It’s All in the Data: Four Horsemen of the Data Apocalypse

data-column-edWhile I was attending a recent data governance conference, one of the better-recognized speakers, Mike Atkins of the EDM Council, spoke briefly about the four horsemen of the data apocalypse. The original four horsemen of the apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible as death, famine, war, and conquest as a symbolic prophecy of the future. The same can be said about …

The Data Apocalypse.

Atkin’s message and the messages of the four horsemen of the data apocalypse – regarding attitudes such as ignorance, arrogance, obsolescence, and power, resonated well with me as it clearly describes reasons that I have seen as why organizations are struggling to manage their data as a valued asset. I thought I would share this prophecy with my friends because …

 It’s All in the data.

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The four horsemen can be used to describe the negative attitudes organizations have toward data that have prevented these organizations from addressing the need to improve and gain value from their most valuable asset.

The first horseman is Ignorance. The ignorance attitude can be best described as thinking that seeking value from data is not that important.

Organizations that carry the ignorance toward data attitude are at the lowest end of the data maturity spectrum. Organizations that demonstrate ignorance toward data are behind their competition when it comes to allocating resources focused on improving their data situation. Improvements in the data situation can include improving data quality, data understanding, data protection and improving regulatory and compliance reporting capabilities. These organizations will be the last to hire Chief Data Officers (CDOs), the last to implement formal data governance programs, and will be at the end of the line when it comes to collecting and managing the information about their data, otherwise known as metadata.

You have heard the statement that “ignorance is bliss.” Well, not in this case. In this case ignorance leads to organizations falling behind the times during the blossoming information age.

The second horseman is Arrogance. The arrogance attitude can be described as the thinking that management knows more than the people that own and are responsible for the data.

Organizations that maintain this attitude demonstrate belief that management knows best. Management will not know the difficulties that their teams are having if they do not converse with the people that know the data best. Arrogance can be avoided by open dialogue with the people who define, produce, and use data as part of their daily (read hourly) routine. Arrogance toward data can be avoided by conducting internal assessments of how the organization governs its data against industry best practice.

In brief research I saw that unnamed philosophers have speculated that, “The difference between arrogance and confidence is performance.” Management should be looking at the data they use to improve their organization’s performance and be open-minded toward continuous data improvement.

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The third horseman is Obsolescence. The obsolescence attitude can be described as thinking that the present data, in the present systems, will never die and that, if it carried the organization this far, and there is no reason to change.

Organizations that carry this attitude are afraid to move out of the past and invest in the future. To stay one step ahead of the competition, organizations must continuously focus on improving data quality, data access, understanding, and protection— even if the present state is allowing the organization to get by. Organizations with obsolete data and systems become inefficient, ineffective, and act very informally toward improving their data situation.

As Andy Rooney, noted American radio and television personality, once said, “The fastest thing computers do is go obsolete.” The same can be said about the data housed on these computers, and the systems that manage the flow and use of data on these computers. Resting on your data laurels is the quickest way to become obsolete.

The last horseman is Power. The power attitude can best be described as the feeling that projects owned by the most influential members of management are more critical than other projects.

Organizations in which power is the driving attitude have a difficult time getting out of their own way when prioritizing those activities that will lead to higher quality data. Management with the most seniority, or management from the most profitable part of the business, typically see major investments in their own personal data infrastructure as most important and their personal pet projects while addressing the most critical data needs are often misunderstood, or misinterpreted as being not as important.

William Gaddis, famous American author, once said that “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” The truth is that the most powerful people in the organization must have the responsibility to know and understand the need to prioritize projects that will have the most valuable impact on the organization. Power moves often lead to bad decision making which leads to the squeakiest of wheels getting the grease while the other wheels fall off the axle.

The four horsemen of the data apocalypse are a simplified way of looking at the impediments to an organization’s ability to improve their data situation. The better we recognize these attitudes in our organization, the quicker and more effective we will be at addressing and managing the most important and valuable asset we own: our data. Besides… it’s all in the data.

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About Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. (Bob) Seiner is the publisher of The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN.com) – and has been since it was introduced in 1997 – providing valuable content for people that work in Information & Data Management and related fields. TDAN.com is known for its timely and relevant articles, columns and features from thought-leaders and practitioners. Seiner and TDAN.com were recognized by DAMA International for significant and demonstrable contributions to Information and Data Resource Management industries. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services, a data and information management consultancy that he started in 2002, providing practical and cost-effective solutions in the disciplines of data governance, data stewardship, metadata management and data strategy. Seiner is a recognized industry thought-leader, has consulted with and educated many prominent organizations nationally and globally, and is known for his unique approach to implementing data governance. His book “Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success” was published in late 2014. Seiner speaks often at the industry’s leading conferences and provides a monthly webinar series titled “Real-World Data Governance” with DATAVERSITY.

  • Richord1

    As a data alchemist I can attest that these challenges are
    real. However, these same challenges were evident in organizations before the
    topic of data and data proliferation became popular.

    The people in these organizations may experience attitudes
    of Ignorance, Arrogance, Obsolescence and Power but our current data governance
    approaches do not address these challenges.

    Data governance was borne from the data processing technology
    caldron and suffers with the same limitations as software development
    mythology: the belief that people’s behaviors will change because technologists
    say so and that people’s behaviors such as Ignorance, Arrogance, Obsolescence
    and Power can be controlled through policy and practice. These behaviors are embodied
    in the organization and individuals through a set of principles and values and considering
    data as an asset and data governance policies and practices do not address these
    principles and values.

    Highlighting the attitude challenges affecting data is fine
    but how do the concepts of data as an asset and data governance address principles
    and values that result in these behaviors? To appreciate human values, lookup: Theory
    of Basic Human Values – Shalom H. Schwartz

    Changing peoples attitudes about data requires understanding their principles and values.

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