Belief systems are very powerful. Robert Garigue, one of my early Data Governance mentors, liked to say that IT applications are belief systems and the more I work in Data Governance the more I realize that every human construct, model, or framework is a belief system with its own ego and rigidity that blinds adherents to alternatives that could be more efficient.
Two examples: one political, the other organizational.
Vermont is about to embark on a single-payer healthcare model as the governor will soon sign a bill that will make that small state the first in the nation with a European health insurance model. In the national healthcare debate, the idea of a single payer systems was vilified by conservative Republicans who charged it would yield socialized medicine with rationed care, long wait lines, and people dying before treatment arrived. Many of the same Republicans are warning that Vermont will suffer a similar fate because their expectations of healthcare are intrinsically linked to their ideology and their use of selective experience in Canada and the UK.
Two points on this. Single payer eliminates administrative redundancy, which saves money and provides more efficient insurance coverage. That's the principal reason for adopting this model. Efficient health care is another matter. You can have an efficient single payment insurance model and a free-market provider model that provides efficient care and you can also have free market models that provide inefficient undesireable outcomes. Models themselves create rigid boundaries that, in their absolute adherence, distort desired outcomes around inefficient incentive models. That is, no belief system is perfect and has a right to unbridled adoption. Conservatives today like to argue that the free market is a natural and organic model of human activity and regulation creates unnatural distortions. But in markets, all things are never equal and information asymmetries produce inefficient outcomes for many market participants. Regulation evens the playing field, even with those regulations have socialistic aspects. The same is true for liberals in Europe who insist that social models produce more egalitarian outcomes than capitalism. Not always...
The second example is from Denmark, where the health care system has been single payer for decades. Danes pay for healthcare through taxes and never pay for treatment at the doctor or hospital. This creates an efficient billing system, but unfortunately the uniform fee structure did not create incentives for superior service. Waiting lines were very long for even acute conditions. A friend had gaulstones in 1996 and was told, despite her acute pain, that her condition was not urgent and she had to wait some 12 weeks for an operation slot. She went to her doctor ever day to complain until he finally relented and gave her an operation date a week later. But the long waits were not because the system was single payer. They were due to a lack of incentives and penalties to induce doctors to work harder and provide better treatment. This was addressed in the early 2000's when the Danish parliament passed legislation that allowed any Dane waiting longer than three weeks for treatment at a public hospital to seek care at one of Denmark's many private hospitals with expenses covered by the public hospital who was unable to provide the care. Its a brilliant piece of free market regulation added to "socialized medicine," that created incentives to improve care in public hospitals.
The point here is that no belief system can handle every exingency. Human beings respond to many kinds of incentives and penalties, and large complex governance systems need Dynamic Steering to modulate the incentive structure to provide the most efficient services.
I was on the phone with a client seeking Data governance advice recently and she asked, "Many in the Data Governance Industry advise on having both technical and business data stewards who look after both policy and compliance. What is your view? Should these people reside in the business or in IT? What will happen to us if we don't follow the industry norm."
I told them, "don't follow the lemmings..." Most people "in the Industry" are consultants who have never governed their own tongue let alone a real company. They fly in and perform a powerpoint, run a workshop, and sell their latest wisdom as gospel, a framework or a model. They have a huge amount of ego invested in whatever model they are selling because it is their claim to fame. But models and frameworks don't work. They are too rigid, belief systems with believers held back by best practices and use cases summarized to the point of easy communication and factual irrelevance. Best practices are rarely transferable from one institution to another. They neglect all the politics, sponsorship, favoritism, self-doubt, and dunb-luck involved in getting anything accomplished. Every company is unique because companies are made up of people with unique personalities and belief systems.
Be dynamic. Don't follow models rigidly. Adapt to circumstances. If you have great data stewards who work well in the business units, wonderful. If you have others that are more technical and can't function at that level, no problem. Go with what you can get done and don't worry about model orthodoxy.
Ideology and belief systems, incentives and penalties, work best when varied. Focus on the business outcomes you want to achieve - like efficient payment processing AND efficient care provisioning - and experiment with different tools to achieve those outcomes. Get fixated on following one model and you will soon find yourself in a long line of Lemmings running off a cliff.
Adler on Data Governance
In Europe, there is a proposal to tax Google, Yahoo, Apple, and others on the content they provide that passes over European Telecommunications networks. The Europeans complain that their networks are over-burdened with content that comes from the USA that they deliver to their subscribers and they want a cut of the action. They claim that the cost of upgrading their bandwidth, especially in France, Spain, Italy, and Eastern Europe, to keep up with content is so overwhelming that the content providers themselves should pay for the inconvenience. France calls it the "Google Tax." I call it extortion and fraud. Its bad policy for Europe and its bad policy for the Internet. In France, even though French Telecom has been deregulated, Alcatel-Lucent estimates that it will cost over 300 billion euros to upgrade the French broadband infrastructure to enable high-speed internet access for every French citizen. Other European Telecoms, also former monopolies, agree. Someone has to pay for this, why not the Americans?
