The Poor, Misunderstood Data Center of Excellence

data specialists working in the server room
By Emily Engstrom

3 minutes

Turn fear into fervor by nominating the right people to spark and socialize passion for the game-changing power of analytics.

The phrase “data center of excellence” has been known to strike fear in the hearts of many. That’s because it conjures up nightmarish visions of the most dreaded of analytics maturity projects—data governance.

But here’s the thing. It’s time to change the narrative.

Data centers of excellence are about so much more than data governance. Their true purpose is sparking and socializing passion for the game-changing power of analytics. Once organizations learn of that purpose and begin to put it into action, they unlock incredible potential.

So, what makes a well-oiled and purpose-driven data center of excellence? If you guessed people, give yourself a gold star. The individuals nominated to lead the initiative have a tremendous influence on its ultimate success.

Credit unions looking to establish such a group should prioritize four distinct factors as they consider which leaders to appoint.

Diversity on the Team

The most transformative data centers of excellence thrive because they are composed of many unique points of view and levels of experience. Credit unions should strive to have people who have studied and executed data strategy for years working alongside others who are only beginning to think about analytics. This is how people learn to expand their thinking, making them capable of solving some of the credit union’s biggest problems through data and analytics. When business users, data geeks and member experience experts all have a seat at the table, analytics use cases will drive straight at the credit union’s most pressing opportunities and threats. In other words, diversity enables a best practice in the field of analytics—strategy first.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Ensuring that every function of the credit union is given the opportunity to contribute to the center of excellence is vital to the achievement of buy-in and execution. It also accelerates different projects, including (you guessed it) data governance. Take data definitions, for example. A common disruption that slows the solidification of enterprise-wide data initiatives is clunky, undefined data terminology. The qualities that make up even obvious data fields and nomenclature, such as a “new or inactive account,” an “engaged member” or even a simple “member count,” can be vastly different in the minds of lenders versus marketers or finance people versus operations team members. Getting representatives of each function in one room, so to speak, to define and document key terms removes otherwise time-consuming barriers to all kinds of data strategy milestones.


The various nuances and disciplines of data science can be taught. Passion and excitement for playing in the data, making discoveries, and acting on insights are generally more innate—but that’s not to say an individual can’t become passionate about analytics over time through exposure to their power. However, for credit unions at the beginning of the journey, building the first center of excellence in their organization’s history will succeed faster if they prioritize choosing people with a passion for data over data proficiency.

Team Members’ Influence

The people who lead a credit union’s data center of excellence must have the respect of colleagues within their function. That’s how analytics becomes a part of the fiber of the organization—a super important achievement tied directly to digital transformation. Professional titles are of little to no use here, as a frontline teller can have as much, if not more, clout with team members as a branch manager. Look for individuals who will report back what they are learning and share stories of what the center of excellence is achieving with enthusiasm, optimism and camaraderie.

People with a clear strategy and prioritized objectives are what make a data center of excellence great. People are the collaborative force that makes the heart of the movement beat. The more credit union people who know the true purpose of the data center of excellence, the faster news will spread.

The faster we can turn fear into fervor, the faster we can engage a whole generation of credit union leaders with the power of analytics.

Emily Engstrom is director of customer success for CUESolutions provider AdvantEdge Digital, a Cuna Mutual Group Company that helps credit unions unlock their digital potential through a single SaaS business offering two complementary solutions: analytics and digital lending.

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