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In search of the holy grail of data-driven culture

Legend has it that the Holy Grail, supposedly used during the Last Supper, has the power to cure all ills. While King Arthur and his knights sought for the Holy Grail in Glastonbury, Skanska’s IT Manager Artturi Kantanen and Sofigate’s team of experts believe it lies in a data-driven culture.

Skanska is one of the world’s leading project development and construction groups, and always striving for excellence. During years, the company had been working to increase data awareness within their organization. Recently, Skanska named business analytics opportunities one of its strategic focus areas. This was the starting point to start managing data systematically and as a strategic business asset.

“Construction has been one of the least digitalized industrial sectors, but now this is a strong trend in our business. Data is the glue that binds business processes and information systems together enabling digitalization, but only if the data has high quality and data governance is working”, Kantanen says.

To use high-quality data for the benefit of the business, Skanska needed a new model for data governance. While mapping out the options in the market, Skanska turned to their long-term partner Sofigate. They found out that Sofigate, together with its customers and partners, had developed a business-driven model for data governance and management. It seemed suitable for Skanska.

“Sofigate’s model approached the issue from the business angle – why do we do this – but also covered the practical aspects – what has to be done. Another important factor for choosing Sofigate was the people: they were extremely capable and experienced, and understood both our business needs and the technology”, Kantanen notes.

De-mystifying data governance

Skanska has a well-functioning operating system for managing their business. The chosen approach was to integrate data governance to this system, instead of building a new, separate one. This way, data work would become part of their normal business management. Together with Sofigate, Skanska defined roles and responsibilities for data work. Each of the 11 business processes assigned a data owner, accountable for the quality and the use of data on strategic and tactic level, and one or more data managers to coordinate operative data work. Data was also included in the agenda of existing business governance forums, the same forums as all other process development.

The model was implemented to Skanska’s business processes by carrying out four workshops for each process. This covered the entire chain from mapping the data to practicing with real-life examples.

“First, you have to understand what data you have. One of the most concrete things after that is to define quality rules for the strategic data assets. Then you must check whether the data meets the criteria and if it doesn’t, what has to be done to change that. If you want sustainable change, you need to start following the data quality trends systematically in suitable business governance forums”, explains Markus Sipilä, Senior Advisor ja Chief Technology Officer at Sofigate.

All this requires a lot of work, but there is nothing mystical about it. “The biggest challenge of data governance and data management is that data experts mystify this work and make it abstract. We at Sofigate aim to do the opposite and make this work concrete”, Sipilä claims.

Read Markus Sipilä’s three steps to make data work harder for you

Focus on business needs brings benefits

As part of the implementation process, Sofigate helped each business process to use data for solving one relevant problem. This has already brought some benefits, for example for the sales pipeline.

“Data quality in Skanska’s sales pipeline had room for improvement, and the sales opportunities were not always visible in the right places. This resulted in long phone call chains to figure things out. The problem got resolved by defining data quality rules for sales opportunity data, as well as the process for managing the opportunities that did not meet the quality rules. This was all accomplished in just one meeting, leading to a competition between the sales teams to put their opportunities in order”, Kantanen explains.

One of the central findings of these practices was that the data does not follow the line organization: it crosses the silos and is utilized in different processes. As the quality of data improves, this offers great potential for the future. “It is important to recognize the discontinuity points of the data and improve the integration between the processes”, Kantanen points out.

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The real value comes with the cultural transformation

King Arthur was wise enough to take his best knights along on his search for the Holy Grail. So was Skanska. “If we had been on our own, the results would look quite different. The cooperation has been seamless, and it has brought us real value. Without Sofigate, we would not be where we are now”, Kantanen declares.

In three quarters of a year, Skanska and Sofigate have been able to define and implement a new data governance model for 11 business processes. “This must be a record in Finland. The success was built by a diverse team of experts on business, data, project management, and facilitation – some of them from Skanska, others from Sofigate. We can both be proud of the result.”

Despite the success, the greatest benefits are yet to come. “This is not a sprint, and not even a marathon, it’s an ultra-distance. When the culture of a company becomes data-driven, the benefits are massive”, Sipilä states.

Skanska’s long-term target is to build a culture where each business unit is aware of the possibilities of high-quality data and can drive their data-related development forward with just some support from the data function. The target is reached when all 11 business processes are able to do this.

“Technology is the easy part, but the real value comes from cultural transformation: learning new ways of thinking and changing the modes of operation. That is our Holy Grail”, Kantanen concludes.