Boston is America's most European City. Sorry San Francisco. Hills and Fog are not a substitute for Culture and History. The scale of Boston, with its rivers, sea, beaches just beyond the harbor, and easy access to fields, forests, and farms on the periphery make if feel like Hamburg or Stockholm. I've been to Boston a dozen times, but most often for just a day. I know Logan very well. Last week, I discovered Boston for more than a day.
A great city! Who knew nice people lived in a civilized city North of New York?! <mock sarcasm>
On Tuesday, we drove up from NY and discovered that Boston is a six hour drive up during rush hour and a 4 hour drive back before. On Wednesday, I was a speaker at the MIT Information Quality Industry Symposium in an afternoon session lasting 40 minutes. I arrived a lunch and found the event starting just after in a square building on Amherst Street on the Cambridge campus. About a hundred people filled a large tiered classroom. Many familiar faces and some old friends. We traded "what's up" stories in the lobby on low black sofas while chowing on salty sandwiches and chips. The US Army was the keynote speaker and some army chaps were in the lobby talking about Army things. Data Governance Aficionados were comparing the US Army to the British Army, who had just won a Data Governance Best Practice Award at the Wilshire Conference in San Diego last month.
Funny coincidence...all ideas are derivative...
My presentation was about www.infogovcommunity.com and The Six Easy Steps to Smart Governance and it was very well received. I like to present. Doesn't matter what mood I'm in before I stand up I always step up about three steps higher when I start talking. Its the audience that feeds me. Not the adoration, center of attention. I need the feedback. Every time I present I learn something new from the audience and its that interaction that makes presentations so much fun for me.
On Wednesday, my audience gave fantastic feedback and it took me all weekend to process what I learned.
Information is a Tool.
Wow. I can't tell you how many "Information is an Asset" presentations I've sat through where some IT Architect is trying to persuade the audience and herself that Information is an Asset with a value that can automagically be calculated. Someone out there is working on fantastic formulas that will produce THE ULTIMATE INFORMATION ROI CALCULATION and win a Nobel Prize.
Ain't gonna happen. Here's why:
1. Value is dependent on price. Information has a value when there is a pricing mechanism and a market in which it buyers and sellers can interact. Movies, Music, News, and Software are all examples of INFORMATION that is sold with prices in markets. Economists have already developed pricing formulas for consumer behavior in markets. Cobb-Douglas Utility Theory captures these interactions nicely. In a market, both buyer and seller benefit so outcomes are equal.
2. Corporations have no internal markets. IT professionals are mostly eager to assign value to Information because Applications and Information are the primary work products of their lives and they want their life work to have meaning beyond their jobs and paycheck. But without internal markets for buyers and sellers to establish pricing mechanisms, Corporations can't assign anything but abstract values to information.
3. IT uses Unit Cost of Labor (Thank You Karl Marx) to assign the value of IT work products. The Unit Cost of Labor identifies the human contribution to value creation.
Information is an Asynchronous Asset and it doesn't have to be right to be valuable.
IT professionals are so hopelessly enamored with "The Single Source of Truth." IT is a belief system but that doesn't mean that verified information is always valuable.
Fact is, quite often lies are just as valuable. Two examples:
1. In the old days, The Department of Labor compiled monthly unemployment data based on the percentage of the workforce that wasn't working. That made sense. Unemployment means "people who want to work but can't find work." But in the 1990's the standard was changed to include only the people filing for unemployment benefits each month. This rate excludes members of the workforce that are working less than 20 hours a week, people who have stopped filing their weekly claim for unemployment benefits, the elderly, and those who have dropped out of the workforce entirely. So naturally, the new number is much lower than the old number. How low? The current rate of unemployed is 9.5%. However, if you include those working less than part-time, those who recently stopped filing for unemployment benefits, and those who dropped out of the workforce entirely the real rate of unemployment is 22%.
What's the difference? 9.5% is a recession. 22% is a depression. Information is a tool used by policymakers to achieve a goal and the outcome is not equal.
2. In May 2003, Ebay restated its earnings from 2000 and 2001 but didn't tell anyone. It appears that someone in the accounting department "discovered" a $127 million loss both years and retroactively restated earnings. They hid the restatement in their SEC filings. From a "Single Source of Truth" perspective, one could argue that the restatement demonstrates the value of trusted information. But I don't think that's the truth. I think the reporting of lower losses was a GOAL of ebay and the chart shows that the under-reporting had the effect of protecting the stock from significant declines during a recession. The truthful reporting of the losses during the bull market of 2003 had no negative impact on the stock. So it looks like ebay hid the truth when it benefited them and revealed the truth when it couldn't hurt them.
And who could blame them... after all using Information as a Tool to achieve policy goals is the whole point of Governance. And this is where I say to my IT friends that you won't be successful with Data Governance if you don't give up the hopelessly naive belief that a single source of the truth is a the goal of Data Governance.
Data Governance is a Business Process
The Goal of Data Governance is to achieve business goals - cutting costs, improving revenue, reducing risk. As we've seen above, the information doesn't always have to be "right" to achieve these goals. That's why Data Governance is a business process and not an IT process.
Try to make Data Governance into an IT process like some sort of application development lifecycle and you will fail. Not because the process is wrong. Because the assumptions are wrong.
Human Nature is at the Heart of it
This week, my wife and I visited the Bank. Its amazing how defensive retail bankers are these days when talking with their customers. And they should be! Money is free and these guys are charging nearly 5% for mortgages for the best rated buyers. But beyond the mortgage discussion, our friendly banker brought a good idea to us - Debit Cards for our teenage sons. It teaches them responsibility with money, he said, how to budget with what they have. And of course it gives the bank two new debit cards that earn small fees with every purchase, not to mention ATM fees at other banks... But of course, Debit Cards are fact of modern life and as much as we'd like to keep our kids kids and not indulge them in the consumer culture of America yet we need to be modern parents too.
So we brought the idea home during the Saturday BBQ dinner in the backyard. "We went to the bank today..." the conversation began. "And we are thinking about getting you both Debit Cards..." At the banking bit, my kids started paying more attention to their burgers than us. Banks are boring. But as soon as the Debit Card idea surfaced, WOW! My kids know what Debit Cards are - its a BENEFIT. As soon as the conversation turned to a BENEFIT for them, they were alert, animated, inquisitive. They wanted to know how would it work, when would they get money, how much, how often, what happens when the money runs out, where can they spend it, how do they get it?
How much was the big topic. Kids, all kids, are smart. They began negotiating from the getgo. My wife and I hadn't talked about how much, and they knew it. They wanted to hear what we were thinking. How much? Ben, the oldest, wanted to set the floor for negotiation. "Just what are you thinking?"
Net: When benefits are at stake in any discussion, negotiations are competitive and you have to arbitrate between self-interest and the common good. Because you can't afford how much the other party WANTS because WANTS are infinite.
That's where Governance comes in. You compare the situational needs of each party to sustainable goals of the program and you make a decision. Based on the goals. In a business process. With Six Steps.
Information is a Tool. When you use it its an asset for YOU. Not always for the other guy.
Thank you MIT.