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How to End Data Silos and Make Better Decisions

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About the Episode

Data silos, duplicate data, and shadow IT, oh my! These common data issues plague organizations across the globe, causing inefficiencies to run wild. This results in poor experiences and frustration internally for employees, but also externally for customers. What can be done to solve these company-wide data problems? Rose Anne Martinuzzi has the answers. In this episode, she shares the strategies she’s seen work across her 15-year career in higher education IT management.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

The world runs on data, and Rose Anne Martinuzzi is passionate about finding the best ways to use it. She’s dedicated her professional career to helping universities run more efficiently and effectively through data-informed decision-making. The senior IT project manager has more than 15 years of experience in business process improvement, software acquisitions, and project deployment at universities such as Lehigh and Campbell.

Episode Transcript

Lindsay McGuire: Clean accessible data equals better relationships. Don't believe me? Well, let me explain. It means more alignment internally, happier stakeholders and customers and more opportunities for innovation. And if I wasn't convinced of that before, and I definitely wasn't, I now am after this amazing conversation with Rose Ann Martinuzzi. Rose Ann is the senior IT project manager of IT procurement and software acquisitions at Campbell University, a private university in North Carolina. On this episode, she's sharing exactly how she and her team at Campbell University avoid and overcome data silos. And spoiler alert, it all starts and ends with relationships. Take a listen to learn how. Well Rose Ann, super excited to have you on the show today. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Well thank you for having me.

Lindsay McGuire: One thing this show is about is it's for innovators who are championing digitization within their organization. So can you talk to me about why you're champion of getting rid of data silos?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: When you have data silos, it creates duplicate data. It's going to create duplicate efforts, duplicate costs, especially when you're talking software and different software licenses. But it also hinders a university's ability when you don't have centralized accurate data. They can't make good decision making. In fact, it's referred to as DIDM. That's Data Inform Decision Making. And that is so critical to how any business operates and how they evaluate their own performance. And for higher ed, you can miss opportunities to respond to the market conditions or launching new programs or innovative services. And all that is so important to enhancing the student experience itself.

Lindsay McGuire: Yeah, it's interesting because we as a company serve a lot of very different verticals and industries, but when I talk to people across those industries, it's almost always the same story, just different descriptors of who they are. So how can higher education organizations begin thinking about where there might be some duplicate efforts or duplicate processes or tools or even in your own experience, where have you found that to be a common issue and how did you address that?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: I have found by doing a university wide inventory of those systems is usually the best starting point. And also conducting on campus focus groups I found are extremely helpful. And what I'll do is I'll go around and meet with each individual department, admissions, registrar controller's, office IT and find out what data do they have, what data do they wish they had, how are they getting what they need? Which often reveals shadow systems where they may not have purchased software but they're taking data, putting it into a spreadsheet, manipulating it there, storming it on their desktop, on a land drive, so on and so forth. So those on campus groups can solve not only your inventory, but also identification of duplication of efforts, lack of workflow. And it also makes people feel that now you do want to hear what they have to say, and how they wish things will be, which then lays that foreground for whiff on what's in it for me. And you're also starting to build that collaboration and that interest for bigger conversations to start.

Lindsay McGuire: It's funny, it's a going back to basics kind of moment I think, right? I don't hear a lot of people talking or at least using the word focus groups, but you brought up a really good point of that's how you start building that trust with people. How you start building that collaboration. You bring them in from the onset instead of getting partially down the road and then bringing them in and they are wondering, Well, why didn't you come to me before? So if an organization is looking to do focus groups like that, how many people do you recommend being in those kind of groups and maybe what titles or roles within each department?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: When I do the focus groups, I tend to omit executive leadership. And the reason for that is to create that safe space, so that when people talk, they feel they can talk openly. And if they're critiquing an area, they don't have to feel like, Oh, that might have been my boss's idea. I can't say anything against it. So the areas that I like to include is maybe a manager or an assistant director of say, admissions. It's also very important to include the people like the admissions counselors or the people doing the data entry, because it's often the people that are actually doing the work and they're so hands on with the data, they can provide a different level of insight that upper management may not have.

