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Data Governance and the Four Horsemen of the Data Apocolypse

Thought Leader

While I was attending a recent high-powered data conference, one of the better-known speakers, Mike Atkins of the EDM (Enterprise Data Management) Council, spoke briefly about the four horsemen of the data apocalypse. The original four horsemen of the apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible (death, famine, war and conquest) as a symbolic prophecy of the future. The same can be said about the Data Apocalypse.

[caption id="attachment_2607" align="alignleft" width="119"]Pittsburgh's Data Guy, KIK Consulting Bob Seiner, Pittsburgh's Data Guy, KIK Consulting[/caption]

The message of the four horsemen of the data apocalypse (ignorance, arrogance, obsolescence and power) resonated well with me as it clearly describes reasons why organizations are struggling to manage their data as a valued asset. I thought I would share this prophecy with my friends at the Pittsburgh Technology Council because … it’s all in the data.

These four horsemen can be used to describe the negative attitudes organizations have toward data that have prevented these organizations from addressing the need to improve and gain value from their most valuable asset.

The first horseman is Ignorance. The ignorance attitude can be best described as thinking that seeking value from data is not that important.

Organizations that carry the ignorance toward data attitude are at the lowest end of the data maturity spectrum. Organizations that demonstrate ignorance toward data are behind their competition when it comes to allocating resources focused on improving their data situation. Improvements in the data situation can include improving data quality, data understanding, data protection and improving regulatory and compliance reporting capabilities. These organizations will be the last to hire Chief Data Officers (CDOs), the last to implement formal data governance programs, and will be at the end of the line when it comes to collecting and managing the information about their data, otherwise known as metadata.

You have heard the statement that “ignorance is bliss.” Well, in this case ignorance leads to organizations falling behind the times during the blossoming information age.

The second horseman is Arrogance. The arrogance attitude can be described as thinking that management knows more than the people that own and are responsible for the data.

Organizations that maintain this attitude demonstrate belief that management knows best. Management will not know the difficulties that their teams are having if they do not converse with the people that know the data best. Arrogance can be avoided by open dialogue with the people who define, produce and use data as part of their daily (read hourly) routine. Arrogance toward data can be avoided by conducting internal assessments of how the organization governs its data against industry best practices.

In brief research I saw that unnamed philosophers have speculated that, “The difference between arrogance and confidence is performance.” Management should be looking at the data they use to improve their organization’s performance and be open-minded toward continuous data improvement.

The third horseman is Obsolescence. The obsolescence attitude can be described as thinking that the present data, in the present systems, will never die and that, if it carried the organization this far, there is no reason to change.

Organizations that carry this attitude are afraid to move out of the past and invest in the future. To stay one step ahead of the competition, organizations must continuously focus on improving data quality, data access, understanding and protection — even if the present state is allowing the organization to get by. Organizations with obsolete data and systems become inefficient, ineffective and act very informally toward improving their data situation.

As Andy Rooney, noted American radio and television personality, once said, “The fastest thing computers do is go obsolete.” The same can be said about the data housed on these computers, and the systems that manage the flow and use of data on these computers. Resting on your data laurels is the quickest way to become obsolete.

The last horseman is Power. The power attitude can best be described as the feeling that projects owned by the most influential members of management are more critical than other projects.

Organizations in which power is the driving attitude have a difficult time getting out of their own way when prioritizing those activities that will lead to higher quality data. Management with the most seniority, or management from the most profitable part of the business, typically see major investments in their own personal data infrastructure as most important and their personal pet projects while addressing the most critical data needs are often misunderstood, or misinterpreted as being not as important.

William Gaddis, famous American author, once said that “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” The truth is that the most powerful people in the organization must have the responsibility to know and understand the need to prioritize projects that will have the most valuable impact on the organization. Power moves often lead to bad decision making which leads to the squeakiest of wheels getting the grease while the other wheels fall off the axle.

The four horsemen of the data apocalypse are a simplified way of looking at the impediments to an organization’s ability to improve their data situation. The better we recognize these attitudes in our organization, the quicker and more effective we will be at addressing and managing the most important and valuable asset we own: our data. Besides… it’s all in the data.

By Robert S. Seiner, KIK Consulting/