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One Version Of The Truth August 3, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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In the world of enterprise architecture, there is a practice called Master Data Management.  In short, MDM involves explicitly defining and maintaining precisely how your data is created, where it is kept, and when it is destroyed.  An important component of MDM is the concept of “one version of the truth:” that exactly one official instance of every data element in your company exists in one place, and that all other uses of that data are copies derived from that original “truth.”

IT folks tend to espouse MDM, along with one version of the truth, because it makes management of the data much easier.  Most companies do a less-than-adequate job of MDM, which makes it easy to poke holes in existing systems and call for review of existing  processes. IT often swoops into an organization, denounces the poor MDM practices it finds, and offers to “help.” If only we would apply the same standards to ourselves.

Compared to the rest of the company, IT doesn’t generate a lot of business data.  But we do produce a lot of information, in the form of policies, procedures, and end-user documentation.  We seem to have endless rules for everything, and an opinion on how to manage and use any device with moving electrons.  Do we do a good job in managing our information?

Short answer: usually not.  Our policies are captured in a variety of ways and stored in all sorts of places.  Documentation runs the gamut from hard-copy documents stored in a cabinet to PDFs strewn about in online repositories.  We’ve migrated across multiple systems throughout the years, leaving a trail of conflicting and overlapping paperwork behind.  How could anyone make sense of our world?

Even worse, we don’t consistently understand our policies so that we can articulate them to our customers.  When someone speaks to someone in your IT shop and asks a question, will they get the same answer from everyone?  If an IT employee doesn’t know the answer to a question, do they know which person that should be able to help?

Beyond operational data and policies, does everyone on your IT staff understand your strategic vision?  Can they articulate it at a high level and relate it to their immediate responsibilities?  Do they know why certain projects are being pursued and others are not? Can they explain how your top-level IT drivers relate to the business needs of the company?

All of these elements are part of the “data” that must be managed consistently for an IT group to be effective.  Missing or inconsistent documents and policies confuse and frustrate users.  Getting inconsistent or incorrect answers from your staff will drive people crazy.  And misunderstood strategies will waste time and resources as you constantly educate and align your staff.

What’s the answer? The same one we give to others outside of IT: discipline, focus, and constant communication.  We have to build the discipline to capture and manage our documents correctly and efficiently. But as IT leaders, we must constantly communicate our vision, its relation to our plans, and its impact on our company.  We must verify that the organization’s managers understand and communicate that vision in the same fashion, so that it gets heard at every level.

Master data management is hard, and that’s true for IT shops as well.  Before we start preaching to the rest of the company, we need to make sure that our one version of the truth is being managed well first.


1. Long Huynh - August 3, 2009

How true your observations are about the state of IT’s own data management. And how insightful your answers to its problems are. I like to elaborate on one of them: Focus.

IT organization is built on top of technologies. It usually structured in silos of technical specialties. The notion of a horizontal function dealing with policies, processes, procedures and record-keeping of management decisions is frown upon as unnecessary overhead. It’s the lack of Focus (on the importance of such tasks and their governance functions) that does us in. The CIO should have someone heading such functions before communicating with the rest of the organization about the importance of having “one version of the truth”.

2. Rebeka Clifton - August 3, 2009

Great post, Chuck. A very wise CIO (yes, you!) once told me that an effective Information Management solution also should not rely solely on user input but allow data (both structured and unstructured to some extent, legal involvement aside) to be searchable. I was talking with a client today about the intersection of EA and Data/BI solutions and the implications of it on the enterprise. Fascinating stuff, if I do say so myself!

3. Wally Bock - August 5, 2009

Great post, Chuck. We can expand this to most professions outside of IT as well. It’s easy to see how others are coming up short. Just look at the results. But for us, the measure is intent, plus reasons for why we couldn’t do what we intended.

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