The subject of this post came to me in a rather convoluted manner.
As I began to work more with organizations who are trying to achieve broad analytical proficiency, I started to notice something that at first appeared both unusual and unsettling.
One or more business leaders in the organization would begin to lay strong claims to "owning" their information.
They were prepared to invest their cycles and resources towards acquiring more and improving the value of what they already had available. They could be persuaded to share -- depending on circumstances.
While these leaders were moderately polite to others in the organization who were doing the same, they didn't want to be dependent on other groups (including, to a certain extent IT) as they went forward with their information ownership goals.
As I started to see more of this -- including in my own company -- I had to stop and think: is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
And I've come to the conclusion: it's a very good thing indeed. It's precisely the right behavior, and should be encouraged.
Welcome To Your New Role, Business Leader!
If you've ever taken over a moderately-sized organization, you spend you first few months assessing your situation.
If you're smart, you'll do an initial round with external stakeholders -- people who interact with (and often depend on) what your organization does. You do this first, because you don't want to be tainted by internal perspectives from within.
Your second round is usually with your people: who are they, what are they good at, where are their problem areas, etc. All good organizations are built on good people, so you'll quickly want to get a handle on that one.
Your third round is with the finance people: where does the money come from, and where does it go? Without budget and resources, it'll be very hard indeed to get anything done.
And you'll want to see boatloads of data: measurement after measurement about what your group is doing, how effective it is, areas for improvement, etc. The more data, the better.
People. Money. Information.
It's the three raw ingredients every business leader needs to be effective.
These same people know they have to spend a lot of time and effort to get the best people, and invest in them so their employees perform the best. They also have spend a lot of time to understand the balance sheet and money flows, and places where even more efficiencies can be wrung out -- or new sources of potential funding.
Viewed this way, is it any surprise that strong leaders are starting to make big investments in "their" information bases? More data, better data, improved insights from existing data, and so on?
At EMC, we encourage our leaders to "own" their customer relationships, "own" the composition and improvement of their workforces, "own" their budgets and P+Ls and so on.
Why wouldn't we encourage them to "own" their information?
Going Farther With The Analogy
At my company, you've got great resources to help you with parts of this, but it depends on the relative importance of your function. If you're sort of an entry-level or mid-level manager, you've got a finance and HR team member that's their to help you occasionally, mostly consumed through standard service interfaces. They're easy to find, and easy to consume.
As you move up, you start to get more one-on-one support from people who are more senior. If you're starting to enter the executive ranks, you might even get a small dedicated finance and/or HR team to help you.
You're expected to own the development and management of your people. Here's your resources to help you do that.
You're expected to own the management of your finances. Here's your resources to help you do that as well.
If you're expected to own the acquisition, improvement and leverage of your information base -- what kind of resources do you need for that?
Enter The Proverbial Business Analyst
If we go looking, we'll often find various business analysts helping out the business leader with this role. When I meet these people, they've often get a sense of the importance of what they do for the organizations they serve, but it isn't before long that they tell you their job isn't easy.
Information sources are hard to get to.
Computing resources are hard to get to.
Specific tools to make the job easier are hard to get to.
The HR people usually don't have that problem: they've got the data and tools they need. The finance people usually don't have that problem: they've got the data and tools they
need. The same can generally be said for the traditional "line" functions: production, distribution, support, etc.
Why do I meet so many business analysts that are chronically "underserved" in their growingly important roles?
Why are things the way they are?
Where Are We Coming From?
If we go back a few decades, it was IS (information services) and not IT (information technology).
It made sense to put many of these people in the same organization that ran the computers, and these same people usually reported to finance, since that was the first significant application of computing in most organizations.
So we certainly can consider historical precedent as a relevant factor.
But, in today's modern world, just about everyone has to be proficient at using information: not just IT folks, and not just for financial reporting.
Then there's the security and risk factor.
