Friday, July 31, 2015

Is the "Data Asset" really different?

In June 2015 for the BCS and DAMA I presented a seminar at an event called "Data, the vital organisation enabler" Information is at the Heart of ALL of the Business
During this I raised the question, "is the data asset really that much different form other assets?"  We hear a great deal that Data is an asset, it's got to be managed, few people in the business understands us and so on.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to cast doubt on the importance of data as an asset, but I wanted to raise the level of debate from a subliminal nod to a conscious examination of the characteristics of different "assets" and to compare them with the 'Data asset".

Firstly, let me re-iterate that Information IS absolutely at the heart of the business, my recent white paper talks at some length about this and the diagram here briefly illustrates 4 business architecture disciplines & the vital role of data in each of these.

However what I want to raise here is just what are some of the characteristics of core assets in the business, and if as we all say data IS one of those  key assets, how, if at all do these characteristics differ in the "Data asset" compared with  other common assets that we frequently encounter in our organisations?


Assets & Characteristics

So first of all lets have a think about some other "assets"?  I've picked 7 other assets seen across a variety of businesses and tried to compare them with the "data asset". 

The assets I've selected for this comparison are:

* Oil
* Money
* Blood
* People
* Property
* Materials
* Intellectual Property (IP) and of course
* Data.

The characteristics of the assets themselves required more consideration. After much thought and batting the notion around with others I settled upon these 5 characteristics:
  • Is the asset Copyable, i.e. without resorting to the realms of science fiction "replicator" machines
  • Does use of the asset in some way deplete it
  • Is it straightforward, and/or usual practice to ascribe a monetary value to the asset
  • Is the asset a real tangible thing or an abstract concept
  • Does the asset have to be processed in some way to yield value
Now I'm sure that I could have come up with further asset types and asset characteristics, and I may well do so as this analysis develops, but for now these are the ones that I start with.


So let's analyse these assets against the characteristics & see what (if any) conclusions we can draw from it?


Oil is not copyable, and most definitely using it depletes it.  It is definitely usual practice to give a value to oil (the $50 barrel for example) and it is a real concept. Finally it has to be processed to be turned into something useful like petrol, diesel or plastic.


So you can't (legitimately) copy money, and as I know all too well with two sons at University, using money depletes it, and naturally you give a value to money.  It's mostly a real concept being underpinned by Gold stock, and doesn't have to be "processed' to deliver value.


Blood isn't copyable in the mainstream (although as we speak blood substitutes are being trialled), and use of it depletes it (it has to be re-cleaned & oxygenated after use).  It's not too difficult to ascribe a value to it, and it is a real concept.  Finally it has to be processed by our organs to yield value.


People as we know them are not copyable (although biological cloning is possible).  I've said that use of people does not deplete the resource as we can apply our skills & intellect many many times.  However, people do age and limbs and minds fade so perhaps this should be answered as "partly true".  It's not widespread practice to ascribe a monetary value to a person except in a few cases (e.g. professional sportsmen).  People are real and without trying to get too philosophical, they have to do something to yield a value.


Property such as buildings are not copyable.  Sure you can have a plan for a building & use that several times, but its using different bricks, is on a different site and so on.  The Eiffel Tower in China is a fake!  Using a property does slowly erode it, things wear out and need to be maintained.  Property does have value & it's usual practice to give it such.  Property is a real concept, but doesn't have to be processed to generate value.


So here I'm talking about raw materials.  Again, without a sci-fi replicator they are not copyable, and just like a match the act of using them depletes them.   Most materials have a monetary value easily ascribed to them, for several that's the basis of the commodities market.  They are real not abstract things and pretty much for the most part have to be processed to yield a value.

Intellectual Property (IP)

IP is not legally copyable.  IP thrives on being reused so is not depleted by use.  There is frequently a monetary value allocated to IP and much like a thought or an idea it's mostly an abstract concept.  Finally, IP must be used (processed) to gain real value from it.


So what about data; how does this stack up against the asset characteristics?
Data is copyable; with digital media any number of copies can be taken without the data being degraded.  Using data does not erode it or make it wear out. Sure the relevance of the data may decrease over time but it does not wear out.  Whilst there is much talk about "monetizing" data, this is still not a widespread practice but will no doubt become some in the future.  Data is an abstract concept since its representing something else.  Data needs to be utilised by processes to have value (and conversely processes must have data to operate upon).



