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Issue Date: August 2007

Information sharing wars

1 August 2007

Adrian van der Merwe, MD of 8th Man Consulting says data is and must always be viewed as a corporate asset.
Adrian van der Merwe, MD of 8th Man Consulting
Adrian van der Merwe, MD of 8th Man Consulting
Human beings are naturally afraid of jeopardising or compromising their own interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the corporate world, where people are inclined to hoard their data and treat it as their own.
The demand for corporate information and reporting accountability is soaring. Yet in many organisations the data necessary to respond to such enquiries is scattered in multiple, standalone, hard-to-access and jealously guarded databases. As a result, information is gathered by accessing various database systems individually, calling key information specialists and manually collating relevant information. This type of information management is inefficient, time-consuming and costly.
People in companies resist openness and sharing for a number of reasons that can be attributed to anything from corporate turf wars to basic human nature. Data hoarding is maintaining control of your own data without providing visibility into how you have acquired and manipulated it. People do it simply because they do not want other people to see what they do. It becomes a case of us and them. People do not want to make their work processes visible from starting point to end product: they fear they will lose control of the process. Accountants, for example, tend to have a particular view of the business that they may be disinclined to share their knowledge with anyone else.
Data hoarding has many negative consequences for business, such as multiple customer views, an inability to gain insights into corporate functions and performance; bypassing of corporate structures; and wasted investment in business intelligence systems. Users who are averse to technology try to circumvent new processes by working outside the system. In this way, they maintain their fiefdom while undermining the company's technological innovation and its resultant business benefits. "I have always done it this way," they say. That leaves companies unable to realise the benefit of their investments.
Try yelling: "Share your data!" at people and you will lose. People need to be motivated to share their data. The solution is to change the corporate mindset. Data professionals have to focus not only on the benefits of data sharing, but they must also establish the structures and processes necessary to enable it. Get users to understand they have to buy in; make it simpler for them; and make them understand they have not lost control of the business process.
Here are five ways in which you can do that:
* Explain what data is, its origin and what it means. Data sharing is pointless if people do not have an in-depth understanding of it.

* Appoint data custodians. Operational divisions within a company need to have their own data experts who are not only knowledgeable about data, but are also able to help.

* Recognise key business processes, especially those processes where master data is critical.

* Ensure that data management is viewed as a service and not a profit centre. Data management is not another way to reduce costs; it is a way to provide value.

* Establish support from the top of the organisation down. Without top-level sponsorship, data management and integration initiatives will be doomed to failure.

* Involve everyone and keep people informed. The more you communicate, the easier it will be to establish trust and openness. Show people how systems will benefit them in the long-run, even though they may feel compromised now.

* Technology is an enabler, so put systems in place that prevent data hoarding and facilitate sharing. Powerful technologies exist for capturing and sharing knowledge.
The fact is that data has never been more popular than it is now. The challenge to companies and individuals is to begin treating it as a responsibility and not a system by-product.
Sharing information fosters collaboration and continual learning and improvement based on common experiences. It breaks down historical boundaries by highlighting the value of retaining and distributing mission-critical 'know-how'. By capturing, testing, and applying best practices or lessons learnt, it enables greater efficiencies and puts an end to constant reinvention of the wheel.
For more information contact Adrian van der Merwe, 8th Man Consulting, +27 (0)11 462 9805.

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