One of the traditional roles that falls to IT is protecting valuable corporate information, and keeping people from hurting themselves or others with that same information. They take this role very seriously, as they should. You can see them visibly shudder when I start talking about making information easier to find and easier to consume. And, yes, I'm sure there are plenty of anecdotes to fuel this point of view.
But, in today's modern world, we all have to learn how to use information responsibly just like we deal with money responsibly, and deal with people responsibly, and so on. It's part of the modern skill portfolio in the corporate world.
There's also a serious concern on data quality and data integration. Many IT professionals know what's in those data sources -- and just how dirty/corrupt/inaccurate/deteriorated that data might be. They don't consider it fit for business consumption, and want to spend the time/effort/money/resources to improve the situation dramatically prior to handing it over to a business user. Certainly an understandable viewpoint.
But, in today's modern world, we're all getting pretty comfortable with using what data we've got access to, regardless of quality, source, incompleteness, etc. It's the world we live in.
What Happens When The Perspective Shifts?
So, perhaps we're coming from one world where (for the most part) IT "owns" corporate information, and quickly moving towards a world where multiple business leaders have strong incentive to "own" the information that's relevant to their world.
Rather than tell me what data I can and can't have, I'd like to be able to figure out what's potentially available -- and what I have to do to get it.
Rather than sanitize, cleanse and standardize corporate data, give it to me in the form it was captured, along with a manifesto that tells me what I need to know.
Rather than assume I'll be using information in a wrong or damaging way, why not educate me and my people on how to avoid problems and challenges?
Rather than make me define and commit to what I'm going to need in 3,6 or 12 months and wait -- why not have services I can easily consume as my needs change and evolve?
As a business leader, I'm just trying to get me and my people very proficient with the data I care about. Just like I'm trying to get proficient with improving my workforce, improving my use of money, and so on?
Why are you making it so hard?
Why aren't you helping me?
I work with a great HR organization here at EMC. They empower me and my co-workers to be really good at managing and developing people. It's our responsibility, not theirs.
I also work with a great finance organization as well. They empower my and my co-workers to be really good at managing budgets and money. It's our responsibility, not theirs.
I'm very much looking forward to the efforts our IT team is making making to help make me proficient with information. I can see that the goal is to empower me and my co-workers to be really good at extracting value from information, and hopefully not making too many mistakes.
Ultimately, it's our responsibility, and not theirs.
I had a great call with a customer yesterday around their desire to offer analytics-as-a-service to the rest of their business partners. Some of his business users are already extremely proficient, but many more are coming on quickly.
We ended up talking maybe 5% around technology, and about 95% around how to organize for success: what people, what functions, where they should be located (IT or business), what they should do themselves, what they might want to give to a partner or vendor or consultant, and so on.
I don't think that was what he was expecting, but he said it was much more interesting and relevant rather than talking about ETL load speeds :)
Sunday night, I'm jumping on a plane to go spend two days with a very large and very progressive health care provider.
On the first day, they're going to have us and a small group of other vendor/partners in the room -- some of them our competitors -- and they're going to go wayyyy deep into their business, their organization, their challenges, and so on. 8 hours of it.
Frankly, I think it's going to be pretty cool indeed.
Based on the pre-brief, I'm predicting it's going to boil down to information, organization and money. The technology is already there: are they organized to use it effectively to change what they do and leap into the next decade? I'm wondering if my suspicions will be validated.
The second day, we -- as a vendor -- get about two hours to feed back on what we heard, and offer some suggestions and thoughts. Sure, we'll be looking for a few areas where we can specifically help them, but we certainly won't be able to solve all their problems for them -- nor should we ever try.
And I'm certainly not going to the typical CTO thing and gush on around the amazing potential of newer technology. I think they get that. We all do, thanks.
The hard part will be empowering functional businesses to get very good at exploiting information.
And -- as I sit here -- I bet I'm going to have lots of those conversations in the next few years.