Its their doing anyway, this Internet...
In France, where the "Google Tax" has already passed it already hurts French content providers more than Google because their content is taxed too and they only serve the local French market. Google, meanwhile, has a global market and only a small fraction of their revenues are effected in France. You have to love the irony...
By now, American readers are no doubt feeling quite superior since we haven't done anything as legislatively dumb yet. Don't.
Legislative stupidity is not the monopolistic right of Europe. In the United States we have the Protect IP Bill introduced by Senators Patric Leahy and Orin Hatch. This Bill allows the US Attorney General to shut down websites that are alleged to provide copyrighted materials or counterfeit goods. Apparently, current copyright laws which require copyright holders to demonstrate infringement in a court of law are insufficient to protect IP rights in the United States. What the Protect IP Bill does is remove the inconvenience of due process and allow the US government or any IP holder to demand an injunction or restraining order from a court to shutdown a website without a court case. This Bill is bad on so many grounds. The definitions of copyright infringement and counterfeiting are very loose. The lack of due process means any aggrieved party can use injunctions to shut down competition or ideas it wants repressed. And one person's piracy is another's business model.
Many organizations are using piracy for viral marketing. Lets face it, with 2 billion people on-line today, people are producing a lot of content. Anyone can write a book, produce a video, record a song, post a blog and almost everyone does. With all that content, getting noticed is very hard. And that's changing the business models of content production. Those changes are organic to the development of Information and Society.
The Protect IP Bill, if passed, would make it possible for political interests to allege copyright infringement on their ideas and shutdown opposing party websites. It would empower ugly forms of censorship more at home in countries we'd rather rid of censorship than show new examples. It is a huge step backwards and is as pernicious and wrong-headed as the "Google Tax."
Government should keep its uninformed fingers the Heck out of that development. On both sides of the Atlantic, taxing and shutting down content should be seen as dictatorial remedies that will do far more harm than good.
We the Internet Generation want the Freedom of Information to connect the 5 billion people not yet online with information unfettered and uncontrolled to illuminate the world. The legislative examples above represent darkness and we should all reject and fight against them.
Since the 18th Century, Freedom of Expression has become enshrined in constitutions around the world as a Basic Human Right. It defines Democracy in its defense and Dictatorships in its assault. People like to control and don't like to be controlled, and the tension between controlling and being controlled requires this Human Right to be defended and re-defined every year. Sometimes, like during the McCarthy Era in the United States, the tide turns against Freedom. Other times, like in the Middle East today, the Freedom to speak changes the course of history.
But there is another Freedom not yet defended as a universal Human Right that should be and it is the Freedom of Information - the right to be informed, to learn. This right is implied by the Freedoms of Press and Speech, but it is not articulated explicitly as a constitutional right. Around the world, many nations have Freedom of Information Acts that require national and local governments to make information available to the public. Those acts were created when widespread access to information was rare. Libraries and archives were places where large amounts of information could be physically retrieved and governmental disclosure was paper-based. Universities and Governments were the largest aggregations of information, and they were the places you visited to get information.
But today, with the Internet, human beings have potential access to information without physical limits and it is that potential that must be enshrined in law as a basic human right. Every human being on the planet should have the right to access information freely and without threat of harm. Like Free Speech, that right should be defended even when the content of information accessed are heinous and injurious to some. Any society or nation without the Freedom of Information as a basic human right is a place that can be controlled and manipulated.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are 40 nations around the world that restrict access to the Internet or Social Networks. Many of these nations also block satellite TV and other forms of communication. But even in Western Democracies, Information Access is controlled by cost, technology barriers, labor protections, and secrecy laws. Even the most advanced nations have huge regions without access to the Internet. And some nations now seek to tax content flowing over the Internet as a means to restrict trade and favor local providers.
This is not a question of commercial competition. This is a question of human progress. Where there are people unable to access information freely there are opportunities for oppression and abuse. Democracy and Freedom will not thrive or survive without the Freedom of Information. To be ill-informed and speak freely is a condition of intellectual slavery.
I believe that we must work to assert the Freedom of Information as a basic Human Right. It must be a 21st Century Goal to connect every human being on the planet to high quality trusted information. There should be no technical, political, cultural, or economic barriers to Information.
It should be as easy as air and as cheap as water, taken for granted and governed by statute in every nation around the world.