Reality Check | Transparency must be all or nothing

Commentary: Enterprise data managers could give the financial community a lesson about transparency – namely, that it must apply to everyone.

Search for the terms “bailout” and “transparency” on Google and the resulting number of Web pages — 429,000, as of Dec. 2 — suggests there is a strong desire for affinity between these two terms. 

However, the evidence for such affinity — and for transparency in particular — appears lacking, if not nonexistent. One example: Bloomberg News’ decision to sue the Federal Reserve Nov. 7 to force the disclosure of information on the reserve’s activities.

So, how do we get effective transparency? Simple, just ask your local enterprise data management professional.

EDM professionals know transparency well because it is the cornerstone of data standardization, data quality and information sharing. Thus, to assist our colleagues in the financial community, I will share three key lessons learned on effective transparency.

Lesson 1: Discretionary transparency is an oxymoron. In the court system, it is clear that you cannot have partial truth, which is why you swear to tell the whole truth. In enterprise data management, we work hard to harmonize definitions and catalog source data to provide a single version of the truth. 

It takes commitment and dogged determination to create enterprise data artifacts that sometimes take years to complete.  Thus, transparency, by definition, is a complete commitment. You do not get to tell the sun where to shine. Committing to transparency is a core discipline that must have strong support from senior management.

President-elect Barack Obama has demonstrated his commitment to this idea through transparency legislation, robust online initiatives and bold transparency proposals. It would be prudent for all levels of government to follow the lead of the president-elect on this issue.

Lesson 2: Confident transparency is a three-legged stool. In enterprise data management, we work to expose data for data integration projects, information-sharing projects and enterprise search projects.

However, such data transparency does not work as a stand-alone endeavor. It only works when combined with the context of the data and exposure of the process that produces or consumes the data. Thus, confident transparency actually sits on the pillars of data transparency, process transparency and the context of both.

Let’s examine an example of this in action. Assume you have an enterprise search box on your intranet that all employees can use. If you expose a new database to the system, you have potentially added valuable knowledge to your enterprise. However, if that new database is duplicative, inaccurate or outdated, it could do more harm than good. Thus, to be confident in what you are making transparent, ensure that it stands on all three pillars.

Lesson 3: Trusted transparency means you watch the watchers. In enterprise data management, a data governance body makes decisions on the meaning, structure and application of enterprise data. The only way such a body succeeds is when the people making the decisions have skin in the game.

Simply stated, their authority is not by fiat but by the bi-directional nature of their appointment. They must live with their decisions.

The financial community and government at large must heed this lesson above all in regard to transparency. Dictating transparency by fiat does not work. Assuming transparency for the greater good will not work. What will work is when the government dictates the same transparency it lives by on a daily basis. And that is the solid foundation on which all transparency regulation should be built.

Following these hard-earned data management lessons will ensure that your government department, agency or office functions as a trusted servant to the people. It is that very trust that restores confidence. And it is on that confidence that a nation thrives.

Daconta (mdaconta@acceleratedim.com) is chief technology officer at Accelerated Information Management LLC and former metadata program manager for the Homeland Security Department. His latest book is “Information as Product: How to Deliver the Right Information to the Right Person at the Right Time."

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