Measuring Data Success with IDC and Sainsbury’s: The Power of the Alation Data Culture Maturity Model

By Nick Duce

Published on October 10, 2023

A close-up image of a computer chip featuring intricate blue code lines.

Let’s begin with an obvious statement: organizations are generating a lot of data. Simply launching your workers into such oceans of data, much of it low quality, creates risk. But enabling access to curated, trusted data on a transparent platform offers manifold benefits. It enables workers to find what they need, know where it came from, see who’s using it, and for what purpose.  Those with questions can then direct them to the appropriate expert for timely guidance. 

Sounds simple, and you’re probably already doing a bit in each of those areas. But is it enough? And, what can you do to improve how data impacts your business?

We recently hosted a webinar, “From Data Maturity Model to Business Value,” to discuss these and related topics. It featured Stewart Bond, Vice President, Data Intelligence and Integration Software research at IDC; Jade Jones, Manager, Metadata & Data Quality at Sainsbury’s; and myself, Nick Duce, Sr. Manager of Customer Strategy & Programs at Alation. What follows is a recap of the most salient points. Alternatively, you can watch the on-demand webinar in its entirety.

Data is not getting easier

According to IDC research, more than 8 out of 10 businesses have failed to break down the silos that block information access, despite investments in data architectures and infrastructure. “Organizations don't know where their data is, what it means, and how it's flowing through the organization,” IDC’s Bond added.

To begin easing search and discovery for your workers, Bond recommends focusing on what he terms the “data control plane,” which includes:

Small wonder, then, that businesses rank the top three data prioritizations for this year as data governance, data engineering, and data cataloging, according to IDC research.

Bond also highlighted a striking dichotomy between what business users say they need and what their tools are actually delivering. “A couple of years ago, we asked, ‘What do you expect to know about data when making data-driven decisions?’” he said. People expect to know “attributes about data intelligence, lineage, quality, business name, location.”

IDC screenshot displaying a graph illustrating the “Problem: Intelligence about Data is Expected, but Not Being Delivered!”

“We did a survey a year later, and we asked, ‘What is your organization good at doing?’” Bond continued. “What's interesting is that everything at the top of the list on the left is at the bottom of the list on the right.” In other words, the very details data users need to make data-driven decisions are what businesses are least equipped to furnish. Closing this gap demands a focus on improving data search, literacy, governance, and leadership, which will improve organizational data culture maturity.

Organizations must continue improving data culture maturity because it drives a business value. Bond shared proof points on the ROI for data intelligence including improvements in financial metrics, customer acquisition and satisfaction, data management, and more. But that’s only possible if you understand your data. 

“Remember, our relationship with data is changing, and that relationship is going to be defined by our knowledge of the data,” Bond concluded.

A model for maturing your approach to data

Organizations are devoting more effort and investment to data governance, data engineering, and data cataloging, so why have they not been making progress? As data scales with organizational growth, it becomes more difficult to improve data management. Alation customers and partners validate this in our conversations, and now we have a tool that can help.

We have developed the Alation Data Culture Maturity Model to help companies identify strengths and weaknesses within their data programs. It’s a work of discovery to understand where you are now and decide where you want to be in the future. It can feed into your data strategy, helping to define the areas of weakness that need attention first.

The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model begins with a conversational assessment. The output serves as a guide for prioritizing key data efforts so you can create a competitive advantage. It’s based on years of experience with hundreds of Alation customers and guides leaders on how to improve platforms, processes, people, and more. 

A fast track to a mature data platform and data culture

Many of our customers tell us they don’t have the resources or time to embark on a detailed data maturity consulting engagement. For that reason, we’ve aimed for ease of use with the Alation Data Culture Maturity Model. Our model takes a statement-driven approach so you can quickly assess where you are today and understand what you need to do to improve your data culture maturity tomorrow. 

We’ve found that organizations with a high data maturity tend to focus the bulk of their efforts on just four critical areas, and have honed the model to these pillars:

  1. Data leadership 

  2. Data search & discovery

  3. Data literacy

  4. Data governance

The goal of the data culture maturity model is to give an indicative picture of your maturity level and provide you with the actions that can be fed into your data program. This will enable people within your organization to use data more consistently and fluently.

How can organizations use The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model today? Data leaders should walk through the rubric to determine their scores in each of the four areas by team or department. It’s vital to note that these scores will vary across organizations in distinct industries, environments, or even departments. 

I’ve seen this spread myself. In heavily regulated environments such as finance or healthcare, you will often find strong leadership and governance scores, which ensures the business does not fall foul of regulations. Conversely, you will likely find that in more agile environments where competition drives the habits of the organization they have a good handle on data discovery and a high degree of data literacy. But, because governance is not driven by regulation and leadership is not needed to drive data use, they will tend to score lower in those areas.

The key takeaway? Even seemingly data-mature organizations can still make improvements to harness further value from data.

The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model in practice at Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury's is one of the oldest retailers in Britain, dating back to 1869, but they take a modern approach to their strategic priorities. According to Jade Jones, the company's manager of metadata & data quality, "Sainsbury's was actually the first retailer to digitize the distribution of goods to its stores in 1961."

Jones's team is responsible for ensuring data quality and building guidelines and processes for trusted data. “Today Sainsbury's is on a mission to democratize our huge stores of internal data to create accessibility around our business and customer insights,” Jones revealed. This helps simplify business processes, lower costs, and prioritize decisions by using data to meet customer needs.

With a wide and varied data landscape, Sainsbury's used the Alation Data Culture Maturity Model to assess their progress in data transformation. It has helped them understand their starting point, measure progress, and identify areas for improvement. It also provides an objective assessment of development areas and priorities.

While Sainsbury's has made progress in data literacy and fluency, they plan to focus on these pillars more over the next 12 to 18 months. They believe a community-focused approach to governance is essential — and all stakeholders should be more data literate.

Jones's emphasis on making governance collaborative aligns with what an independent global research firm called Alation's "intelligent federated governance approach" as Forrester named Alation a Leader in its recent Wave report. The firm lauded Alation's emphasis on collaboration, community involvement, and a flexible approach to governance, which are key elements of a federated governance model.

"The name of the game for us is certainly to make governance a much more community-focused function," Jones said. "We need all hands on deck to embed good practice throughout the organization. We absolutely cannot do that as a single centralized function."

"Having completed that maturity assessment with Nick, the best way we can achieve and expand along that path is to focus on our data literacy and fluency," Jones concluded. "Alation is absolutely pivotal to that piece. The central capability that will support that is the ability to combine, govern, and align all communal knowledge — which is particularly important in that multi-channel multi-brand kind of organization like ours and present that in context alongside the wealth of data that we own. It's invaluable for all the functions to be able to communicate and deliver collaboratively."

Start improving your data culture maturity today

So, where to begin? Watch the complete webinar, “From Data Maturity Model to Business Value,” of course.

Bond provides many more insights on the state of data maturity at organizations today and Jones sheds more light on how the Alation Data Maturity Model provides a fast yet effective way to assess your current data maturity and build a plan for increasing it. 

Head on over to “From Data Maturity Model to Business Value” to hear the full Sainsbury’s data culture maturity story.

  • Data is not getting easier
  • A model for maturing your approach to data
  • A fast track to a mature data platform and data culture
  • The Alation Data Culture Maturity Model in practice at Sainsbury’s
  • Start improving your data culture maturity today
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