We talk about data as though it has functionality all of its own. Data flows and gets interrupted and can be discrete or continuous, all while being corrupted, duplicate, clean and Big. But with all of the discussions about and focus on data, don’t we lose sight of something bigger?
Isn’t data just a way to describe our world and what happens in it…just a series of facts that describe ‘things’ and ‘events’?
If we give data more than its due, it is as though we’re describing human communication as a series of letters within words. It misses the point.
Data is the building block of functionality, functionality is the building block of applications, and applications are the building blocks of systems. An argument can be made that putting data on such a pedestal is about finding the common denominator. Maybe, but I would argue that too much focus on data masks the bigger picture and helps technology to be at odds with other parts of the enterprise. It drives a split between IT and Business.
It is often said that 75% of an organization’s technology budget is spent on maintaining legacy information systems. I’d bet most of that amount is just to maintain data, often seen as the organization’s ‘blood’. What if we flipped the pattern on its head? What if we started with what has to happen to make business successful and worked backward to what we need to describe that success? Perhaps we’d find that a big chunk of that spending on data is wasted.
Just the facts, ma’am
This is my quick representation of what an enterprise really does (in iterative cycles):
Only a small part is about data for data’s sake. After that, it becomes about what can be done with it. Maybe all data doesn’t need to be perfect and the information we can have in an instant is more valuable than information we can extract, massage, load and then serve up when everything comes together nicely. Maybe what we store isn’t as valuable as what we find in a pattern, outside of our enterprise, and only for a moment.
Can we take a different tack? What if we took an opportunistic approach to information technology that would force flexibility, speed and adaptability requirements on information that doesn’t need to be 100% perfect (Yes, there are some like transactions, financials and compliance/safety that must be accurate…I’m not talking about that).
New building blocks
Businesses that take a front-to-back approach see the world through what gives them a reason to exist…creating value. They have a constantly updated model that sits at the center of their business universe, taking input from many sources, enabling analysis, looking for patterns, establishing norms, destroying norms, enabling decisions and providing feedback to sources like a living, breathing beast.
This means that as business shifts one direction or another it can be immediately perceived; relative movement as important as quantitative values. Important events are immediately identified in the context in which they occurred. Patterns matter and not just discreet numbers. Accuracy and completeness takes a back seat if timing matters more and action must be fast.
Data, then, isn’t the blood…it is the food that is required for the machine to function at optimal level. Bad food causes digestive problems just like bad data causes bad decisions. Too little food and the organization can’t make decisions when necessary.
Putting too much focus on data causes us to miss the bigger picture of the ecosystem that data only describes and doesn’t drive. How much better could we be at business if we focused on the the end goal and acted opportunistically with information?