Published in TDAN.com October 2001
Author’s note … It is now a couple of weeks after the day that changed the way we live. I have to be honest — writing this article seems to be a bit trivial. With the tragic
events in New York, D.C., and outside my home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and while patiently waiting for the next shoe to drop, it is difficult to focus on returning to business. As I
attempt to return to my business, I send my heartfelt sympathies to all that were affected by the terrorist tragedy of September 11, 2001. Hopefully one thing has become painfully obvious from the
tragedy … that is – certain people are very important, even more important then we thought before that fateful day – firefighters, police, paramedics, rescue workers, hospital
workers, … to name just a very few – will be better recognized and appreciated for the importance and the difficulty of their work. Let’s add data managers and knowledge managers to
that list. In this brief commentary I will tell you why …
Are data and knowledge managers truly expendable? Many companies give us the impression that they think data and knowledge managers are expendable. Data and knowledge management specialists work in
an industry where business management and technology management still don’t recognize or acknowledge the importance of what they do — manage corporate data and knowledge as valuable assets.
Why must data management and knowledge management-focused professionals have to justify their existence on a regularly basis? Why must DAs and KM specialists live with the fear that our positions
may be in jeopardy? With the fate of our collecting a paycheck in the hands of people who are just now starting to realize our potential value (haven’t we been saying that for a while), we
often ask ourselves “why are data and knowledge managers some of the first professionals that are considered expendable when companies start reducing IT budget and ‘unnecessary’
Let me relate an experience I had the other day … While getting ready for work I had my television tuned into a morning news program where a Director of U.S. counter intelligence was being
interviewed by one of our country’s most trusted and astute news reporters. The Director was asked point-blank, “With all of the money that is spent by the U.S. government on
intelligence, why was it that no one was aware that a terrorist attack was imminent?” At the time I thought it was a great question and one that I had pondered many times over the past few
The answer came quickly. The answer was simple. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) manages their data and knowledge. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) manages their data and knowledge.
The National Security Agency (NSA) manages their data and knowledge. But this data and knowledge is all managed independently of each other. In other words, the U.S. intelligence community works in
silos and not one of these (or other) organizations by themselves had the data or knowledge necessary to identify that an attack was imminent. The Director’s response was that there was no
central repository of data and knowledge that could be used to analyze and understand the entire picture. The Director continued (and I paraphrase) that without this centralized management of data
and knowledge it is impossible to identify and prevent problems across the board.
My first thought was … I have to get on the phone to my company’s sales team in the Washington, D.C. area and have them contact this Director to tell him … “Have I got a
data and knowledge management solution for you?” I didn’t do that … because I know that they are already on it J. And to think … WE (not only Americans) depend on the U.S.
intelligence community to manage their information well and to keep us protected. That is a scary thought – isn’t it?
Ok … Now lets fast-forward a whole hour to a meeting at my client that same morning. My company has been asked by this client to assess the client’s readiness to build a business
intelligence database and foundation for data warehousing success. The client has the problem that each of the departments manages their own data and knowledge (some better than others) but that
there is no central repository of data and knowledge that is shared across the board to improve their decision-making and planning capabilities.
Wait a minute … Didn’t I just hear that on TV? I related the TV interview to the VPs and C-level executives in the meeting. They chuckled when they heard that our government has the
same problem they do. (It was a worried laugh only because I think they already knew.) However, the government’s problem is on a much larger scale and is vital to world peace. The
client’s problems (and I say this tongue-in-cheek) only impacts their ability to meet Wall Street’s expectations and to improve profitability. That’s all. Just their financial
well-being is at stake. Not world peace and security. The client realized that that they had a problem some time ago and they started talking to my firm about helping them to solve that problem.
The question is … when did the U.S. intelligence community realize they have a problem? Or do they even still realize that they have a problem that needs to be addressed? The bigger question
is … Will they even attempt to correct the problem? Did it take the disaster of September 11 to bring the problem to their attention or did they already know that they had a problem before the
planes were rammed into buildings costing thousands of lives and costing the U.S. the way we lived our lives? If they knew that they had a problem … why didn’t they act?
I am certain the problem of silos of data and knowledge isn’t a problem that popped up for the U.S. government overnight or my client (or many other companies … and you know who you are).
The real question is … will the U.S. government lean on the people who understand what it takes to manage data and knowledge to solve the problem? These data and knowledge management
specialists won’t be required to put on battle fatigues and leave their families behind to fight a “new kind” of war. These people will be needed to fight a war on a different
front — a front right here in our back yards (ok … at work).
These days most companies have individuals with titles like data administrator, data base administrator, data architect, data modeler, … if fact many companies have complete departments that
focus on different aspects of the management of information assets.
In many cases these are “data-driven” and inspired people that have been working at their trade for years and refuse to give up simply because their company fails to adopt the
“right way” to develop databases and manage the data.
Many of these people have been modeling data for years. Data modeling has become a tactical art when it comes to building sharable databases and data warehouses. Understanding how to model data,
whether it is in a relational database or multi dimensional database, is a skill that is the focus of any successful data development effort.
Many of these “data-driven” people understand the true value of meta data and have become experienced at implementing meta data repositories. They understand concepts that surround the
capture, management, and publishing of the “data about the data and knowledge” of the organization.
Many of these same people understand that there is a serious cost associated with poor quality data. And they understand that procedure-based data quality programs are an investment that pays
themselves off many times over.
Many of these people understand the concept of information stewardship that states that individuals in the organization must formally be given (or assigned) accountability to manage the data and
knowledge of the corporation as a shared and valuable resources.
Many of these people recognize the similarities between managing data and managing knowledge when it comes to the modeling, meta data, quality and stewardship aspects of a successful knowledge
management effort. The ability to successfully manage intellectual capital and knowledge in the form of unstructured data can be considered a competitive advantage (since many companies are poor in
this practice). This competitive advantage often separates successful companies from less-than successful companies.
Many of these people are “in-the-know” regarding best practices and the logical way to manage information assets. They may have had only limited success in their organizations but …
that is not necessarily because of how they implemented data management programs. Consistently the reason for the limited success is because companies develop new databases at the speed of light,
never slowing down to allow these people “in-the-know” the time or resources to fully implement information asset management programs.
These people may be their company’s most valuable players in the war against poor data and knowledge management yet they often go unnoticed and are permitted a small voice (if any) in
deciding what IT activities get funded and implemented. More often then not, the data and knowledge managers tell their companies the “right” thing to do but companies don’t react
strongly enough or sustain their efforts to fix data and knowledge management issues.
Established companies (and government agencies) with poor information architecture and a lack of an overall vision for the use of information technology will probably never “start-over”
when it comes to how they manage data and knowledge. They may, like the U.S. government, get burnt many times over and still just apply band-aids to big wounds. OR … they may, like my client,
decide that the time is right to pay attention and address the management of data and knowledge.
Data and knowledge management specialist have very important jobs and they should start being recognized as major contributors to their company’s ability to be profitable and successful. Data and
knowledge management specialists hope and pray that someone someday will recognize how important they are, ask their opinions, follow their advice, give them time, and give them funding, …
all of the things that are necessary to pull our businesses intelligence together. The government would be a great place to start. I won’t hold my breath.