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Data Management: Learning from the World of Sport

Strategy, Objectives, and Buy-In for Information Governance

Sport and business have more in common than it may appear

For three days in September, the entire world of rugby worshiped and loved Japan. By defeating a perennial powerhouse of the game in what was probably the biggest upset ever in the sport, and doing it in an entertaining and brave manner, they shook the (rugby) world.

Rugby Union is a global game played by an increasing number of countries but heavily dominated by the traditional few; in fact, even within the core countries that have been a constant in the game, there are distinct tiers of quality.

This underdog victory, a joy for everyone bar South Africa themselves, was a story of significant bravery, both physical and mental, but also incredible planning and preparation. The entire team including extended playing squad and management were all so obviously on the same wavelength and operating with the same instincts and principles.

As a sport, rugby has been at the forefront of scientific advances in terms of team and individual preparation and training. Only 30 years ago, a top international team would have embarked on a tour to the other side of the world with only a group of players, a coach, and a manager. But today the entourage has evolved now to include individual coaches for different components of the game play, strength and conditioning coaches, psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians and physiotherapists, nutritionists, video analysts, and even data analysts. Surely there is an app for at least one of the above!

This expansion of personnel has led to an outcome that is becoming very familiar in the world of business – there is a lot of information to deal with. Given the amount of information, a coherent and successful group is able to operate only if they are aligned in their objectives and not clashing with each other. For this to be achieved, much more than task orders are needed from the top – a strategy is needed that everyone buys in to and contributes to the implementation of.

In professional rugby teams, this strategy is defined by the main man, the coach. In the most successful teams, the coach allows a group of senior members, from both the playing and non-playing groups, to define the strategy. Letting the operational hierarchy design the strategy delivers the ultimate buy in – the team have defined their own principles and objectives. Strategy and governance is the holistic view of how the team organization wants to progress. Management and tactics define the minutiae of each individual match (or project).

Information Governance is a similar strategy – data management is the implementation of the strategy as defined by the objectives to be achieved and the principles within which to operate to achieve them. Similar to the success of a professional sports organization, information governance needs a committee with “skin in the game” and hence buy-in to the vision and to the ongoing journey. Information stretches the length and breadth of an organization and cannot be robustly governed without commitment from all functions.

The first step in addressing information governance in an organization is the forming of this committee which will demand and deliver the structure required.

Having come from a financial services technology background, I currently enjoy uncovering the nuances of the information governance space and how it applies to different industries. My technology and financial mathematics experience make the developing area of large-scale analytics a fascination; I’m very excited to contribute to the ideas that will drive the evolution of ZL’s product for the benefit of our customers. I am also kept busy trying to manage the numerous requests from my colleagues in San Jose, as well as help plan and justify their visits to our new Dublin office which help keep the company humming.