Most organizations are aware of the value of their information/data assets; information has become a core asset to many organizations. If data is lost or stolen, there is a definite cost; and in most cases, a total data loss will bring an organization to its knees. Data is a representation of the business. The business uses this data to operate, track, report, manage, and predict the business; data is clearly a business asset that needs to be managed. Business assets are traditionally managed as part of the business operations. So what is the role/responsibility of an IT department in the management of this business asset?
IT has traditionally been responsible for designing and applying technology solutions to business problems, as well as support of those solutions. The focus of IT has been the application and management of technology. The same approach has been used for the data assets. IT has traditionally approached data by applying technology solutions to store, move, protect, and process the data.
A database is typically used to store the data. A role of a database administrator is to manage the technology that is used to store the data assets. This is clearly a technology role. What about the data assets stored within the database? This is where the roles/ responsibilities are unclear. The hype cycle of data governance and ownership has shed light on this grey line between the business role and IT roles regarding the management of the data assets.
Is the role of an IT department to support and manage what the data assets within the technology or only to apply and manage the technology that supports the delivery of information to the business? It is clear that the data assets that fall outside of technology (i.e. paper records and files) are typically outside the responsibility of an IT department.
Prior to computerization, the information/data of an organization was managed directly by the business people who produced/used the data. The data was managed by the people who knew what the data represented. There was no disconnect between the business and the data as there is today. With computerization, the business organization’s data assets were encapsulated deep within technology. This made it nearly impossible for a businessperson to manage their data assets as they had when the assets were in a paper file. The management of the data assets fell into IT by default and not by design, as it became an accepted practice for the business to rely on IT for the management of the data assets.
Technology has evolved over the years, to a point where there is no longer a clear distinct between the business and its technology, in both directions. Many techno-savvy business folks can effectively perform tasks that previously fell under the responsibility of the IT department. In fact, there has been a mushrooming of what is known as “IT shadow groups” within many business organizations. These groups are not part of the IT department, but perform many traditional IT type functions and thus indicate a desire of the business to take back the control/management of their data assets. Should the business organization, rather than IT, manage the data assets as they did prior to computerization?
Interestingly, there is an “I” in “IT. Does this mean IT’s role is intended to be 50% in support of the business’s information assets and 50% the technology that supports the information assets? Should IT play a significant role in management of the business’s information asset? Since data is a representation of the business organization, a significant information management role in an IT department would require a more business-focused rather than a technology-only-focused for an IT department.
The best fit for the role/responsibilities of information/data management within an organization is an interesting challenge many organizations face, knowingly or unknowingly. However, more importantly is assuring that the responsibility and accountability for the data assets are assigned, regardless of placement within the organization. Sadly, these often fall between the cracks and the important data assets are undermanaged or managed in a reactive manner.