Pouring the Foundation of Your Data House 

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Amanda Pelata
Metadata Analyst, Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU)
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In both real and virtual life, foundations serve an essential purpose.

In the physical environment, structures that are built to protect their occupants depend on solid foundations. It’s no different in the digital realm; data structures, too, rely on a load-bearing anchor to provide ongoing value to the organization.

In both real and virtual life, foundations serve three essential purposes: support the structure, fix the structure in place and protect the structure from threats. For every credit union marching down the path to analytics maturity, pouring the foundation of their data house may look a bit different. However, there are common elements all data-transforming credit unions need to consider as they work to build and mature their data programs.

Supporting the Data Program

Strong data governance, although not terribly exciting, is absolutely critical for even short-term success of any analytics program. I speak from experience. If our credit union had not devoted time and attention to the upfront work of things like achieving consistency in our data definitions or understanding where our data was coming from across the millions of transactions we support each day, we would never have been able to take as many steps forward in our journey as we have to date.

Fixing the Data Program in Place

You’d be surprised how quickly a data program can become integrated with the credit union’s culture if you celebrate the quick wins. Within our environment, submitting a solid data extract to the NCUA to support our transition to a $10 billion+ institution was a huge win and something that’s helping us socialize data as an asset across our leadership team and beyond.

Protecting the Data Program

Future-proofing a data program comes down to establishing a strategy and roadmap that is solid enough to inspire, but flexible enough to iterate as market and member needs dictate. Although we are in the throes of data governance now, with 10+ people focused on data quality, data rules and data engineering, we also know where we are going. That gives even the tedious work great meaning. 
Analytics maturity is critical for credit unions to grow. Member demand for personalized, relevant experiences delivered through digital channels has reached peak levels following COVID-19. Credit unions can’t adequately meet that demand without the ability to make real-time, data-driven decisions. That’s because data and digital are two sides of the same coin, as AdvantEdge Digital leaders continue to reiterate across the movement. That said, credit union leaders can get into trouble if they do not exercise patience in the pursuit of data mastery.  
Only after the foundation of a data house is in place and the credit union has achieved some quick wins can teams leverage that momentum to get into the “flashier” side of analytics. Initiatives like building predictive models, integrating machine learning and exploring automation and artificial intelligence are next-level projects. Jumping into them too soon could have the same results as launching into a glamorous home renovation without first knowing which walls are load-bearing. 
Whether your credit union is just getting started on its journey or has a decade of milestones under its belt, consider working with an external resource like AdvantEdge Digital to (re)examine your foundation. It’s a fast-moving world, and new methods for supporting, fixing and protecting your data house are emerging every day.