Taming BIG Data: Taking Back Control

The common cliché “It’s like herding cats” is an expression that refers to a task that is extremely difficult to control due to chaotic factors. With the ever increasing volumes of data, executives are looking for ways to change the game and simplify information management; to herd the “information cat,” if you will.

The solution is to implement a sustainable model for keeping up with such changes by formalizing their enterprise information management (EIM) program. An EIM program allows a company to provide accurate, consistent information to all of its resources (employees, computer databases, etc.), allowing them to perform their jobs more effectively. A key objective is to transform vast amounts of information collected every day into a strategic advantage. To this end, CIOs need a tactical solution where benefits can be realized early and one that works itself into the overall enterprise information strategy.

One approach is to start this journey by looking at the information life cycle management (ILM). ILM is the process of managing specific data assets of an organization from creation to disposition.

There are five areas of ILM that should be addressed.

  • Usage: explains which data is useful and how it is turned into information for decision making.
  • Creation: defines how data is received and/or created within the company.
  • Retention: defines the life span of data via a clear understanding of the value of the underlying data assets over time.
  • Availability: addresses the frequency, latency and accessibility requirements for the specific data elements.
  • Maintenance: defines the resources (people, process, and technology) that are used to cleanse, transform, and load the data and the supporting processes that controls the changes of the information assets.

This article will focus on the importance of the first area, usage.

Companies no longer have trouble accessing information necessary to make a decision. Often times, too much information handicaps a company from making the best decisions. Collaboration of three programs is required to minimize risk: business program management, technology program management, and EIM program management.

Business program management: Representatives from this group understand the company’s core competencies and can best assess the needs of the organization. They have a direct responsibility of implementing business related projects approved by the governance review board.

Technology program management: Representatives from this group support the business by providing tools that can be used by an organization to effectively perform their jobs.

EIM program management: An extension of the governance group, this group has three main responsibilities: First, they determine the most appropriate resources to be included in the integrated workgroup. This workgroup is a temporary team of people identified by the EIM program management with the approval of the governance review board to complete a time-limited project based assignment.

The team is ideally made up of six to eight people representing the three programs mentioned above. Second, they prepare for and facilitate the sessions between the business and technical workgroup members. To do this, identify the person who can facilitate discussions and influence both the business and technical resources.

Third, they generate specific recommendations of information related projects and provide these recommendations to the governance review board as well as establishing specific deliverables for the team (i.e., current state assessment, value proposition, prioritized list of reports and data elements, etc.)

This collaborative approach helps to bring both the business needs and the cost of technical support together allowing the governance review board to make the best decisions for the company. Companies that do not have a formal program in place can be effective by following this model.

Once the workgroup is established, each team member can be provided a list of tasks required as preparation for the facilitated sessions that will produce the deliverables.

The business workgroup members will be responsible for:

  1. Confirming and providing the company’s most important business process flows in a graphical model that can be easily explained to the group;
  2. Identifying key attributes in the model that is important to decision making; and
  3. Prioritizing the list of reports (physical and/or other decision making analytical platforms) by functional area.

The best way to start the consolidation effort is to focus on gathering the reports from each business process area. Reports that are produced by systems as well as those that are manually generated should be cataloged using a tool (i.e., Excel, Access or more robust relational database) to capture key attributes. If you are consolidating from multiple departments, try to have the department provide you with a prioritized list of reports. For each report, capture a title and short description that emphasizes the value and basic metrics across all groups.