No matter what business you are in, your company’s data is a crucial raw material. Information lets you maximize production efficiency, market products effectively and plan for the future. The problem, however, is that much corporate data is of very poor quality. A recent survey of the financial services industry by analytical software provider MathWorks, for example, found that almost 70 percent of the respondents view quality – not quantity – as their biggest data challenge.

Poor quality data can become a giant obstacle to long-term security and growth prospects and is indicative that many companies do not have control of their data.

How do you know if you are in danger of losing control of your organization’s data – or worse, that you have already lost control? Here are top five signs:

1. You Have a "Best of Breed" Strategy.

Many companies have adopted best-of-breed information architectures. This is frequently an accident, the result of mergers and acquisitions where different organizations brought with them disparate systems, but it also comes about when a business is so complex and multifaceted that it is hard to find a single system that can meet all of its requirements.

Whatever the reason, the result is that different system components aren't designed to work together and fail to interact coherently, making retrieving and organizing data incredibly difficult.  If you have a hodge-podge infrastructure with systems that don’t readily work together, this is the first sign that you have lost control of your business data.

2. Vendors or Staff Seem to Think They Own Your Data.

More frequently than one might expect, data is made difficult or impossible to access either by a vendor (the most common situation) or by an employee process. Often taking advantage of the fact that little or no systems documentation exists, the vendor or the employee assumes control over your data. While this is a good way to increase job security ensure a continued stream of consultancy fees, for your organization, it is a disaster.

3. Too Much IT Governance.

All IT environments need to be governed so they don’t spin out of control. Quite often though, IT departments take this too far, creating a situation where the tail wags the dog. For example, you might want to implement a technology solution from a particular vendor, but your IT department may try to block this because the desired solution is based on the "wrong" technical platform. Instead, IT will push for a solution that meets its technical specifications rather than your business’ goals. Almost without question, the resulting solution will fall short of expectations because it's driven by the wrong set of objectives.

Technology is a wonderful servant, but should never be allowed to become the boss. You should implement technical solutions that support your business needs, not ones that fit your IT department’s governance model.

4. Your Data Interfaces Are Black Boxes.

Information must be exchanged between different systems in order for data to be accessed, shared and analyzed. A data exchange interface consists of two parts: One prepares the information for transfer from the original system to another application or system; the other is a function of the recipient application that loads the data for an application to use.

The interaction between these two parts should be seamless, and you should be able to easily adjust the interface, set its parameters or even redesign it from the ground up to allow for a more appropriate exchange of information. Too often, however, the interface consists of black boxes with fixed settings that don’t allow for changing circumstances. As a consequence your organization will effectively lose control of its data.

5. Your Best Minds Struggle to Move Things Forward.

The best minds in an organization should be spending (ideally) all of their time on work that furthers the needs and goals of the business. If your most talented people have to devote a substantial portion of their time to other tasks in order to accomplish more essential work, this is another sign that you have lost control over your data.

This happens when information systems are not efficiently designed for the needs of your organization. No matter the task, the ability of your people to obtain the data they need is crucial if they are to do the work you need them to do.

So Do You Have Control?

Lost in all of the excited talk about big data is the limited control companies exert over the data they already have. Ultimately, what really matters is the responsiveness of your IT infrastructure not to its own standards and processes, but to the needs of the human beings who are making use of the data it organizes, stores and transmits.

If your IT infrastructure can consistently deliver the right information to the right person at the right time, every part of your business operation will function better, with less time lost to distractions, and more success in the marketplace due to sound decision-making and opportunities perceived.

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