Lindsay McGuire: Yes, those frontline workers are crucial to those conversations and bringing them in early on in those conversations as well. Last question probably on this focus group idea. But how often do you suggest an organization run these focus groups to ensure that they don't have that duplicate tool problem or that shadow issue or any of those kind of things?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Your initial focus group can be done say once or twice, you should do it before you start your efforts, get everybody's input, and then of course compile a report that is going to present everything in a very neutral way, removing anybody's names, removing specific departments and present that to leadership. But then also after your initiative has been launched, you should always follow back with the people and make sure, okay, this is what we've started, what are your thoughts on it? What improvements are you seeing? So it has to be a continuous type of thing. I mean meeting with an entire university can be difficult. It's not something you're going to do every month, but at least maybe as you meet milestones and even if it's not an in-person meeting or an in-person focus group, at least sending out a survey, getting people's input on how do you feel about where things are right now.

Lindsay McGuire: Coming back to collecting all that data and analyzing it from your experience, what's the best way to prioritize then the first step from that? Because I can imagine if you're talking to multiple departments at even a small to medium size organization, that's a lot of opinions and people and priorities. How are you then prioritizing which issue or problem to tackle first?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Well, when I conduct the focus groups, I'll go in with a consistent list. That way you've got control, and then you can also generate more accurate reporting because you've got to have consistency and responses. But from a top down prioritization, it would be, of course, any compliancy issues that you have. Those have got to be addressed first. And then working through your say workflow, if you've got a lot of processes that need to be streamlined, then that would come pretty high on the list.

Lindsay McGuire: Yes, yes. Because that really makes everything else flow, right? If those are working and flowing correctly, then nothing else is going to work effectively or efficiently from there. So bringing back into the idea of talking specifically about the problem with data silos, what are some either tools or processes that have helped your team overcome those data silos, either in your current role or pass roles?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: The data governance committee. And a lot of institutions have a data governance committee. However, it's been my experience, it was set up when they went on the new ERP. So because at that time data is your focus, everybody's focused on cleaning it up and process improvement. So it will start, but when you've bought it 20 years ago and that data governance committee has not grown and expanded its responsibilities, it tends to turn into a role and user class type of committee. So you want to build a strong robust data governance committee, and it should be encompassing all areas, your registrar, your representative for your deans, IT security, so on and so forth. But you should also address data cleansing, your consolidation of duplicate data, and then launching the appropriate initiative to go with that.

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Establishment of data dictionaries or data catalogs are often very critical because you've got all these data mappings and all these columns and sometimes what it means to you in admissions one field can mean something completely different to another department. So getting all that standardization of what does every field mean? So if you're talking about student success, what exactly are you looking at? How are you determining that so that you don't have one report assigned to three different departments and all three of them come back with three different results.

Lindsay McGuire: Especially if you have a bigger organization with even a thousand employees, let's say. Imagine how bad that problem can get if you have 15, 20 people that are in different areas of the business, focusing on what you think everyone knows is the same thing, but they're defining it in such different variations. But how do you keep people engaged with the recommendations and that tech governments you have? Because it's like when I'm thinking about security training sometimes can be that way where you go through your security training, it's two or three hours, you did your questions and your quiz and then you forget a lot of things until you do it again the next year. So what suggestions do you have for organizations with keeping their employees engaged with those tech governance guidelines?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Well, in addition to having the committee themselves meeting monthly, I always like to publish minutes and publicly post them, disseminate them across the university so that everybody is kept aware of what decisions have been made, but also ongoing training. A lot of people, when you're hired, you train to a certain level, but you're not always taught about the data per se. You're shown what forms to use. This is how we calculate that, just those kind of high levels of your job. But putting into training what the data means, giving them that education and searching. A simple thing like searching for vendors. If you're not taught how to search, that's how you get that Formstack with the space in between. Formstack Incorporated. Formstack one word, and while it sounds minor, now you've got three different records. And then it depends on how somebody, which one did they pull. That's where your information's going to get attached. So you can very quickly exponentially have all kinds of data that's fragmented within the system itself.

