary purpose. That is instead defined by taking a problem/outcome view and working it backwards leads to creating the most effective SSOT for the organisation.
“If you decide on a small step to take forward, maybe a specific department with a specific need involving specific sources of data, that can be the first step to take before rolling it out to the entire organisation.”
An SSOT does bring with it several necessary requirements. Security is a crucial part of the project, as is selecting the appropriate platform that can facilitate successful data integration. Some leading business platforms already offer an end-to-end SSOT approach, combining the data from the various business services they provide. Hartman encourages decision-makers to explore these choices:
“If your business already uses a leading platforms service, you should check if they can pool that data into an SSOT. If not, you should explore which platform services offer this capability. You can build your own SSOT environment, but you might end up reinventing the wheel. Thanks to platforms, a single source of the truth is more within reach that before.”
There is no need to read tea leaves or stock up on chickens. The insights that can prepare you for the future is already inside your company’s data, and the means to bring that together into a single truth are ready to chase answers to your problems. The single source of truth is one of the most powerful tools at the disposal of modern organisations. It’s time to put it to work for yours.