Well, here we are, another year gone, and we're already more than a half-decade into the new century. In the interest of reminiscence, I thought it might be fun to play Monday-morning quarterback on the past five years in IT. During this time, new technologies have flooded the marketplace, each promoting its ability to solve corporate data problems, but these technologies haven't always fulfilled their promises. There's also been an increased awareness of the need for better data governance. To make things even more interesting, the nature of information itself is changing - necessitating a change in technology management strategy on the whole.

Several years ago, enterprise application integration (EAI) and enterprise information integration (EII) technologies took the IT market by storm. Their supporters (myself included) touted their benefits and predicted that they would help companies address a host of data integration issues. We weren't wrong about EAI and EII, but we weren't entirely right either.

We found that if companies had good quality data going into their EAI and/or EII implementation initiatives, the technologies could live up to their promise. However, that "if" concerning good data quality turned out to be the Achilles' heel of most EAI and EII initiatives - indeed, most technology implementations in general.

The lesson we learned was that poor data quality is usually the number-one issue affecting the effectiveness of most companies' information systems. When you have poor data quality, it is like building the foundation of a house on Swiss cheese; there are so many holes in what you are trying to work with that whatever goes on top will not be sound, no matter how much money you pour into it.

Instead, in my experience, it has become patently obvious that the first step in any technology initiative should be to assess the state of corporate data quality and make improvements where needed. Further, it is essential that an ongoing commitment to data quality be a fundamental part of corporate IT strategy for the long term. With high quality data as a foundational element, EAI, EII and other technologies that held so much promise actually have the chance to fulfill their potential and help companies better understand, manage and grow their business.

Data is also at the heart of another trend I've seen emerge over the past five years: the awakening of near-religious zeal in the C-suite to invest in data governance efforts. In the last several years, an alarming number of corporate executives who didn't effectively govern their companies have gone to jail and/or have been forced to pay millions in fines and restitution. This is one bandwagon people don't want to be on - at almost any cost.

Fortunately, effective data governance can go a long way toward enabling companies to be confident that the information they publish and attest to in their financial statements and various compliance activities is complete, accurate and timely. In the coming years, it is going to be absolutely essential for any public company to have a comprehensive data governance program in place just to be able to meet ever more stringent regulatory requirements and sustain shareholder confidence. Private companies will need effective data governance programs, too, to stay competitive.

Continuing the data theme, during the past five years we have witnessed the rise of a new kind of information at many companies: unstructured content (UC). UC often takes the form of emails, Web pages, scanned documents, discussion threads, call center notes, surveys and questionnaires, research results, white papers and other marketing materials, and graphical presentations. Basically, UC is information that doesn't reside in a structured database.

It is difficult to say just how much UC is out there, of course, but there is little doubt that it is growing in size and complexity - and that it is going to be critical to manage it effectively. I can go out on a limb here and predict that UC management will become one of the most important components of enterprise information management. Companies will likely need to make new technology investments and develop new information management strategies to deal with the flood of UC that is occurring now - and that will almost certainly grow in the future.

Those who do not address their UC or just leave it to stagnate in disparate repositories throughout the company may miss out on a vast store of knowledge about their business. And, because knowledge is power and power often results in gaining a competitive edge, that is a risk most companies should not be willing to take.

The common element in all these trends is data: its quality, how it is managed, what form it takes and how it can affect a company's ability to do business. That is what I think is most interesting about these past five years. Since the early days of the IT industry, when computers were as big as a house and had the computing power of today's digital watches, the effectiveness with which companies have dealt with their data has been a big determinant of their results. It still is. It always will be.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte Consulting LLP is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, financial, investment or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional adviser. Deloitte Consulting LLP, its affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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