On the path to smarter data governance

Technology alone can't change behavior; you need collaborative structures

Steven Adler, Program Director for IBM® Data Governance Solutions, talks about what companies face in the data governance space and some key elements in a successful program.

Scott Laningham (scottla@us.ibm.com), Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.



22 September 2010

developerWorks: This is the developerWorks podcast. I'm Scott Laningham. My guest is Steven Adler, program director for IBM® Data Governance Solutions. He joins us for a sneak peek of what he'll be talking about at the Information On Demand Global Conference which is coming up October 24th through 28th in Las Vegas, Nevada. Welcome, Steven.

When everyone's a producer, what is sustainable IT?

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Adler: Hey Scott, how are you?

developerWorks: Very good; thanks for doing this today. What's on your plate at IOD 2010? What all will you be doing there?

Adler: Well, I've got an information governance keynote. So we've got a information governance track at IOD with lots of business and technical presentations. And I've got a keynote slot to kick that off.

And then I've got a best practice slot, talking about ... well, actually inviting some customers to have a roundtable discussion about information governance best practices, both what we think in IBM are the best practices but more importantly, things that our customers are doing every day that we could share with other organizations from a practitioner perspective so people could learn.

And then I've got another facilitated discussion looking at technical solutions along with customer meetings and the press and analysts and all kinds of things.

developerWorks: I'm curious. What do you get out of these big conferences other than being tired? [LAUGHTER]

Adler: You know, you meet a lot of really great people and I always learn a lot. It's an opportunity to learn from IBMers who do fantastic work, both about technical ideas that they have, as well as, of course, new companies we've acquired like Natiza today and Guardium recently and Optim. So it's an excellent opportunity to learn about a lot of really fantastic solutions that IBMers are working on, but also, it's a great opportunity to connect with customers and both hear what they're thinking about, what they're working on, and in some sense validate some ideas that you have yourself. So I always find it extremely interesting.

developerWorks: That's great and I look forward to hearing you speak there and hopefully we have a chance to chat while you're there if you have a second as well.

I wonder if we could talk about sort of the state of the union with information governance right now, since that's your area of focus. And I'm wondering, are the themes around it all the same as they were, say, a year or two years ago and we're just trying to get better penetration on those themes; or have things changed in some sense?

Adler: Well things of course are always changing. So I think some of the themes are the same. I think that the sense of urgency in the market has changed, certainly.

You know, one thing that remains the same is that most organizations today are still functioning in an information age with what I call industrial age structures— that is, it doesn't matter whether you're a bank or you're an auto company or you're an insurance company or even a government ... most of us are still organized in production lines. That is whether we're actually producing physical goods or producing information-based goods. We're still organized from a kind of, you know, raw materials to finished products type of assembly line.

And that sort of product oriented stovepipe — you know, you hear the word stovepipe in the IT industry all the time, but you really sort of wonder how that permeates inside of an organization. That kind of stovepipe structure facilitates automated production, but it doesn't really facilitate coordination and collaboration across multiple stovepipes when the raw material is data and the finished product is information.

And that's what I think a lot of organizations are bumping up against today, is that they're in this transition phase between when single companies were the sole producers of data and information to a world in which almost every person on the planet is a producer.

You know, you probably know and I probably know several 14-year olds who are now producing their own movies and distributing them on YouTube.

developerWorks: Right.

Adler: So in that environment everybody around the world is an information producer and a media mogul. And that means that we have more and more information than we ever had before from more and more sources. And trying to figure out which sources we should trust, you know, is far more complicated.

In that environment, many, many organizations are realizing that a lot of IT projects that they've invested in aren't achieving the sustainable results that they wanted to. Mostly because we tend to invest in projects as one-offs and move on to another project.

We rarely go back to look at:

  • How did that project fit into the overall enterprise scheme of things?
  • How does it fit into our information architecture?
  • How do we manage to make sure that the qualify of information we put in is what we want to get out?

And all of these issues are coming to the fore, you know, information glut and producers and consumers and new types of organizational structures in a global economy in a recession ... all these things have come to the fore and many organizations realize that the old stovepipe way of managing discrete projects, programs, information, data warehouses, you know, doesn't really work in a just-in-time, horizontally organized world.

And organizations are looking for new both structures and solutions to help them better understand

  • What have we got?
  • What types of information do we have?
  • How do we make sure that we can trust it to make better decisions?
  • How do we anticipate problems before they become crises so that we're not always just lurching from crisis to crisis?

You know, how do we make our own institutions much smarter and more adaptive and more agile in a very, very fast-paced world? And while information governance was important two years ago, you know, it's become even more important today because of these other trends.

developerWorks: What you're saying resonates with that [A] Smarter Planet theme of course and more intelligent data, smarter use of all that data. Does it make the governance job more complex and more difficult? Or does it make it in some ways easier to tackle when you talk about more integrated systems and more cooperative systems?

