Good strategies require good information; I think we can all agree on that. If you want to fly to Austin, for instance, it's important that you establish whether you mean the Austin in Texas or the Austin in Minnesota before you buy your plane ticket. Failure to do so will threaten the success of your Austin-visiting strategy at a deep level.
You might also think of this in terms of the military phrase �actionable intelligence.� If the intelligence isn't very good, the action you're contemplating probably isn't very well advised. (You could call that kind of information �actionable stupidity.�)
For many organizations today, however -- especially the larger ones that have been around a while -- ensuring that information is good is far from easy. This comes as a consequence of many factors, including:
- The total volume of information, which is vastly higher today than it's ever been before. Is big data always a resource to be tapped? Or is it sometimes a challenge to be overcome?
- The age of information -- in too many cases, it has long outlived its usefulness, may indeed be flat-out wrong and if it plays a part in strategies, those strategies will likely be compromised.
- The way information can change as it's used in many ways, by many people, to achieve many goals. The game of Chinese Whispers (also called Telephone) illustrates pretty well how easily and thoroughly that can happen.
Information governance can help you fulfill the promise of big data
- The fact that information can occur in multiple versions which differ from each other in subtle or blatant ways. Reconciling these different versions to arrive at a single accurate truth, and eliminating the versions which aren't true, is no simple matter.
Recently I discovered a blog
on these subjects by an IBM expert, Dave Corrigan -- aka, IBM's Director of Product Marketing for InfoSphere -- and was intrigued to find him discussing these various ideas in terms of trust.
It makes perfect sense, of course. If you're building an omelette out of eggs, or a house out of wooden beams, you need to be able to trust that they aren't rotten. And if you're building business strategies, processes and decisions out of basic information, the same logic applies.
This, in short, is the heart of information governance
- maximizing the business value of information by maximizing its quality and trustworthiness in a variety of related and interconnected ways. A quick phone call with Corrigan confirmed this interpretation.
�Information Governance establishes trust in information,� he said. �Without trust, organizations fail to capitalize on new insightsBut when business users can trust information, they act upon insights from analytics and reports, and operate more efficiently when using enterprise applications.�
This struck me as particularly interesting because of the implications. Picture a CIO who, having invested heavily in big data solutions, proceeds to collect piles and piles of data, runs his shiny new analytics tools on the piles and generates lots of impressive-looking reports, only to round-file the reports because, at some basic level, they just don't seem very trustworthy. Or, possibly worse, he uses the reports to make major decisions anyway, despite profound doubts about the wisdom of this course of action.
Talk about an indictment of technology! I asked Corrigan how common that scenario really was.
�More common than you'd think,� he said. �Recent studies
tell us that one in three organizational leaders frequently make decisions based on information they don't trust, or don't have. Half say they don't have access to the information they need to do their jobs. And 60 percent, a clear majority, think they have more data than they can use effectively.�
Information governance is all about solving that problem. The idea is to make data more trustworthy so that you can then proceed confidently to use it in more ways, solve more problems and create more value -- both for yourself and for your clients, customers and business partners.Six pillars of governance to support business goals and strategies
This, of course, is easier said than done. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone. Corrigan explained to me that as a result of IBM's hundred-year history in business and an endless list of successful customer engagements, IBM has learned a thing or two about how information should be governed for best results -- actually, six things.
�Trusted information, as we see it, is dependent on six key technology aspects,� said Corrigan. �Basically, you need to ensure that information is understood, clean, holistic, current, secure and documented.�
Let's walk through those aspects briefly.Understood
information is information that has a clear, established context. That means its structure, its source and all associated metadata. Information has to be understood in this sense before definitions and policies concerning it can be shared across projects.Correct
information is just that -- correct. It's been standardized and cleansed, is in the right format and is known to be accurate. Logistics companies that ship products, for instance, will need to be quite sure they have the correct shipping address or customer satisfaction is going to take a major hit.Holistic
information is information that's been reconciled across all repositories, so that inaccurate versions of it are removed and a single accurate version is left. The logistics company above may have a correct shipping address on file for a customer, but it will also need to get rid of the other five addresses it also has, in other databases, all of which are completely wrong.Current
information is chronologically accurate. Keeping all information forever, as if it were all perpetually useful, will inevitably create problems. Instead, information should have an expiration date (rather like milk, water filters or members of Congress). This minimizes the odds it will influence decisions in ways it shouldn't.Secure
information has been protected and monitored over its lifecycle to verify only the right people have seen it, changed it or used it in any way. One of the best ways to increase the trustworthiness of information is to keep the wrong people from getting access to it in the first place.
information has a known lineage to establish its history. This is rather similar to the idea of provenance in the art world, used to reflect changing ownership. If you're planning to spend $50 million on a Picasso, you need to be sure it was not in fact painted eight years ago by someone named Steve. Just as with provenance, information lineage can be used to trace problems, guide decisions and yield a better outcome.
All of these capabilities are provided by IBM's InfoSphere famil
y, which includes leading solutions like InfoSphere Information Server, InfoSphere Guardium and InfoSphere Master Data Management.
InfoSphere solutions aren't just standalone tools; they interoperate at a deep level, forming a complete information governance solution. This solution, in turn, helps organizations get the best use out of information even in the most sophisticated cases, where information volumes are incredibly high, use cases are many and it's critical that the information be as trustworthy as possible.
Corrigan sees this interoperable design, in which governance capabilities are logically linked, as fundamentally necessary if major IT initiatives are really going to be successful in a pragmatic sense.
�Common projects that drive the need for integration and governance include newly installed enterprise application, or a data warehouse or big data systems that are the foundation of analytics and reporting,� said Corrigan. �Improving the trustworthiness of information in each of those enterprise projects requires various combinations of the six aspects, through Information Governance technology, to fully satisfy requirements. That's why we see Information Integration and Governance as a common platform of integrated capabilities for data integration, data quality, privacy and security, lifecycle management, and master data management.�Additional InformationFind out more about Information Integration and GovernanceJoin the InfoGov Community and become a governance leaderRead the Forrester report on turning data into business valueGet smarter about smarter analytics at Information On Demand 2012Register now for Information On Demand 2012Listen to this podcast to learn how to manage and leverage information betterAbout the authorGuest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
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