Small(er) is Beautiful

By Daragh O Brien
February 19, 2024
23min read
Data GovernanceData Strategy

I often get asked what it’s like running a small boutique consultancy in a market that tends to be dominated by much larger players such as the global behemoths and some local Irish/UK titans. I usually smile and say “Smaller is beautiful. After all, the A-Team was only four people and they ran rings around the US Army for years”.

Less cheekily, I point out that organisations embark on digital transformation projects to modernise their data management and analytics capabilities. However, the failure rates of these projects According to a study by McKinsey, only 16% of respondents said their organisations’ digital transformations have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes in the long term.

Faced with statistics like that, one does have to ask if perhaps depending on the behemoths is actually the best strategy for companies starting down this road. If they have a problem, and they brought in [Insert Name Here to help], maybe they should hire the A-Team.

Understanding the Challenge

One of the key things a specialist consultancy like Castlebridge can bring to the table is a different perspective on the challenge. After all digital transformation is not, despite what it might seem at first glance, about the technology. It’s about the people and the things people need to be doing with and to data, albeit enabled by technology. Having a deep understanding of a particular problem domain such as data protection law and being able to link that to a broader data strategy objective and changes in ways of working enables a niche consultancy to make links that might otherwise be overlooked. But by spotting those links, we can lay the foundation for future changes.

One of the key factors that can make or break a digital transformation project is the quality and independence of the data governance oversight. Data governance is the set of policies, processes, roles and responsibilities that ensure the effective and efficient use of data as a strategic asset. It covers aspects such as data quality, security, privacy, ethics, compliance, architecture, standards, metadata, lineage and stewardship. And it requires us to recognise the people impact within those different aspects and ensure effective alignment within the design and scoping of the governance framework for the future, and for the governance framework for the change programme or programmes that will be used to deliver that future.

However, data governance is often overlooked or under-resourced in digital transformation projects, especially when they are led by large systems integrators who may have vested interests in selling their own solutions or services. This can result in suboptimal outcomes, such as data silos, duplication, inconsistency, incompleteness, inaccuracy, breaches, fines or reputational damage. A failure to have a coherent data strategy to ensure alignment of different data change initiatives can result in missed opportunities, increased costs, and conflicting priorities.

A specialist consultancy, particularly one where the team all come from the customer side of the fence, can help advise at the senior decision maker level and operational levels on alignment, communications, and stewardship to get things done right. It’s also important to ensure that the people in the organisation feel engaged with the change. It needs to be done “with them and for them”, not “on them and at them”. That’s why it is crucial for organisations to engage small specialist data governance consultancies who can provide independent oversight and guidance for your digital transformation projects.


Consultancies like ours can have the following advantages over larger systems integrators:

  • We are objective and unbiased. They do not have any conflicts of interest or hidden agendas. They act as trusted advisors who can challenge the status quo and offer alternative perspectives and solutions. Ultimately, because we are smaller we can’t afford to send you down the garden path of a failed implementation. Our credibility is based not on our size but on our effectiveness.
  • We are experienced and knowledgeable. We have deep expertise and practical experience in data management practices across different domains and industries. Importantly: our experience comes from working in organisations as our ‘day job’ before becoming consultants. We have some scars, t-shirts, and war stories. We also know the practicalities of core technologies and understand the importance of people. We can leverage best practices and lessons learned from previous projects and our front-line experience to help you avoid common pitfalls and mistakes.
  • We can be agile and flexible. We can adapt to changing requirements and circumstances and can work collaboratively with the organisation’s stakeholders and project teams, including other consultants from the Behemoths. We deliver value quickly and iteratively.
  • We’re networked. If we lack expertise in-house to help tackle a challenge for a client, we usually have the relevant expertise in our network and we have fewer organisational hurdles to clear to put a resource in place quickly to solve the problem.

Another advantage is that very often the consultants or trainers assigned to your engagement will be senior in the organisation (if not actually me, the CEO). In Castlebridge, almost all of our consultants have held senior CDO, DPO, or similar level roles in organisations. So we know the challenges of senior management and leadership personally.

Oversight and Governance

Of course, sometimes the scale of a project requires an organisation to engage one of the Titans. After all, nobody got fired for hiring IBM, as the saying goes. And sometimes the roll out of an initiative will require an army. So, what is the role of the smaller consultancy in those circumstances? We have done several engagements like this over the years, supporting clients managing some of the ‘big boys’, but also supporting ‘big boy’ consultancies with skills, insights, and experience that their teams lacked but their clients needed.

Small specialist data consultancies can play a vital role in ensuring the success of digital transformation projects by:

  • Providing subject matter expertise and independent oversight. We have helped clients define the data vision, strategy, framework, roadmap and metrics, and design the plan for execution. We have then supported the client with monitoring and evaluate the progress and performance of the implementation work (by the larger consultancies) against the roadmap objectives, regulatory requirements, best practice standards, and effectiveness of delivery.
  • Supporting senior level change management. We can help communicate the benefits and value proposition of the data change to the organisation’s leaders and decision makers, and to the staff who need to execute and sustain the change. We can also help align data governance goals with the organisation’s strategic goals and priorities.
  • Enabling separation of duties. We can help establish clear roles and responsibilities for data across the organisation and within the roll out of the data transformation. We can also help ensure that there is a proper segregation of duties between the oversight of what is being implemented (data governance) and the execution of roll out of technologies and new ways of working (digital transformation). This includes giving practical and pragmatic advice on the selection and implementation of new technologies to help people put data to work more effectively.

Supporting and Developing your internal capability

It is important to note that engaging small specialist data consultancies does not mean replacing or bypassing the organisation’s own project managers or staff who are delivering the digital transformation change. Rather, it means complementing and enhancing their work by providing them with additional support, expertise and assurance. Crucially, our ethos is one of developing the in-house capability to execute so we invest time and effort in knowledge transfer to the client. We are not an invasion force of consultants looking to embed ourselves in your organisation. After all, we are a crack team of data commandos – we want to help you meet your challenges of today and be better prepared for the opportunities of tomorrow.

In conclusion, small specialist data governance consultancies can offer significant benefits to organisations who are undertaking digital transformation projects. By providing independent oversight and guidance, they can help ensure that the projects deliver on their intended outcomes, mitigate risks of failure and enable sustainable change.

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find us… maybe you can hire the Castlebridge A-Team.

If you would like to find out more about how find us and how we have helped other organisations working in collaboration with other consultancies, get in contact here or email sales[at]

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