Michael Daconta | Don't fear authoritative data

Another View'commentary

Guest columnist
Michael Daconta


THERE ARE certain ideas I like to think of as linchpin concepts, those that cut to the heart of an issue. Authoritative data sources is one of those concepts. It cuts to the heart of data governance, often resulting in fear and trembling.

Such fear can lead to lip service, politics and backpedaling in establishing authoritative data sources ' a situation that has errors, manual reconciliation and a frustrated workforce as its frenzied byproducts.

But there are ways to steer through these perils and discover the promise of authoritative data.

Let's begin with a simple example everyone can relate to: buying a car. When the dealership wants to verify your ability to secure a loan for that Chevy Corvette, they can quickly and easily access an authoritative data source for a comprehensive credit report and score.

It is significant that the transaction uses:
  1. Well-known sources. In other words, businesses offering consumer loans know who provides this information reliably. In the United States, it is one of the three main credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
  2. Well-known identifiers. Consumers have Social Security numbers, and credit accounts have numbers.
  3. Well-known data. The information reported to and received from these sources is well-understood as necessary to complete the transaction.

Let's pause for a moment and substitute 'standard' for 'well-known.' Standardization is a key data management technique in making things well-known, which means easily understood, unambiguous and identifiable. Standardization of meaning, expectations and results is the first step in the trust process. And trust is essential for efficient transactions. So we are working toward authoritative data sources to enable rapid, trusted transactions in our core business functions.

It is proof of the efficacy of this approach ' establishing authoritative data sources ' that the credit-reporting system evolved on its own out of necessity. Loans could be and were made without such a system, but the risk of financial ruin far outweighed the cost of the discipline and information sharing required to achieve authoritative data. In fact, regulation of these transactions under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and ensuing laws is further proof that these private businesses have become de facto authoritative data sources.

Regulation in credit reporting exemplifies the other key parts of the trust process: authority and stewardship. A well-known source is not sufficient for trust because an organization can be notoriously well-known. For trust, an organization must be known to be responsible. In our car-buying example, that official appointment is the service contract between the business and the credit-reporting agency.

In government organizations, an official policy must be established that delegates the authority to make such appointments or directly makes such appointments to the subordinate organizations. This official appointment establishes in writing the clear line of responsibility between the data and the organization in charge of its stewardship.

Lastly, the responsibility of stewardship comes with that authority. Proper stewardship requires mechanisms to ensure the data's accuracy and provide service-level agreements and a reconciliation process to make necessary changes to the values or structure of the data.

Let's imagine that businesses had no authoritative data source from which to get credit information. What would happen? How long would buying a car take? I hope you can see that we have come back to necessity.

Efficiency and effectiveness dictate a single authoritative data source per transaction type. If you consider any complex process ' immigration processing, law enforcement investigations, intelligence analysis, passenger screening or military logistics ' you can be certain that authoritative data sources will speed that process. Simply put, authoritative data sources speed business processes ' and that is the promise of this discipline.

So organizations can and must rise above the politics of fear and fiefdoms to achieve the promise of authoritative data sources. In return, they will get rapid business transactions, productive employees and satisfied consumers.

Daconta ([email protected]) is a former metadata program manager at the Homeland Security Department and author of 'Information as Product: How to Deliver the Right Information to the Right Person at the Right Time.'

About the Author

Michael C. Daconta ([email protected]) is the Vice President of Advanced Technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former Metadata Program Manager for the Homeland Security Department. His new book is entitled, The Great Cloud Migration: Your Roadmap to Cloud Computing, Big Data and Linked Data.


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