I just had the pleasure of attending a Forrester Leadership Boards workshop followed by our Consumer Marketing Forum in New York City.  As usual, data challenges remain top of mind for most marketers – siloed data, dirty data, inaccessible data… the usual suspects.  However, there was also a data manifestation of an age old organizational problem – misaligned incentives leading to different groups defining, transforming, and interpreting data in drastically different ways to show that each “exceeded” its goals.

I call this problem “data gerrymandering.”  As folks were describing the challenge this week, I couldn’t help but think of the Pennsylvania electoral district aptly nicknamed “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” because its borders defied any logic in a brazen attempt to favor a single political party.  And just as representative democracy loses when political parties game the electoral system, so do companies lose when internal fiefdoms massage data for their own gain.

The solution to this problem is of course governance.  Data governance comes first.  Create a single source of truth where data is rigorously catalogued and variable explanations are disseminated.  Analytics governance comes next.  Define KPIs with universally understood calculations is essential.  Many analytically sophisticated organizations are using customer lifetime value as their North Star metric for overall business health (see Nike’s acquisition of Zodiac, a customer analytics vendor specializing in CLV).

Make data and analytics governance your top priority.  Otherwise that nice hockey stick graph is going to do you little good when your company shutters its doors.