Adler: Well, in the near term it makes it more complicated largely because, you know, governance itself isn't very difficult, it's really just coordination and collaboration. The problem for most organizations is that — and they're all doing governance today — is that being successful at governance requires a certain level of operational awareness which most organizations lack:

  • That is, they lack an understanding of what they don't know.
  • That is, they don't know the quality of their data across many different geographies reported by region.
  • They don't know how much semantic consistency they have inside their organization to improve their efficiency.
  • They don't know what a single source or a single view of the truth looks like from many different perspectives.

So they lack these common elements of what I call operational awareness and without it, you know, even the best and most agile politicians and governors are left to make decisions in the dark.

So just like every has got iPods and Androids and we're all so used to having information at our fingertips about all the different interests we have in our lives, so too I think we have to give our customers that level of operational awareness about what's happening inside their organizations so that they can make more informed decisions.

And I think that's very consistent with [A] Smarter Planet but because it's not there yet, it's kind of an obligation for us to create. And until it is created, organizations won't be able to make smarter decisions or have smarter organizations or achieve A Smarter Planet because it's sort of an unenlightened state, if you will, of decisionmaking.

developerWorks: When you come in to speak with somebody about a situation and whether they need to tackle this within an enterprise, are there four or five, right off the bat, bullet points of these that are key things that we've got to focus on immediately and that you've got to assess where you're at in terms of each of these areas?

Adler: Yes, I mean, there are five or six easy things and there's two ways to look at a data governance program. You know, if you don't have one and you want to get started, IBM has some great methodologies to get you started.

You know, one of my colleagues has a terrific unified process management methodology which is really a get-started guide for starting up a program both structurally, as well as benchmarking where you are, as well as some of the key technologies and methodologies you need to get started. That's a great way of doing it.

If however, you have a lot of existing projects that aren't achieving the results that you desire and you think by adding information governance you can get better results, well then we've also got some solutions for that.

In fact, the council, the IBM Data Governance Council that I lead, four years ago we created information governance or a data governance maturing model which benchmarks different organizational practices across 11 different categories and five levels of maturity. And that's been a real industry standard for the last four years and many organizations have used it to create their programs.

And what we've done now is we've gone a step beyond the maturity model to create five sort of business outcome maps which organizations can use to identify minimum levels of information governance maturity that they should obtain across the different categories to help them achieve these outcomes.

And those outcomes are things like:

  • semantic consistency to improve information understanding or improve the quality of reporting and analytics to promote organizations effectiveness
  • or a single view of the truth to supply the right information around the business or transform data into valued business information to make smarter, faster decisions
  • or information that is secure and protected to reduce risk and improve compliance.

These are the five key projects that many of our customers in our council identify as things they commonly invest in, things that commonly run but they don't seem to achieve sustainable results.

And the hypothesis from the council is that if you were to achieve these minimum desired levels of maturity across these five different projects, you would achieve more sustainable results and see the success from an information governance program.

So I would say if you don't have an existing program, we've got great tools and techniques to help you start one. If you'd like to integrate information governance to some existing IT projects that you have running where you want to get better results, we've also got a solution for that.

And those are what I usually advise customers to start thinking about. You know, governance is not so difficult but you need to do it and you need to do it right. You need to have a systemic way of doing it. You can't just sort of think about it as another IT project like you did last year because you won't get any sustainable results from that.

developerWorks: You know, Steven, I know sometimes you say technology alone can't change behavior. Talk about what you mean by that.

Adler: Well, what we see is for organizations that are more effective, and we've just finished a survey that kind of demonstrates this, it's where people take those little splinters of light, you know, like a fractured mirror and put them together to get a good reflection. And I think that's what organizations need to be thinking about today, is that technology can be a really, really valuable enabler of an organization's effectiveness when it delivers more trusted information and knowledge to individuals. But then you also need structures to enable those individuals to collaborate and coordinate and take advantage of that knowledge more effectively.

And that's a challenge for all of us in every organization. It doesn't matter how big or how small you are. We need to be thinking a lot more about those types of, almost like social networking sharing of information between people and sharing different perspectives. We certainly learned that in the last economic cycle the effects of group think, sort of post cyclical behavior in an economy when there are clearly warning signs that one should change that behavior.

developerWorks: Well, if you'd like to hear more of this, people should come to the Information On Demand Global Conference 2010 which is happening the end of October in Las Vegas. Steven will be speaking there. And you've also got a website I know you'd like to mention, right Steven?

Adler: Yes, we've built a social networking site called infogovcommunity.com. We have about 500 members, 500 organizations that are participating on a global dialogue today, working on new versions of the information governance maturity model, on best practices, on peer reviews of different member programs, and on general practitioner advice and knowledge.

And I would encourage anybody that interested in this topic about learning more about information governance and getting in touch with peers around the world who are working on this area to go to www.infogovcommunity.com. Membership is free and it's a great place to learn and engage with others.

developerWorks: Steven Adler, program director for IBM Data Governance solutions. Thanks so much, Steven.

Adler: Thank you.

developerWorks: This is the developerWorks podcast. Find us on iTunes and at ibm.com/developerWorks. I'm Scott Laningham. Talk to you next time.

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