Posted: 16 Dec. 2021 5 min. read

Establishing Business Partnering for data

What is Business Partnering and why is it beneficial?

It’s a given in most organisations, that Finance and HR will have Business Partners embedded into their team to support with specific requests across the business. But if data is so valuable, complex, ever changing and a risk to the business, why do we not have data partners?

Business Partnering describes the process of strengthening the link between a business function and the overall objectives of an organisation. For example, a finance business partner may investigate the feasibility of a new revenue stream and support the calculations of costs and return on investment.

There is a trend amongst businesses with best-in-class data capabilities to establish a data partnering model, tailored for their needs or the specific team that each partner serves.

So what does a good Data Business Partner look like?

A successful business partner can draw on the capabilities of their team and other resources to recognise how the technical skills can be utilised. They will have many of the answers to a range of questions and can quickly keep you moving so you don’t need to trawl through documents or chase around your personal network to find the right person. Where they do not have the answers, they will act as a conduit to data teams across the business linking front line staff to analytics or governance teams and acting as the translator between the two, ensuring that your requirements are understood and dealt with effectively.

A good Data Business Partner is someone that blends business acumen with technical data skills to develop practical and effective solutions for the business. By recognising the business objectives and leaning on their expertise on the underpinning data and technologies, they will set the direction of their own team to build stronger alignment between the data, everyday operations, and the overall business strategy.

A good Data Business Partner is:

  1. A strong communicator and influencer – They are able to converse with all level of seniority across the business, from front line operations to C-Suite executives.
  2. Commercially aware – They understand the business and industry that you operate within.
  3. A people manager – They manage expectations of stakeholders, their team and direct line management when delivering solutions.
  4. Resilient – They are self-sufficient and able to drive forward work, bounce back from adversity and quickly notice changes/problems.
  5. Fluent in Data & Analytics – They have a solid foundation and understanding of data and areas of analytics, Typically an all rounder rather than a specialist in a specific branch of analytics.
  6. A team player – They are able to work as part of multi-disciplinary teams on multiple projects at the same time.

The role of the Data Business Partner is two-fold, first this ‘go-to’ person will be the data SME and the first point of contact for data related queries from the business such as: where do I find this piece of information; am I allowed to use personal data in this way; how do I find out what this data means; or I need insight into x, y or z.  Secondly, they will work with business leaders to understand the business strategy, data strategy, business direction and how the existing data capabilities can support this.

Whilst they may be approached by the business with various data problems, it is not the role of the data business partner to resolve issues. Instead, they will advise potential solutions or workarounds. They will help their team understand how the issue can be resolved and give them the information they require to implement the solution. For example, this may include providing direct advice or helping someone through a technical query or it may be identifying the best point of contacts, directing data users to various forums, escalation processes or making people aware of the data and resources available to them.

How do we adopt a Business Partnership and ensure it will be a success?

Like many data initiatives this does not need to be a big bang - trialling partnering in one or two teams allows you to test the partnership model works. In turn, this will help to understand how much support is needed, either a light touch approach or hands on collaboration. In order to test whether your partnership model works, it’s often beneficial to conduct a lessons learned exercise to map the outcomes, successes, and challenges against the original objectives. This approach helps to move from an idea to a functioning model with a formal, tried, and tested approach. Continuing with this approach, a community of data partners will form building further efficiencies. This could include creating platforms to encourage sharing of materials or introducing data forums where data partners and their respective teams can build a sense of community and start to share ideas. Initiatives like this help to drive a data culture, improve data literacy and get colleagues, from the executives down to the front-line operations staff, talking about data. Combined with well-established Data Governance policies, procedures and ownership, data partnering is a cost-effective way to further embed good data practice.

Business Partnering is not about increasing the headcount; data partner candidates will already exist within your business. Almost universally when assessing data capabilities in our clients, we will identify individuals who are passionate about data, have the right skills and have already taken on informal responsibilities in supporting their team. Harnessing this enthusiasm by providing these individuals with the tools, support and agreed remits is an effective way to establish data partnering. In fact, this is arguably more effective than management electing people for the task.  That being said, in order to elevate your business partnership model from its infancy to embed into the normal way of working, senior stakeholders need to appreciate that employees only have so much time. Therefore, this role will need formalising by adding them to their job descriptions and as a result, headcounts may need to increase, or workloads balanced between colleagues or teams in order to be successful.

So that leaves us with a few questions; Have you considered introducing Data Business Partners? Do you understand how this model might work in your organisation?

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Key contacts

Emily Durn

Emily Durn

Senior Manager

Emily leads the Information Management Team for Corporate and Public Sector in Deloitte’s Data Risk & Analytics team. She helps organisations to establish governance, controls and organisational structure to treat data as a corporate asset, both by mitigating risks and driving value. Emily is an Information Management professional with over 15 years of experience.

Dom Holden

Dom Holden

Senior Manager

Dom has 6+ years of experience in Information Management and leads the Data Strategy Capability as part of the Corporate and Public Sector team in Deloitte’s Data Risk & Analytics team. Prior to leading this capability, Dom led the Data Governance Capability within the same team. Dom has advised a number of large organisations, namely Government Departments, to address their information challenges including data strategy and the assessment, design and implementation of data governance capabilities. 

Robyn Severn

Robyn Severn

Senior Consultant

Robyn is a Senior Consultant in the Information Management Team for Corporate and Public Sector in Deloitte’s Data Risk & Analytics team. She is actively focused on supporting the Data Strategy capability, with experience working with Social Housing organisations to improve their data maturity.