The Rise of Ungoverned Data

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Our last DM Radio show, a panel convened on "the Philosophy of Design" by our co-host Eric Kavanagh brought in some great thoughts, his own, and those of all our guests on evolving technology options available to business -- and IT's changing sphere of influence. One that really stuck with me was Claudia Imhoff's distinction of governed versus ungoverned information in the enterprise.

Claudia spoke to what's increasingly obvious, that IT has lost the battle for control of data and information assets that business users have access to. "I'm not sure they ever had control over it," she said. "But we need to realize that control doesn't exist. The business community can do anything they want."

She went on to say IT needs to take a role that's more based on insight and oversight, the ability to monitor environments to see who's using what, and what for. If, for example, an ungoverned asset is being used for compliance or regulatory reporting, that's where a line is drawn. Illogical as that sounds, third-party financial data has been known to creep back into the very company that's been reported on. With this simple but pretty profound distinction of governed versus ungoverned (or semi-governed?) information, people will, at minimum, witness their behavior. Better, it opens the door to defining the governed environment versus everything that's not, observing its use and deciding what needs business rules and data lineage or anything else.

Anyone who knows Claudia as a consultant knows how pragmatic she is. She has worked the buttoned down side of business technology for a long time. But on the frontier of data gone wild, or however you describe business activity in the information era and IT's reaction, her words echoed again what I have been hearing from a whole range of people I've known as traditionalists. It's not just me or Eric or Claudia, I've never seen so much consensus flowing amid so much change. Pretty much everybody is saying, 'You can't stop all this, you probably don't like what's happening, but you do need to look at it and think about it.'

Our friends Mike West and Bruce Guptil at Saugatuck Technology wrote a summary paper on cloud developments and advice called "Lead, Follow AND Get Out Of The Way." Some of our analyst friends talk about the "continuous disruption" of the new information workplace. It's getting easier to see these are new phenomena, not just evolutions. Some usage cycles are short term and call for reactive and more continuous awareness to behavior.

In a couple of days I'll post an update with one of our very smart 25 Top Information Managers who works in retail. He's now essentially telling me that, sure, agile development and operational improvements are fine, but he needs to make the connection between his Facebook presence and his CRM system NOW. That's because, in six months, it may no longer be Facebook he's most interested in for his social input. If you think that's presumptuous, I can point you to a few precedents and fads sorting out right now.
There is a reason for IT and business to view their stakes and lean across the aisle for help, because things just aren't what they once were. Where it doesn't involve financial reporting, many are at a point now where their relationships are damaged and there's avoidance and denial on both sides we need to get past.

Claudia says she has seen good synergy in organizations that are coming together to design the things that are really critical to them. She pointed up some tough discussions that will lead back to the design of our corporate technology environment. "Do you design ungoverned assets? ... We have schema-less technologies, databases, so do we even design anything or do we just throw data into this technology and let her rip? Is there any design philosophy behind it at all?"

A chat I had a few years ago with Chris Anderson (who wrote The Long Tail, and heads up editorial at Wired magazine) convinced me then that a lot of people are well past the point of believing we even need methodology in the face of so much data. On the other side are data scientists who bring training and intellect and their own form of passion to rush of marketing technology and faddism.

Back in the organization is where we're going to make the leap of faith, to sacrifice and gain control where we dare. As Claudia puts it, that's the biggest difference from when IT was standing alone, ranting about having control over the information assets. "Well, it's not the standalone thing anymore, it's the CEO and COO standing with them saying, I don't want to go to jail."

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