I find myself drawn back once again to the problems of disconnected data and information - what we've grown accustomed to calling "islands of information". I guess I come back to this challenge that most businesses face for a couple of reasons.
First, most business people will readily admit they've got this problem, but most won't admit they were the ones who created it. In many businesses, we reward people who have the best information, but we don't always reward people who share information effectively. Islands of information can be very helpful to people who seek to build power within a functional group or a line of business. Sharing information makes the information more valuable across the enterprise but can result in less power locally. Additionally, building an island of information and managing that information locally allows the manager or director of that business unit to massage the data and determine what data is reported or released to other groups. Much about islands of information is about personal power and fear.
Second, there's a problem between IT and business people. We business people expect IT to be done quickly and simply, but most firms only staff enough IT people to keep the baseline operations running. When we business people discover that we need a new database or new web application to support the latest process or product we've dreamed up, we turn to IT and expect it to be built in a matter of weeks. If IT were more involved in the planning of the new solution, they might be more able to deliver on our timeframes. However, our priorities and IT's priorities are rarely the same. So what happens? We find someone to build an Access database or a monstrous spreadsheet and base our new product or service on that advanced technology. Building new systems is not hard, just time consuming, and most IT staffs have been cut to the bone. Creating new Access databases and Excel spreadsheets isn't the answer - working early and often with IT is.
Third, while it is not hard to build IT systems, it is hard to build systems that encourage data sharing across an enterprise, since many folks on the business side have never worried too much about data from other business functions and might not understand its value. To marketing, market share and ad spending may be important. To finance, depreciation and EBITDA (whoops, promised fewer acronyms). To manufacturing, inventory levels and quality reporting. How does a firm build systems and data containers to manage this data, and how do the end users make sense of the data once the container is built?
One other problem is that most systems are built to solve a problem locally, with little thought to how they integrate or solve problems across the enterprise. When I create a new Access database with the list of firms who've leased machinery and their payment schedules, I never dream that one day some of that data may become important to the CEO and become part of his daily report. But stranger things happen in data management all the time.
How do we fix all this? I think everyone in a business function should have to spend time in IT. Not necessarily becoming an expert, but experiencing the demands and constraints that IT experiences. I think that every time someone in a business function wants to build a new complex spreadsheet or Access database instead of working with IT, they should be required to publish the data model and data elements of the new database, so that everyone in the business can understand what data is captured and whether or not that data may be important to other people.
Finally, a culture needs to be put in place that encourages and rewards sharing information across the enterprise. Otherwise we are all Robinson Crusoe on our desert islands of information.