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You’re not the only one wearing a fireman’s hat: tactical to strategic treatment of information is still a struggle

I’ve been to quite a few customer meetings lately, which is awesome. Best part of the job. One consistent theme is that many groups are still failing to get traction for information management initiatives.  A few anecdotes:

  • CompanyA said that they were so decentralized that every individual region just did whatever they wanted in regard to the treatment of information, from each region having different ERP systems (from different vendors) to no global roll-up of key information elements. Now the company says they want to be strategic, but the mountain is *high*. Not only will they have major organizational change management issues to deal with regarding regional independence, but the amount of disparity in the information they have seems never-ending.  They are struggling to even identify which key information elements to start with.
  • CompanyB said they that they have started strategic information management projects multiple times in the last two years, but every project has failed. Why? CompanyB was playing eenie-meenie-minie-mo to pick an executive sponsor. That sponsor would read some analyst reports and talk to a few internal people. From there, grand (but shallow) plans were developed, full of statements like “data is an enterprise asset”. But without a solid, tactical execution plan—and an executive with a deep understanding of how information feeds an enterprise—these grand plans gradually fizzled and are now gathering dust.
  • FireCompanyC said that there has been so much business volatility that they are barely treading water in IT. Projects aren’t planned strategically…there are always fires to put out. IT and Business are constantly rushing to simply put out the largest fire of the week. Consequently, each fire is put out as quickly as possible (it IS a fire, after all). The short-term impact to this approach is obvious, but also consider this: business units accustomed to dealing with fires have more trouble understanding why they need to be strategic in their approach to information management. They don’t understand how information propagates through the organization and has long-term effect, because, after all, the fire from last week is no longer burning. Something must be working.

In all of these cases, some employees can see the problems. They show up to workshops and conferences and you can clearly see the frustration on their faces. Their questions are not technical. They are not asking about Hadoop integration. They want to know how to get their organization to see that the poor information virus has not just made the person in front of them sick, but has become an epidemic.

If only I were that smart. Every organization is different, and the answer to the question depends so much on politics and organization makeup (for more, see the blog entry “Refrigerator smells and information governance”) .  However, there a few approaches to follow:

  1. DQ Tales of WoeKeep a  Data Quality Tales of Woe notebook, as Information Governance Tips + Tricks from a Practitioner. In this notebook, capture the stories you hear around your organization. Also note who told you the story and the impact of the bad data. Then, as you have time, track down the real root cause of the data problem. Finally, go back to the story originator and tell them what you’ve discovered. At that point, you’ve converted them into a Friend of Data. (And yes, I’m considering adding FoD to my signature. Why should Hall of Famers be the only ones with HoF? FoD is good enough for me!)
  2. As the notebook fills up, you should be able to notice some common themes. Start rolling up the Tales of Woe into multiple theme areas (i.e. Customer, Vendor or Material; BI, Business Process, or Marketing)

Guess what you just did? You captured a great list of information problems and their real business value. No guessing…straight from the horse’s mouth.

  1. Now look at which area has the most damaging Tales of Woe. Armed with your notebook and business language to describe your problem, start to work your network . Eventually, you should get to an upper-level manager in that area that can help you get executive sponsorship.

Only that executive manager can accomplish these key tasks for you:

  • Establish funding and multi-year commitment to an information program.
  • Spearhead incentive programs that reward data creators and consumers for the right behavior (for example, are call centers rewarded for how fast they key in the information, instead of how accurate the information is?).
  • Drive the organizational change management across the company. Without this, your program will not work. Did I say that out loud? True.

Give it a try. Everyone likes to tell Tales of Woe, so starting should be easy!

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  • The Tale of Woe Notebook is a brilliant idea, with so many applications - I've just started working with a small SAP customer who have a 'informal' approach to a lot of their documentation, training and understanding of SAP. 

    This will be an excellent way of demonstrating the need for a bit more governance and control.  Of course if it turns out that there are few incidents caused by this lack of formality, I'll have evidence of that as well !!