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Aimee Pagano

By: Aimee Pagano on January 3rd, 2024

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To Czar or not to Czar: Data Centralization from the Top

data integration | data activation | data centralization | data governance

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article

Association leaders have long been recognizing the power of data. They know that data-driven insights allow them to make crucial business decisions.

Whether it helps to inform go-to-market plans, discover new ways to diversify revenue or create entirely new membership models in line with incoming markets, leveraging data through a single source of truth catalyzes business intelligence. 

So when there's data "anarchy" through misaligned objectives and processes, organizations struggle with data activation. Culturally aligning your entire org with a unified data engine just makes sense for smart decisions.     

Talk with any association C-level (associations and for-profit businesses) and you'll hear relatively similar challenges. Most orgs are dealing with at least one of the following issues when it comes to their data:

  • Martech stack decentralization
  • Siloed processes, strategies, and resources
  • No data governance or stewardship 
  • No cultural ownership or understanding around data intent
  • Disjointed data management teams and data activation teams
  • No goals or metrics alignment with data

All prohibit them from getting salient insights and results from the data. All stand in the way of driving revenue. But most importantly, all prevent the optimal member and/or customer experience.

All of this begs the question: Should associations adopt a dedicated "Data Czar" or team of "Czars" that own data activities, functionality, and cohesion?  

Understanding data management vs. activation 
Before diving into the emerging need for a Data Czar, let's dive into the differences between data management and activation.
Data management: refers to how an organization collects and processes data for use. It's typically much more tactical as it encompasses an array of activities:
  • Data collection or recording from digital sources and manual entries 
  • Data migration from one system to another 
  • Data storage within databases or computer systems 
  • Centralization of data sources 
  • Data uniformity for analysis

There's then the prominent issue of data security and ensuring it's only accessible to those authorized. Information security is, itself, an entirely separate function requiring specialized skills and resources. 

Data activation: This is where you organize and leverage your data to execute effective campaigns, drive toward goals, and power good decision-making.

It's about keeping the data healthy, organized, governed and ready for action. That means that your marketers need to become subject matter experts in data, specifically as it relates to your:

  • Business rules and requirements
  • Insights and reporting
  • Objectives
  • Metrics
  • Segmentation
  • Marketing
  • Content

What's most important to note is that, when it comes to associations, member-based orgs, and nonprofits:

  • Data activation tends to occur within your executionary system (i.e. HubSpot)
  • Data management tends to toggle between the system collector and recorder (i.e. any AMS or CRM) and the executionary system.

In other words, activation springs off strong data management practices  within the AMS but cyclically continues as the executionary system collects and enhances even more actionable data. 

And then there's the natural umbrella that, in theory, should thread both of these together under unified organizational goals—data governance. This governance—led by either a Data Czar or a team of Data Czars—sets standards and rules around how data should be used, accessed, and processed. Without it, associations and nonprofits can easily fall into data anarchy. 

What is data anarchy? 
Simply put, all data should point to an intended goal or set of goals. If the playing field isn't organized in a way that allows all players to execute on those goals, there's risk for anarchy. There are a number of reasons why and where anarchy sets in. Here are just a few:

Lack of expertise—Barriers to intelligence-gathering often come down to skill gaps. Data activation requires unique technical capabilities, such as configuring integrations, organizing data in a meaningful way, and understanding how data flows and where data lives from application to application. Data activation also requires users to understand their data for segmentation building, campaign planning, and decision-making. These are all different skill sets and roles trying to meet varying objectives. 

Lack of hands—To make matters more challenging, most associations and nonprofits sport smaller teams. Collectively wearing different hats leaves little time for employees to upskill.

Lack of unity—There's also the issue of data zoning, a cultural problem where operational silos prevent information-sharing across teams and cause inconsistency in how data is managed and utilized. 

Lack of discipline—Finally, many associations become data hoarders, whereby they follow very legacy principles that any and all information should be collected, stored, and saved forever. This overloads data systems which can impact reporting, search organization, and even system performance.

Where the Data Czar steps in
The Data Czar is designed to bring law and order to data intelligence. This appointed person (or persons) facilitates conversations between data management teams, data activation teams, along with those teams relying on data to make decisions. 

In the most unbiased way, the Data Czar must be willing to ask the tough questions like:

  • "Why are we collecting this information?"
  • "Is there a reason we are storing 10-year-old data?"
  • "What org goals are aligned with these data sets?"
  • "Why is 30% of our database invalid or inactive?"
  • "Where are our data hygiene SOPs?"
  • "How are we measuring success with our data?"

Not for the faint of heart, this individual or team of individuals effectively balances change management with the willingness and propensity to stand their ground on data policies and guidelines.

As part of the role, the Data Czar has expertise in both data priming functions, like data entry, system integrations, and cybersecurity, along with abilities to translate information into business insights.  

Associations then support their data leader with top-down championing from senior executives and middle management. This empowers the Czar to take ownership of the ongoing initiative and ensure all teams understand the significance of the effort. 

In the end, a dedicated Data Czar aligns intelligence objectives, improves cohesiveness between data management and activation teams, and gathers reliable data for enhanced decision-making. 

But it doesn't stop at the Czar
Putting a Data Czar in place is a momentous step in the right direction but the principle behind the Czar is only as good as the org's adherence to it. This applies to both internal teams and external parties. Organizational tech stacks include a number of different data sources with centralized tonality. These sources may include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, Association Management Systems (AMS), Marketing Automation Platforms, Event Management Systems (EMS) and other association technologies. 
While the data within these systems should be integrated in a way that's meaningful and actionable, each of these applications typically have assigned tech experts and system administrators as support. These individuals or teams work separately but with clear lines of directives and cyclical communications coming from the Data Czar so that all efforts and processes are also in sync.

Interested in Czar-ing? Spark can help.
Overall, Data Czars are becoming more and more prevalent amongst associations making strides in their data evolution. Data centricity is where it all starts. Book a consultation today to learn more about how our Spark integration can help.

About Aimee Pagano

Aimee joins HighRoad Solution with 15+ years of integrated marketing and communications experience, primarily in client-facing roles within the association and SaaS space. Her specialties include persona development, content strategy/management, lead gen and awareness campaign development, and website development/optimization.