Monday, 17 September 2012

Strategic Analytics: The Final Frontier for “Enterprise” Data

Blog Author: Rod MacPherson

Sorry for the bad pun. I have been blogging recently about the incredible achievements of NASA nailing the landing of the latest Mars Rover- Curiosity. After a journey of 350,000,000 miles, it landed within 1.5 miles of its target. The jubilation in mission control was unconfined, as the team of mission monitors and engineers openly celebrated the successful milestone in the life of Curiosity- which is expected to relay a constant stream of data about the sustainability of life on the red planet back to earth over its anticipated 2 year lifetime. (although who knows- Voyager 1 is STILL relaying data- a journey that takes 17 hours, traveling at the speed of light from the extreme edges of our galaxy) If you want see where Voyager is, click here. When I last checked, it was 18 billion kilometers from earth. I digress.
If we think about that critical moment in mission control- when NASA personnel learned of the successful touchdown, a mere 15 minutes after the event- you realize that they have mastered the art of analytics. Not just about what has happened- but what was going to be happening (given the lag- and the need to adjust- they needed predicative indicators to make adjustments). They knew what they needed to know, and when they needed to know it. They had designed their data pipeline to provide the most critical information, in the most-timely fashion within practical limits of electro-magnetic physics as we understand it and our current understanding of quantum mechanics. If only we could do the same for our enterprise data.
The reality is - we can. Today’s leaders are often misled and discouraged by the current realities of information management and their cynicism about what information is practically available, when, and to what degree of reliability. This cynicism does not arise from the promise of what we as data management professionals are doing and promoting - they arise from the historical prejudice associated with IT and its excessive failure rate.
Strategic Analytics (and especially the predictive ones) that help decision-makers understand where the organization is going, not just where it has been, offers the greatest potential for organizations seeking to lever the enterprise data and big data social analytics in the most effective manner possible. Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the greatest hockey player of all time said it best perhaps. "I don't skate to where the puck is, I skate to where it’s going".
For the data management professional, our ability to help the C-Level understand where the organization is going is probably the single biggest opportunity to prove and validate the value proposition of enhanced data management practices. For those of us designing and implementing strategic analytic solutions- we know that architected, reliable, qualified, relevant and timely data is the only way to do this.
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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Open Data is Driving Enhanced Data Management Practices in Government


Blog Author: Rod MacPherson

We recently hosted an Executive Breakfast Seminar on Open Data at the offices of CORADIX and were pleasantly surprised by the greater than expected turnout by senior government personnel wanting to learn more about the risk, challenges, opportunities and benefits of Canada's Open Government Action Plan.  (see

Like many other jurisdictions, including 30 countries, and hundreds of municipal and provincial level government organizations, Canada followed the lead of the United States, who launched its' open data portal in 2009. (see  Starting with the release of just a few hundred datasets, the Open Data movement in government entities around the world has led to the release of literally million's of data sets on all topics ranging from socio-economic data and geo-spatial datasets to extensive details on government operations.

The Canadian approach to Open Government relies on 3 pillars. Open Data, Open Information and Open Dialog. Open Data is about offering government data in a more useful format to enable citizens, the private sector and non-government organizations to leverage it in innovative and value-added ways.  Open Information  is about proactively releasing information, including on government activities, to Canadians on an ongoing basis. By proactively making government information available it will be easier to find and more accessible for Canadians. Open Dialogue, which is about giving Canadians a stronger say in government policies and priorities, and expanding engagement through Web 2.0 technologies. (my next blog will talk about why Canada differentiates between Open Information and Open Data)

For many in the room, the session was a sobering sort of wake-up call, as I pointed out to participants the obvious risks associated with releasing open data sets such as the liabilities and potential embarrassment associated with releasing erroneous data, to the not-so apparent risks such as foreign intelligence organizations combining disparate data sets in such a way as to expose national security vulnerabilities. (the example I used was a case where a vulnerability was exposed by comparing weather data with emergency response statistics and geo-spatial data - resulting in the ability to predict the impact of threatening weather on the security apparatus)  In addition to the direct risks from the data itself, we also discussed the potential political risks of government-wide releases of certain datasets, that because they lack a common architecture and meta-data standards. Exposing these practices (or lack thereof) could create additional workload and embarrassment for the stewards responsible for those datasets- and more significantly for the political apparatus behind it.

While there was much discussion around the downsides, there was also widespread acknowledgement of the benefits and opportunities, the most significant of which was enabling the constituent citizens and industry to generate economic advantage and innovation by leveraging the rich datasets now freely accessible.

For data management practitioners - the Open Data imperative provides the perfect business case- and timing to introduce enhanced data management practices in government sector organizations.  Data Management professionals need to be front and centre in these initiatives, putting in place to practices to ensure that Open Data sets are consistently architected, described and delivered with a defensible and competent approach to ensuring their quality. Data stewards need to be clearly identifiable as they will become the focal point for departments and agencies being faced with questions and challenges about their data. Finally, as always, none of these things are going to happen without an effective governance mechanism to ensure that these practices are being properly employed.

To us as data management professionals, we have always understood the compelling value proposition of improved data management practices for all organizations- however the lack of customer focus, and a profit imperative has made it difficult to convince government decision-makers to direct more investment in this area. The Open Data imperative breathes considerable new life into the strength of imperative; the time has come for us to "Carpe diem".
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