Lindsay McGuire: Oh yes, you gave me a lot of PTSD with that little sentence there of just thinking about how often this happens in the backend CRMs. Where you'll look for a client or customer or potential customer's information and there are literally 18 records and you're like, what is happening? The clean data capture is so crucial on that front end, but also having those processes in place to ensure that every subsequent entry is done accurately and correctly. And so how do you ensure that actually happens?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Data warehousing can be extremely useful so that you have all the data in one place and it's been standardized and it's been clean. Also, setting up standardized reporting tools so that you don't have someone using Cognos, someone using Argo, someone using MS access and then putting those dashboards in place as well, so that when people need the information, it's not so much up to them to try and figure out how to put it together, make it more of a one click. Where all that work has been done for them, but then it's also done in a standardized fashion, and you have almost a single source of truth.

Lindsay McGuire: Yes, single source of truth. That is the dream I think, for a lot of people. What are some of the common issues you've seen that are forcing people who work either in higher education or outside higher education to not be able to access clean standardized data?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: In higher ed, I think a lot of it is just when you think about a campus, everything is spread out and people began getting into that mentality. I mean, I could remember when I was in corporate, if I wanted to go talk to accounting, I just pressed the button on the elevator and went to the third floor. Whereas in a campus, everything is so spread apart that you begin that siloing and then setting up your own data, your own data streams. Then when budgets come out and people are able to spend money the way they want to spend it, they'll go out and they'll buy their own software. And then you're creating another data flow and you're getting that duplication of systems. And also lack of communication tools.

It's surprising, I think for some universities, it wasn't until COVID that they became more aware of, okay, we need video conferencing, or even things like Teams or Slack. A lot of places were not using them. It's not uncommon to hear, why do you want to change this? I've been doing the same thing for 40 years and it's worked, but it really isn't working. So there is a lot of resistance in a higher ed environment.

Lindsay McGuire: And how can you position these changes in a positive light for those people? Because there are a lot of people either in that kind of situation or I've also talked with people on the show before about the idea of, well, if you automate this, what am I going to do? Right? You're going to automate me out of a job. And that's usually 90% of the time not really the case, it's just taking something off your plate so you can focus on more impactful work. But there is that mindset too. So do you have any advice for people who are coming up against those kind of feelings or reactions and how you can maybe get people over that hump?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Putting in a good change management process is helpful, but even before you launch the initiative, taking the time to talk to people and explain the why, because while there is a lot of resistance, I found that most of the resistance isn't necessarily just because they're being stubborn and they don't want to change the way they do business. They're just, they're afraid. They don't know what is going to happen with the change. And like you said, right away they start thinking, oh, we want to automate this. Which means I'm going to be out of a job. So taking that time to create that with them. This is how it's going to benefit you, this is how it's going to benefit the organization and it's actually going to help you keep your job, because you're going to be able to enhance your own performance.

Lindsay McGuire: I really like how you put that. You're going to be able to enhance your own performance. I think that is a crucial piece of that conversation, because then it flips the script to being about that worker, right? It's about making them more successful, about making them have a better use of their time and being able to maybe get rid of some of the things that, in all honesty, if they really sat and thought about the things that either give them energy or take away their energy, it's probably taken away your energy. You're probably not loving that. You're having to copy and paste this data through three different spreadsheets where you could just automate it and get back 20 minutes per day, which adds up to a huge amount of time.

And you brought up in previous discussions this idea that you can get so isolated in higher education. I think that's a really important thing to talk about, because you can get isolated within your own department or your own school or your own portion of a university if you're at a bigger university system. So do you have any thoughts or ideas about maybe what higher education institutions can do to try to minimize that isolation and boost up that inter collaboration between departments?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: One thing we had done at Lehigh was they established an IRAC committee. It was an employee relationship advisory committee. And what was the nice thing? Was it made the staff feel that now they had someone to come to. So they could bring any issues they were having to the committee and then we would take them up to leadership. But part of that was they started with a lunch and learn program. And it wasn't data orientated. It wasn't necessarily technology orientated. But the purpose of them was we'd often go to different places around campus. So if they had put in all kinds of new technology into the classrooms, we would ask our digital media services people to go into the classroom and then do a demonstration and do Q&A. And a lot of people around campus started coming.

