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Information Silos: “I didn’t know! They never told me.”

by Jodee Hale-Schmid

July 20, 2010

Authored by Frank Dravis, Solutions Consultant, Utopia, Inc.


It never fails to amaze me as to how information silos naturally develop in an organization. I’m not talking the physical silos where data is squirreled away in a repository where access is restricted, but those departmental boundaries where information flows seem to ping off the org chart walls like grains of corn against concrete. This phenomenon is never more apparent as when you conduct an EDLM (Enterprise Data Lifecycle Management) maturity assessment. During the assessment a cross section of business and IT managers are interviewed and they are each asked the same comprehensive set of questions. They get to answer from strongly disagree to strongly agree. But before the interviews begin the assessment team performs an inventory of key systems, applications, practice, and process guides to set the baseline of the data management infrastructure. Collecting the truth data if you will.

Where the assessment interviews get interesting is when the respondent’s perceptions not only disagree with each other, but when they disagree with the data management baseline. For example, a typical maturity statement is, “our organization has access to a data profiling solution.” The assessment team knows the answer is yes because they inventoried it, and even spoke to the IT team that supports the install. And yet in a group of ten to twenty respondents the answers can be all over the map, fromstrongly disagree to strongly agree. As an interviewer on the assessment team I want to answer for them, or at least correct their answer, but I can’t. I want to educate them and explain where the profiling solution is, who to talk to get training, but as part of the assessment we are recording honest perceptions. Remember perceptions guide behavior, and if a person perceives something does not exist they won’t pursue it. Those same perceptions impact an organization’s usage and treatment of the data. They can be as hard and impermeable as concrete walls.

It can be confounding to an assessor when they ask the interviewee to respond to “our organization regularly conducts data profile checks on key data objects,” and the group of respondents in the marketing department on the 4th floor generally answer “agree” and the sales operations staff on the 3rd floor generally replies “strongly disagree” or “don’t know.” They both use the same data systems, but the one group has a more positive attitude towards the data than the other group. It can be even more fascinating when there is no floor in the building or departmental boundary separating them. How can this be? Again, remember, the negative perceptions of the one group will impact the amount they trust the data, and hence us e it.

The answer to the dilemma is communication. As simple as it may be, and hence quickly discounted, a regular regimen to communicate, in this case data quality activities can immediately elevate organizational performance. If the staff is just told where to go on the corporate Intranet to view the Data Quality Dashboard their awareness would increase and that first step starts them on the road to more effective usage of a key corporate asset: data. The fact is some groups, functions, and departments are so heads down in trying to do their work that they forget to grease the operations gears with information. I’ve heard the statement, “but we told them that!” I then follow up with “but did you remind them?” The truth is in the scoring. The groups with the better regular communication have perceptions that match the baseline, and are therefore are more effective at using organizational resources, like data.
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