Having looked at these 8 different assets, and the 5 characteristics is there anything that jumps out at us? 
If we look for assets which have the same values of characteristics as observed in "data" then we're going to be disappointed.  Of the 5 characteristics, 3 of the assets (Money, Property and Materials) have zero common values of characteristics.
2 of assets (Oil and Blood)have one common characteristic value shared with "Data".  Intellectual Property (IP) has two common characteristics, and heading the pack with three common characteristics is People.  It's interesting to note though, that there aren't any of the assets that share 4 let alone 5 of the characteristics as we see in Data.

Thus it's probably reasonable to conclude that: the Data Asset IS different to other business assets that we encounter.

Furthermore, as described in my white paper all of the business depends upon data for its wellbeing.

Unfortunately, we still encounter organisations where the various disciplines of Information Management are not understood (or more frighteningly are knowingly not addressed).  Indeed, Professor Joe Peppard wrote "The very existence of an organisation can be threatened by poor data quality.”  So yes if as we suggest here that it is different, then the management of the data asset requires specific skills and capabilities, the Information professional.

Wise organisations are realising that Information IS a vital asset, it IS worthy of being managed professionally, and yes it IS different.

Monday, June 8, 2015

How British Airways & my Vet reinforced a valuable Data Governance lesson

A week ago my son & I took our Savannah cats to the vets for their regular inoculations.  We had the first appointment of the afternoon (2pm) and this was a 10 minute appointment.  I had a very important audio at 3pm & wasn't concerned; after all we had plenty of time.

We weren't seen for this "first" appointment for at least 35 minutes, were kept in the dark regarding status and then afterwards were attempted to be "up sold" other services.  I barely made the audio on time & needless to say was underwhelmed by the experience. 

Yesterday I headed to the U.S. from LHR to visit a client for a big Data Governance initiative I'm advising on. I'd arranged to meet the client 3 hours after my scheduled landing time into JFK. Everybody boarded the BA flight on time, the doors closed .... but we sat on the tarmac & went nowhere.  
The outcome was similar to the vets visit.  

We were late.

There was a big delay (considerably more than 35 minutes).  

However unlike my visit to the vets I didn't feel immensely cheesed off with this experience.

Why was this & why did it make me think about Data Governance programs I've observed?

In the first example, the reception staff at the vets told us nothing.  We'd checked in early for a 2pm appointment and they confirmed we indeed had the 2pm slot.  But no updates were provided, no indication of what the situation was, no advice on whether we should come back later .. absolutely nothing.  We sat in the waiting room becoming increasingly frustrated despite asking for updates several times.  

In the BA case, I and the other 300+ passengers were continually updated with what  was going on, why there was a delay and when we expected to move.  I was able to  contact the client in the US & re-set their expectation on my arrival too.

So whilst both had a similar outcome - ie we were late; one left me with a feeling that as far as they were concerned I just didn't matter.

A while back I wrote an article "Data Governance is about Hearts & Minds - Not Technology"

This message is continually reinforced as I see good (and bad) Data Governance initiatives globally.  
There are many things that characterise the successful ones from the unsuccessful.  But one of the major differentiators is the presence and quality of the communication  program that runs along side the Data Governance initiative.

You have got a communication program?
I sure hope so.

Successful Data Governance initiatives go out of their way to ensure communication is frequent, effective and covers the people who are going to be affected not just the sponsor(s).  And above all it has to be realistic and regular.  There's no point starting a Data Governance program with a great fanfare & then not keeping people appraised of progress.   This is true whether it's a full on strategic Data Governance initiative or even if you're embarking on Data Governance by stealth.

The most successful initiatives combine regular semi-formal updates with informal  communities of interest.  The COI is a great way to get involvement from a wide variety of stakeholders affected by the DG initiative and really helps to tease out issues that frequently the Data Governance program designers hadn't anticipated.  

I've run communication sessions on Data Governance initiatives where we've taken a previous data "horror story" from within the organisation and then "dry run" it through the new Data Governance model.  In fact, as part of designing the target Data Governance model I always use a number of real & hypothetical scenarios to validate the target operating model & organisation structures. This both demonstrates the effectiveness of the proposed target model and provides additional understanding to and feedback from the  stakeholders - it's frequently the ah-ha moment for many. 

So, don't underestimate or overlook the critical importance of baking in a communication strategy into your Data Governance initiative.  Your great strategy and Data Governance structures can be rendered useless without the understanding and buy-in from the people who are going to be affected by it.

The bottom line:
Successful Data Governance really is about Hearts & Minds.