Davos and Data – Please Don’t Forget the Basics!!

The annual World Economic Forum recently ended in Davos (one year, I WILL get an invitation to attend this!!).  Those of you who follow my Twitter feed know that data was a big topic at the WEF this year. There were several sessions on the topic, and a report titled “Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development” was released.  The report focuses specifically on the impact the collection and proper application of big data (particularly from mobile devices) can have on financial services, education, agriculture and health care.

Yesterday, the WEF’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies released its list of top 10 emerging technologies for 2012.  Number one on that list is Informatics for adding value to information, which the Council further explained as:

“The quantity of information now available to individuals and organizations is unprecedented in human history, and the rate of information generation continues to grow exponentially. Yet, the sheer volume of information is in danger of creating more noise than value, and as a result limiting its effective use. Innovations in how information is organized, mined and processed hold the key to filtering out the noise and using the growing wealth of global information to address emerging challenges.”

Informatics beat out some very cool scientific areas such as synthetic biology, nanoscale design of materials, and high energy density power systems. Data has gone mainstream.

In everyone’s rush to jump on the ‘big data’ bandwagon, the ‘informatics’ bandwagon, the ‘unstructured data’ bandwagon, there are foundational items that need to addressed if organizations are going to see the kinds of payoffs they should be having, or if this becomes added to the list of trendy things that didn’t work out.

#1 – Have a plan. An enterprise information management strategy is absolutely necessary. Your business has a strategic plan (hopefully). There is no way any business today can operate or innovate without using and leveraging data, so there should be a plan around the capture, usage, maintenance, distribution, security, and disposition of your corporate data assets.

#2 – Someone should have ultimate responsibility and authority for data. This is not the CIO. This is not the CTO. This is not the IT team. This is someone who is charged with the responsibility of managing data from the enterprise perspective who represents the business, who sits on the executive leadership team, who makes the executive decisions, and who’s ass is on the line for the overall quality, integrity, and optimization of those data assets.

#3 – There must be an investment in data. This investment should be in the form of people, dollars, training, and technology.

If the foundational items aren’t done, what your company will have is still a bunch of siloed data of questionable quality – you’ll just have more of it.

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Disrupting Government Business Models (The Innovators Dilemma meets the Cash Cow)

In the public sector, there are real opportunities for citizen service enhancement via online and mobile transactions with  strong enterprise information management and digital identity management strategies and architectural approaches. But in addition to the implementation challenges of these technologies, many states find that existing state legislation and policy do not support true innovation by state governments.

Let me give you an example. In Colorado, we had an enterprise information architecture strategy to deal with the technical and data limitations of existing systems. Service oriented architectures can go a long way to linking systems and applications together.  From the data side, it makes perfect sense to be able to share certain records (like birth and death) across agencies for eligibility screening and program management.

To improve the customer experience, why should we make a citizen provide a copy of his or her birth certificate for each of the myriad of social services and health care programs that individual may be eligible for? It takes precious time out of the individual’s day and increases the cost burden to them. Especially when we already have that data electronically in a system.

With death records, it makes sense to share that information – appropriately – to the agencies with which that individual was doing business so that services can be terminated and the state doesn’t continue to issue benefits (and money) to dead people.  Additionally, it can cut down on identity theft and fraud.

This sounds great, right? Improve and enhance service capabilities, reduce fraud and waste. But what about the unintended consequences?

At one of our early governance board meetings, a board member raised a very strong concern about sharing this information with other state agencies. He represented the agency that, among many things, was responsible for vital records. Surprisingly, his concern wasn’t really about the sharing of information across agencies. His concern was about the revenue impact to his agency. This agency also happened to be cash funded, meaning the majority of their operating budget came from moneys they earned themselves, not from general funds allocated by the state legislature to them. A major part of their revenue stream was sales of birth certificates to citizens, and sales of data (like death records) to other state agencies.

By doing what we proposed to do – in order to streamline government operations, improve customer service, and reduce waste, fraud, and abuse – we would drastically impact the revenue of this agency.  How else could they possibly make up that lost revenue? We did not have a good answer.

This is a really tough question that most states have not begun to tackle. True transformation of the government services delivery model also means the business and revenue models must be approached in new ways. This often involves changes to legislation, to state constitutions, or to state budgeting processes – none of which are easy. And requires a strong political will.

There are similar analogies in the private sector world, where new business channels and models threaten to cannibalize the traditional business models of organizations. Transformation through technology is relatively easy.  The willingness to tackle the political and cultural challenges requires true vision, leadership, and commitment.

CDO Insights – Starting an Enterprise Data Program from Scratch

In 2009, I became the Chief Data Officer of the State of Colorado, the first for a state in the country. It was a tremendous opportunity, as well as an honor, to be appointed by a governor – and supported by a legislature – who truly had the vision and understood the role of data in an organization to truly transform service delivery and performance management across an enterprise.

There were two primary challenges in creating this role in the enterprise. The first was the development of a strong operational model for the role. What is the span of authority a Chief Data Officer (CDO) should have, both strategically and tactically? How does this authority get created and embedded, via policy, budget, and operations? How and with whom will this role engage across enterprise lines of business (in this case, the executive branch agencies, the legislature, and key stakeholders at the state and local level)? What kind of team is needed to support the CDO?

The second challenge was that the State literally had no history of enterprise architecture or data management principles and policies.  Creating value quickly to both build momentum and to increase support among the skeptics would be critical. There was an abundance of opportunities and work to be done, which I will discuss in a later post.

The Chief Data Officer role can be a crucial part of the C-level, strategic thinking of an enterprise in the era of all things digital and data. It’s been said ad naseum that data and information are some of the most important assets that organizations – private and public sector, large and small businesses alike – have. And of course, it’s true. However, it’s been my observation that most organizations still very much struggle with their level of sophistication around how to really manage, integrate, and leverage this major asset class in a way that drives opportunity, transformation, bottom line results, stock price increase, or improvements in service delivery.  It’s surprising there’s not been more momentum to create this role within organizations.

A strong enterprise information management program can result in the following benefits to organizations:

  • Customer-centric integrated information environment
  • Access to robust information and delivery of that information where needed, including to mobile devices
  • Economies of scale and reduced development efforts and operational costs
  • Consistent and reliable information, with the ability to layer on strong advanced analytics
  • More agile and proactive business operations
  • Platform scalability with more shared services
  • Data as a service, capturing data once and leveraging it across multiple business processes and applications
  • Trust framework that enables appropriate information sharing and access while ensuring privacy, confidentiality, and compliance

An obvious question is: shouldn’t this be what the Chief Information Officer (CIO) should do? Perhaps, but the reality in most organizations is that the CIO is focused on the technology and operations that support the organizational data needs. This by itself is an enormous challenge. Most CIOs are very good consultative partners with regards to how technology can support business operations.However, the true ownership and stewardship of data and information rests on the business side of the house, not with the technologists.

Therefore, the executive suite needs someone who can oversee the strategic business application of its information assets enterprise-wide. Someone who advocates for information; who can facilitate cross-departmental discussions about information; who’s responsibility it is to optimize existing information assets, to identify information gaps, and to work with units to acquire needed data (structured and unstructured); someone who build the trust and partnerships across the organization (chief diplomatic officer? – more on this in a future post); and, someone who can set organizational standards and policies for enterprise information management to improve quality, accuracy, and usability of critical core data assets. These are at the center of a CDO’s responsibilities.

I think that over the next decade, we will see much great interest in and a maturing of the role of the Chief Data Officer in the same way we’ve seen the Chief Information Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, or Chief Information Security Officer roles mature.