Unknowns Of The Data Combat Zone

Unknowns Of The Data Combat Zone

On Feb. 12, 2002, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld found himself in the West Wing of the White House facing an awkward set of circumstances.

During an intelligence press briefing, he uttered a phrase that resonates with anyone that has ever tried to make sense of a chaotic mess of information.

As Rumsfeld stood before the crowded room, he uttered the infamous phrase, “As we know, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know, and we also know there are known unknowns.”


Daily, organizations across the globe are making decisions based on the known and unknowns of their businesses, often battling to find success amid the combat zone of chaotic data. For your organization to be successful and win the battles, there must be intentional investment in managing data as an asset. This truth is even more evident as you navigate the often-unchartered waters of digital transformation. With so many different battles in the data combat zone, where do you even begin?

Founded in 1863, Cincinnati-based First Financial Bank (Nasdaq: FFBC) is a $14+ billion-dollar company that provides a variety of financial products and services to commercial and consumer clients. Our long history of innovation and growth has been augmented over the past decade by acquisition activities that inevitably require careful integration of people, processes, technology and data. To help manage these activities and enable its business leaders, First Financial established an Enterprise Data Management program.

Over the past 17 years, I have served in several different capacities within First Financial, from a financial data analyst to, most recently, the senior director of Enterprise Data Management. Through my experiences, I have gained insights that I believe are the foundational components of winning in the data combat zone:


Sure, we all have business partner relationships we maintain within our organizations. Our altruistic relationships, however, are different. They are selfless, not selfish. They must be of the highest quality and include all stakeholders, operational to C-Suite. Strive to establish altruistic relationships that value the success of both your business partners and the organization. Think of it as the Jerry Maguire proposition: Help me, help you!


Credibility and reliability are impossible without trust. And, it is impossible to establish trust without growing your subject matter expertise over the domains you manage. Your time on the battleground should be balanced by being a trusted partner, willing to use experience and expertise to enable business partner success, while also learning as much as you can about the evolving data landscape.


Building trust and credibility at the executive level is often difficult but made possible by successfully managing your relationships and establishing yourself as the data management subject matter expert. Seek out opportunities to get involved in large, strategic projects, where you can further cement trust and credibility by learning about critical business processes and their impact on data quality. Once you have gained exposure to the C-Suite, you can begin to evangelize the importance of a data management framework that can help solve the most valuable business needs of the organization. Further, this exposure can allow you to gain entry to the Board level, which is often the pathway to securing material funding for strategic initiatives that can be enabled through investments in data management.


Ask any organization what their data strategy is, and you are likely to get a lot of terrific sound-bites. But, how do you make your data strategy come alive? You do so by identifying and inventorying the business needs that underpin the strategic objectives of the organization and provide measurable business value. Prioritize those use cases and identify the golden one to take with you into the combat zone.


It’s not just about technology. To get business value out of your data, you must also focus on the people and business processes that go into creating and maintaining data. Data governance and stewardship play pivotal roles, but they must operate at a scale that doesn’t burden delivery or dilute business value. Invest in reusable enterprise data assets but be mindful of the role they play in your organization.

Scale your solutions thoughtfully. Ultimately, the data combat zone is fraught with the unknowns. And, the solutions to knowing the unknowns are often conceptually simple, but operationally complicated. By thoughtfully managing your data management framework, assets, and business relationships, you can make the unknowns of the data management combat zone both winnable and fun.

Marc Cordray is a business and technology professional with over 15 years’ experience in data management, project management, business process improvement and financial analysis. Currently, Marc serves as the senior director of Enterprise Data Management at First Financial Bank (Nasdaq: FFBC), where he is responsible for leading the vision, planning and execution of the data management and analytics strategy. Marc has served in various roles within the financial and insurance industries, including mergers and acquisitions (M&A), data governance, and enterprise data architecture.

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