It’s one thing to say that one’s data is valuable — but it’s quite another to actually treat it that way using a disciplined approach to information asset management. Here are brief explanations of the four biggest elements of the solution.
1.Manage your metadata. If you feel like you’re hearing more and more talk about metadata management, you’re correct. The reason is that increasing numbers of organizations are seeing their data as real (although intangible) assets. This makes metadata management a process as critical to the organization as it is to have a CFO function that maintains a chart of accounts and supporting ledgers.
At the core of your metadata management strategy is a metadata repository. This repository contains all the “tribal knowledge” about the physical and logical aspects of your metadata — that is, insights into your data from the people who use it everyday. There are six categories of metadata to gather: business, technical, core, data quality, people, and search. Be wary of solutions that claim to automate metadata gathering, because these solutions typically focus on capturing the technical components — which are important, but by no means everything you need.
2.Business data element inventory. In addition, you need a defined and living inventory of your physical and logical business data elements (BDEs) that allows you to compare and account for data value. A BDE is a single category of data, such as customer date of birth, that is usually spread throughout the enterprise in dozens or even hundreds of databases and spreadsheets — sometimes appearing multiple times in a single file. When used in combination with each other, your BDE inventory and metadata repository can basically function as the chart of accounts for all of your data.
3.Data quality and data governance operations. These two processes go hand in hand to drive the data improvements to impact your bottom line. Data quality starts with the process of profiling data, followed by comprehensive data assessment and data improvement. If you don’t have a data improvement tool already in place, I’d recommend testing out at least a couple, using a using a Design-of-Experiments framework to measure how different mixes of people, roles, and technologies succeed at improving data. Once you’ve chosen the tool that is most effective for your organization, you can begin tracking and reporting on aggregated data quality scores. Data governance — preferably overseen by an Office of Data led by a Chief Data Officer — provides the structure and discipline needed to define and enforce a more systematic approach to information asset management.
4. Enable true collaboration. The fourth major component is a system to ensure that the people who care about your data can collaborate around it in real time — much like the way accountants share information about physical assets throughout each monthly or quarterly close cycle. Here’s why collaboration is so important. Data represents different values throughout your organization. For example, people who create data often see it differently from those who consume it. But at some point in the middle of these differing views, there needs to be a shared understanding and valuation.
The key to gaining this understanding is to create a process and culture that use social technologies (purpose-built platforms for exchanging information that work in ways similar to Facebook or Twitter) to facilitate real collaboration, in real time. In order for this capability to be social and culturally “sticky,” each individual must actually want to use it and ideally, even get some enjoyment from doing so. Only when you accomplish this at the individual level will the process have a chance of being adopted by the masses.
From what I’ve seen, the metadata solutions on the market today are woefully missing the mark in regard to the social component of information asset management. They’re claiming that they have the social side figured out — but in my humble opinion, they’re just making interfaces that look like Twitter or Facebook, but in reality are little more than embedded email capabilities. Instead, you need a social tool that will transform the way your people interact and collaborate, similar to the way LinkedIn has revolutionized networking.
I believe that to truly solve this social piece, you must create a dynamic, evolving social ecosystem characterized by a “gameified” culture — that has your data assets at its center. When you’ve created and equipped a truly collaborative environment that is customized to your particular culture, your people will adopt it — and their collective use of it will sustain it as a new way of doing business.
Keep focused on the bigger goal
It may seem strange to start a conversation focusing on data, and end up talking about culture. But this is actually the only way to really get a handle on information asset management. Data flows through your organization, constantly being created, consumed, and modified — and by taking a systematic approach to understanding its real value, you can improve its quality, make smarter decisions, and know where to allocate your resources more strategically.