Loraine Lawson spoke with Tony Fisher, president and CEO of DataFlux, about how he approached his new book, "The Data Asset: How Smart Companies Govern Their Data for Business Success," and why it's so hard for organizations to switch out of siloed thinking and view data as an enterprise-wide asset.
Lawson: In your book, you look at data as an asset and how smart companies govern their data for business success. How did you approach writing this book - did you actually go into companies and look at this, or is this more from your own experience and perspective?
Fisher: Most of it is based on particular experiences. There are a lot of examples throughout the book, many of them are hands-on experiences that I either participated in or we as a company participated in.
"It is unfortunate that in many instances this movement towards better management of data is coming about because of very negative things that have happened to an organization or in an industry."
When we look toward setting the stage for treating your data as a corporate asset, a lot of that is hands-on experience plus anecdotal experience. When we look at the things that are more along the lines of assessing the maturity of an organization and implementing a quality culture and the technologies that are needed to do that, all of that is really hands-on experience - things that we've seen time and time again that have given us the ammunition to be able to provide organizations with this type of information, and the book reflects that.
The book is not a technical book. It's more of a high-level book to help executives within an organization understand the value of data and understand how data, if appropriately governed, can help the organizations be more successful.
Lawson: Now, data is not typically seen as a corporate asset. I know there's a trend to push it that way, but from what I've read, it seems like in many companies that doesn't play out in the way they use their data. Did you find that to be true?
Fisher: I think that's a very fair assessment. In general, data is not funded appropriately as an asset. There is a trend in that direction, although it is a small but growing trend.
We do see a lot of organizations that are having great success, but you're right, organizations tend to treat their people, their physical assets and their technology - hard technology - assets as corporate assets and they know about them and they fund them appropriately. They do not do the same thing with their data, by and large, although, as I said and as you said, there is a trend in that direction and the trends are showing very valuable progress within an organization.
It is unfortunate that in many instances this movement towards better management of data is coming about because of very negative things that have happened to an organization or in an industry. There are a lot of negative drivers associated with it and the people are more compelled to make that move when there are mitigating circumstances out there. We see a smaller percentage of organizations that will move in that direction in order to just achieve optimization of their operational processes or acquisition of customers.
Lawson: It really does seem counterintuitive that they wouldn't have viewed it as a corporate asset to be used by everybody in the first place. Why haven't they done this sooner? Is it a technological issue? Is it a political issue? How much of it is integration-related?
Fisher: Well, that is a very big question which requires a very long answer and there are a lot of different parts to it.
First, the leading question there was why isn't it something that is more front of mind with organizations? I think the answer to that is because you can't really put your hands on it. An airline industry can put their hands on their airplanes and they can put their hands on their pilots and they can put their hands on their servers and things like that, but they can't really put their hands on their data. So it's kind of out of sight, out of mind, which may be the reason that we don't see as much emphasis on data as we do on other assets within an organization.
Related to your questions of is it political, is it technological - it is not a technological question. There are ample technology solutions out there that are very, very good, that can help organizations manage data as an enterprise asset.
There are certainly data integration aspects to it. If you really want data to be a corporate asset, it has to have an enterprise view, or at least a plan for an enterprise view, and fundamentally, when you talk about an enterprise view, you're talking about heavy reliance on integration capabilities of that data and of those applications.
Is it political? The answer to that is yes. And yes for a couple of reasons. One is just the fact that organizations tend to operate as a number of independent silos and there's a comfort zone in most organizations of saying this is what I know and this is what I do. I do marketing campaigns, or I do sales or I do customer support or whatever, and these silos are very comfortable. And when you start saying, "In order to really know our customer, we need to know the combination of what's in the call center and what's in the sales force system and what's in the marketing database and what's in the financial systems," that gets people out of their comfort zone because now all of a sudden we're looking across functional lines of business.
The other aspect of that is the management structure is very, very comfortable in its own silo. This is probably one of the biggest problems we have from a political perspective is getting those managers who are divisionally judged and have divisional responsibilities to treat this data as an asset and define its commonality across the different divisions, and that is somewhat untrue with other assets.
That's another reason that data is a bit more difficult and not as readily accepted as a corporate asset is because, in the airline industry, there's a division that is responsible for the planes and there is a division that is responsible for the pilots and there is a division that is responsible for the gate agents and everything else, and so these fall into very clean categories. So an executive can say, "These are my assets and I have total domain over these assets." Data is a bit different because as you look at data as an enterprise asset, it reaches across all of these different divisions.