I received some feedback from last month's column and decided that I need to elaborate on the concept of data management's (DM) expanding scope. Last month I described how:

  • DM is broader in scope than when it originated (now including activities for all parts of the systems development life cycle, ranging from requirements through maintenance).
  • Current challenges faced by our organizations dwarf the initial challenges faced two decades ago (from designing databases to solving organization- or industry-wide integration problems). 
  • Greater issues develop when attempting to reengineer systems to better address architectural dimensions such as quality and security.

I neglected to address two of the greatest challenges: management by magazine and perception by management. Vendors who believe that they have the solutions to our problems constantly bombard our organizations. Technologies ranging from modeling (late 1980s), CASE tools (early '90s), object oriented (late '90s) to XML (from 2000 on) have been proposed as solutions to organizational challenges. Of course, we are all aware that the "only silver bullet is to recognize that there are no silver bullets." (Thanks to Clive Finkelstein for the best articulation of that concept.)
The bad news is that no individual approach can or should be counted on to resolve difficult DM challenges. Einstein said, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." This holds true for today's increasingly difficult and organization-specific technology challenges. The good news is that data managers can more easily combine various types of technologies in manners that can diagnose and correct difficult problems. The solutions for today's DM challenges often involve determining the best ways that various technologies fit together to solve a particular problem and then reconfiguring them to address the next challenge.

With respect to the perception of DM from outside our discipline, we are also faced with a good news/bad news scenario. In general, the increasingly complex, diverse and rich role played by today's data managers has resulted in confusion at the CIO level and in our business communities. Often, they do not understand what we do and, worse still, what we can do for their organizations. Additionally, to our business partners we often appear to be caught up in arcane discussions that they cannot see as directly relevant to their business challenges. If the CIOs and the businesses they serve don't see us as relevant, our request to be seen as partners becomes an uphill battle.

Some of you are old enough to recall the tongue-in-cheek joke: Q: How does a manager tell if a report is being read? A: Put it in a desk drawer instead of distributing it. If no one complains about not getting the report, it wasn't being read anyway. Many DM groups were laid off during the dot-com bust using the same logic. Hypothetical manager: I wonder what those people in the corner are doing? If it isn't anything important, I could eliminate them and keep some programmers instead. At least I understand what programmers do. For many organizations coming out of the bust, laying off some or all of their DM staff has not made the problems in their organizations any worse. The good news in this scenario is that some organizations that are restarting their DM efforts can do so with confidence that the groups they form will not be constrained by (what I'll call) old DM perceptions.

Returning to our theme of trying to surpass the DM tipping points:

  1. We can say for certain the purchase of one tool or the learning of one technology will not be enough to push us past the DM tipping point - today's DM challenges require our knowledge, skills and abilities to create specific recipes for success; and
  2. We must ensure that both upper management (our CIOs) and our peer group of business managers understand the potential roles that we can play in our respective organizations. We must make the business case to ensure continued organizational support, or we won't even get the chance to make a run at the DM tipping point. 

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