Are We in an Age of Anarchy?
Data Anarchy that is. When we look at all the data we use in our personal and business lives it is scary to think that most our data is presently in a state of data anarchy. Let me explain: it’s all in the data.
Anarchy is defined several ways, but there is a theme to all the definitions. Depending on who you ask – Anarchy is a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.1 Anarchy is the condition of a society, entity, group of people, or a single person that rejects hierarchy.2 Anarchy is the type of government where there is no government at all. Every person is left to fight for themselves.3
If anarchy is a lack of government, to me, that translates to a lack of governance. I have written in this column about governance when it comes to data. I have highlighted that it has been that my experience that there is a serious lack of data governance in many organizations. In some ways… that is a good thing. I make my modest living assisting organizations to implement data governance following my non-invasive approach.
The question is… if there is a lack of governance of the data we consume daily, both in our business and our personal life – does that mean that we are living in the age of data anarchy?
Data Anarchy in Our Daily Lives
Think about the data you produce and use daily. You produce a lot of data whether you think about it or not. Whether it is data you create with every key stroke or click of the mouse, the data you create when you use your credit or debit card, the data that is created when you use your phone, move your car down the highway or watch the television. You are creating data about yourself at every turn. The management of that data, by the organizations that handle that data, is often in a state of disorder due to an absence of integrated authority for the handling of that data. That is data anarchy.
For most of us, we don’t spend time thinking about the anarchy or lack of formal governance around the personal data we produce all day. The reason we don’t worry about it is because the governance of that data is hidden to the average Joe or Joanne. And, the more we learn about the mishandling of some of our data, the more nervous we get.
You undoubtedly know that there are people that are being paid well in these organizations that handle your data, that should be or are responsible for moving from a data anarchy environment to a governed data environment. You should be happy about that.
Now let’s look at our business life. Is the data environment at our companies or organizations being handled like a data anarchy or as a governed asset? What does a business data anarchy look like versus a governed business data environment?
Business Data Anarchy vs. Governed Data
How can you tell if the data in your company or organization is being governed in a data anarchy or a Governed Data Environment?
A data anarchy typically has these characteristics:
- There is no clearly defined formal accountability for the definition, production, and use of data.
- There is no one responsible for overseeing subject matters of data as a cross-business asset.
- There is no formal process for escalating data issues to a strategic level that makes decisions.
- There are irresponsible investments and management of high profile data-related projects.
- There are inefficient/ineffective processes associated with leveraging data for decision-making.
- People that handle data are uncertain of the rules associated with sensitive data.
A governed data environment has these characteristics:
- People that define, produce, and use data are held formally accountable for following the documented and communicated rules associated with defining, producing and using the data.
- There are people that have the responsibility for managing data across business areas, business functions, and major data integration projects.
- There is formal accountability for following an agreed upon process to escalate data issues to the appropriate level of the organization.
- Investments and high-profile data integration projects are strongly vetted with an intent focus on the data requirements of the organization.
- Business and technical processes associated with managing data are formalized, and people are held accountable for following the processes.
- People that handle the data are well-versed and audited in following the rules associated with protecting sensitive data.
Are We Really Living in a Business Data Anarchy?
Most organizations know they have problems associated with their data. The problems may be with the quality of the data, how the data is protected, regulatory and compliance concerns. The problems may be with what it takes to get to your hands on the best data and analyze that data to make the best possible and real-time decisions.
These same companies are investing millions of dollars in huge data-oriented projects where data requirements may or may not be an integral part of their Agile software development or integrated data delivery efforts.
These companies and organizations may have grown through acquisition and may have several supply chain functions, or human resource functions, or finance functions that are attempting to synchronize and update their processes.
Is it appropriate to call these environments data anarchies? Well … No and Yes. No – because it takes time and a formal effort to gain support, sponsorship, and understanding at the highest level of the organization and to formalize and deploy a data governance effort across an organization. Yes, it most likely is a data anarchy – an ungoverned mess – if your organization has not started down the path of moving from anarchy to governance… what are you waiting for?
Conclusion – Moving from Data Anarchy to Governance
I defined data governance as “the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data and data-related resources.” Anarchy is defined as no governance at all. Organizations that cannot execute and enforce authority over the management of data definition, production, and usage are most likely in a semi-anarchy state.
My suggestion is to follow a Non-Invasive Data Governance approach. If you are not familiar with this approach, take a few moments and read my book outlining the subject.
The Sex Pistols, a classic punk band in a classic punk-era, stated it exactly backwards in their song “Anarchy in the U.K.” – included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll4 – “I don’t know what I want. I know how to get it.” The truth is that many organizations know what they want but they don’t know how to get it. Organizations must move from data anarchy to data governance if they want to get the most value out of their data. It’s all in the data.
2 – “Decentralism: Where It Came From-Where Is It Going?”. Amazon.com
4 – “500 Songs That Shaped Rock”. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.