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The IT Reformation and the Splinternet (Part 2), by Frank Johnson

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”: The Impact on Data Governance. 

Either of the dynamics mentioned in yesterday’s article (the The IT Reformation or the Splinternet) by themselves would pose enough challenges to sound data governance. Together, they make the challenges worse by pulling the advocates of data governance — among business units, IT departments and vendors — in conflicting directions.

That’s because there is a contradiction inherent in business units empowering themselves by acquiring tools that are less and less able to work together or share information in a meaningful (read: semantic) way.  Trying to accommodate both dynamics could create even more obstacles to delivering solutions that support the needs of the enterprise as a whole.

Some of these obstacles include:

Data governance will be harder to enforce and/or encourage

We were treated this month to a delightful “Star Wars” debate between Rob “Darth” Karel of Forrester and Jim “OCDQ-Wan” Harris of the Obsessive Compulsive Data Quality blog.  Karel took the position of the Evil Empire centrally enforcing data governance through draconian measures.  Harris took the position of the Rebel Alliance, leading guerrilla data governance from the bottom up.

The authors were acting as devil’s advocates to show that both approaches are needed in balance.  And I think all data governance professionals would agree with Harris, that “Data governance reveals how truly interconnected and interdependent the organization is.”  But because it is, any approach to data governance is impeded where business units are free to acquire their own closed or semi-closed solutions absent a coordinating vision for the enterprise.

In such an environment, it would be difficult to build a Death Star that centrally enforces, or to create a rebel confederation that organically fosters, data governance among every business unit.  And the task of making data governance technically feasible among such disparate applications would also be that much harder for IT personnel.

Application integration will be more difficult to achieve

People concerned with data governance have already been fretting that cloud-based applications might grow into a whole ‘nother species of isolated stovepipe.  Such a concern would be especially relevant when the application has been sourced and acquired by a business unit rather than through IT.

Data governance practitioners should want to ensure that such tools and applications would be part of the data governance ecosystem and be required to use master data, properly controlled and maintained according to minimum standards of governance.  (For example, see Gartner’s concept of “MDM-aware” applications.)

Closed or propriety applications may not be as much of a problem in business-to-business environments thanks to XML business standards and other open or heterogeneous approaches to application integration.   Still, they could at minimum slow efforts at creating bridges among business applications.

Master data repositories will be harder to create and deploy

Data integration is “a critical enabler for a complex MDM architecture,” says Forrester’s Rob Karel, and as such is a foundational part of aggregating and managing master data.  As with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if you can’t meet the basics like food and shelter, you can’t aspire to achieve higher goals like self-actualization.

A new survey done for BeyeNetwork by data integration vendor Syncsort reveals that enterprises continue to struggle with basic data integration within the enterprise, to say nothing of integrating data from the cloud or from walled applications.  IT Business Edge blogger Michael Vizard calls basic data integration issues the Achilles Heel for many IT organizations.

In a slide presentation of the survey results, he adds that “the fundamentals of data integration are still a big enough issue in most IT organizations to thwart the achievement of strategic business goals.”  The growth of cloud, mobile, social, and closed applications will only add to the strain of integrating data for master data management repositories.

Dreams of the Semantic Web will be postponed

There is some trepidation about data governance challenges posed by the Semantic Web (a.k.a. Web 3.0).  For all that, I believe most community professionals are intrigued and challenged (in a constructive way) by its potential for creating an environment where applications “will perform complex tasks that previously required human capabilities, such as understanding and reasoning — and will accomplish those tasks at enormous scale and efficiency.”

However, as stated by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his co-authors in the urtext for Web 3.0:

The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation [emphasis added].

The move toward closed applications runs counter to this vision of people, systems and information working in closer cooperation.  It will raise completely new and higher barriers to the kind of agility, access and integration that both The Semantic Web and sound data governance call for.

Part 3 concludes this series

Frank Johnson has more than 25 years’ experience in information technology marketing. He is part of the marketing communications and analysis team at Enterworks Inc., a company that offers solutions for acquiring, managing, and publishing master data, digital assets, and related product content.  He is the lead blogger at Enterworks’ Multichannel Content Blog

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4 Comments on “The IT Reformation and the Splinternet (Part 2), by Frank Johnson”

  1. How to Design a Website 08/04/2011 at 1:10 am #

    We were treated this month to a delightful “Star Wars” debate between Rob “Darth” Karel of Forrester and Jim “OCDQ-Wan” Harris of the Obsessive Compulsive Data Quality blog.

  2. How to Design a Website 08/04/2011 at 1:11 am #

    Such a concern would be especially relevant when the application has been sourced and acquired by a business unit rather than through IT.


  1. The IT Reformation and the Splinternet (Part 1), by Frank Johnson | Hub Designs Magazine - 06/20/2011

    […] Part 2 continues here […]

  2. The IT Reformation and the Splinternet « The Multichannel Content Blog - 06/23/2011

    […] In Part 2, I outline some of the areas where these paradoxical dynamics may negatively affect the practice of data governance. […]

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