So not only did they get more familiar with what was going on around campus, they got to meet new people that were there. It started that conversation. It started a little bit of collaboration because people tended to chat before them, chat after them. So just having those kind of activities where you're just bringing people together.

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Lindsay McGuire: Yeah, it's funny, because especially when we're talking about data and technology, it can seem very cold and unrelated to people and unrelated to relationships. When you actually dig in these conversations, at the end of the day, it is all correlated to the relationships you have. And if you're able to build those interdepartmental relationships and have those moments, like you said, of having those meetings across the aisle per se, how much that can open up then the collaboration and the correct investment in tech. And getting rid of some of these data silos because someone said, hold on, this is how we do it and you do it this way and maybe we should solve that issue. So can you share a little bit about what are some improvements on how universities can collect, share and store data and really put the focus back on that student experience?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: By becoming more of a data driven organization, you're naturally going to enhance your communication and your collaboration, and you're going to now begin seeing the interconnection between departments and see that you do have common goals, and you do have common objectives. And that is going to ultimately move you forward in the same direction to improve that student experience. So you're going to be able to make better decisions. Your projects and your initiatives that you're going to take on, they're going to be more strategic in nature because they're going to be based on your data and what you're seeing. So you're going to make a better selection, they're going to be more cost effective. And it also gives students a voice too as far as what programs are you looking for. What do you want to see? And then you can build out stronger curriculums, which is going to help you with your student engagement. And then in the end, student retention and the ultimate success of the student.

Lindsay McGuire: It's all one big circle, right?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: It is. It all connects. The data governance is in the center and every scope is your project governance, your software acquisition, your communication, your collaboration. It all needs to come full circle.

Lindsay McGuire: Well, Rose Ann, I have two final questions kind of to close out our conversation. They're ones we ask every episode for this season. If you just could put a bow on everything you've talked about and really narrow it down, but why should people care about avoiding data silos?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: Because as long as data remains siloed, you will never reach that DIDM. Whether it's higher ed or corporate, or it is what's going to help you properly make a profit and analyze what is your ROI? What is your performance? How do you do salaries? What do you need as far as resources? So it ultimately is the hub of not only student success, but any businesses success. Because in the end, it all rests on the numbers, it rests on the data.

Rose Ann Martinuzzi quote from the Practically Genius podcast

Lindsay McGuire: Yes. And especially when you have so many external factors that you cannot control and are probably going against you in a lot of ways, you have to be able to make the smartest, best decision for your organization. And you cannot do that without data bar none. Well, final question. So what do you think makes practical solutions that eliminate data silos so genius?

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: They don't cost a thing. And you can harness the talent that you have and it will promote your communication and your collaboration around campus. So it actually promotes a happier and healthier work environment as well.

Lindsay McGuire: Well, Rose Ann, thank you so much for joining us today on Practically Genius. It has been a fabulous and very, very eye opening data conversation, a data driven conversation.

Rose Ann Martinuzzi: There you go. Well, thank you so much, Lindsay. It's been a pleasure.

Lindsay McGuire: How great was that conversation with Rose Ann? I'm taking away tons of insights from this conversation and applying them to a Practically Genius insider newsletter, which you should definitely sign up for right now. You can do that by clicking the link in the show notes. And as always, please rate, review, share LinkedIn and tell another innovator about the show. You never know. You just might get your next practically genius idea right here.

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Lindsay McGuire
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Co-Hosted By
Ryan Greives
VP, Brand & Communications

Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

Hosts Lindsay McGuire and Ryan Greives host conversations with real-world innovators sharing stories of digital transformation while also providing helpful advice and insights to listeners.

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