Many organisations use and manage data in ways that are less than ideal, however what does a data enabled organisation look like? This question was recently asked by one of our clients who wanted to find ways to visualise what their organisation could look like once they were managing and exploiting data effectively.

When describing data quality management, I often compare the parallels and contrasts with health and safety, however, in this blog post, I will compare the approaches to quality management with those of data management.

The evolution of quality management

In the mid to late 20th Century, quality management was not as effective as it now generally is. This was in part due to the fact that organisations used Quality Control departments to ‘inspect out’ defects without trying to build in quality from the start. This could result in production teams trying to maximise productivity in order to hit targets and achieve production bonuses, often at the expense of quality.

The quality inspectors, acting as the ‘last line of defence’ would then have to work feverishly to spot these defects. Any defects would lead to rejection of the product often leading to expensive rework. If an inspector missed a defect, then the customer will certainly find the defect sooner or later, perhaps leading to significant adverse impact on reputation. In this situation, a relatively large quality control team would be needed to inspect products which in turn could possibly delay delivery to customers. An example of this could be if you were unfortunate enough in the 1970s and 80s to end up with a ‘Friday afternoon car’ – one which, due to the lower levels of robotics in use at the time might have been rushed together regardless of quality.  

From the 1960s onwards the Japanese pioneered the concepts of quality management through approaches like Total Quality Management, the Toyota Production System etc. These systems built quality approaches into every aspect of design and production ensuring that all staff understood their role in delivering quality outputs. This has resulted in approaches where any employee is empowered to be able to ‘stop the line’ if they identify a quality issue, where employees are encouraged to come up with ideas for improvement that are assessed before being implemented. The role of the quality department is now one of measuring and assessing many different parameters, not to come with a Pass/Fail outcome, but instead to assess changes in performance that may be early indications that corrective action is required, but before components have started to fail the quality criteria.


When trying to visualise a ‘data driven’ organisation, there are clear parallels with a quality driven or health and safety focused organisation – namely that the organisation will probably look much like it does already, but with quality, health and safety and, of course, data quality underpinning everything that people do.

For each of these three underpinning principles of an organisation, there will be a relatively small ‘centre of excellence’ who will maintain awareness of good practice approaches, monitor performance, identify gaps, encourage improved approaches etc.

The data enabled organisation

So, for a high safety performance or high quality performance organisation, the ‘shape’ of the organisation will probably be little different to a low performing organisation, but the behaviours and activities of the organisation will be conducted taking account of safety and quality. Similarly, a data enabled version of your organisation will probably look  very similar to the organisation that you have at present, with the addition of a relatively small team supporting the objectives of the CDO or Data Manager.

If people in your organisation assume that they can carry on working as they previously have and that the CDO/Data Manager (or Health and Safety or Quality Managers) will ‘sort out’ all the problems that they create, then you will not have a successful or sustainable model for the future. Data quality (product/ service quality and health and safety) should be embedded as a core part of an individual’s role and every business process. Other posts in this blog contain a number of examples illustrating these points.


In the UK, the BSI is leading work to develop four standards relating to big data (of which I am on the Steering Committee), one of these will specifically refer to the ‘data engaged organisation’ and will be the memorably numbered BS 804742. When this is released it will provide more authoritative guidance not only on what such an organisation may look like, but also considerations for how to deliver this outcome.

So, what does your data driven organisation look like?

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