Blog post

The Gathering Storm: Information Governance in the Cloud

By Andrew White | October 09, 2015 | 4 Comments

Information GovernanceCloud

For those of you that know me (or follow my blog), you will know that I don’t shirk from a good argument.  In fact, in my youth, I loved to participate in debates – sometimes even taking the opposite position that I would ordinarily take – just to learn.  Well here is a great example of a piece of research that warrants careful examination and plenty of publicity.  It turns out that through dialog with many organizations, few even get this argument, let alone understand the impact of it.

My colleges Bill O’Kane, Guido De Simoni and Michael Moran just published a note called, “The Gathering Storm: Information Governance in the Cloud“.   The note calls out what is obvious, when you think about it.  What the note also calls out is that most organizations are not even thinking of this, despite their mad dash to the cloud.  For sooth (and you don’t hear that every day), “cloud computing” is an excellent resources to exploit for specific use cases and scenarios.  But one very important use case is beginning to get complicated – much more complicated.  In fact, as things go, the problem of governing information assets in the cloud is going to become even more complex than what it ever was when it all on premise, and under your control.

The premise is this: Each application assumes ownership of its own data model.  In our language we would say that applications operate assuming a dedicated semantic.  As you know full well, when you have several apps that need to share data, you have to reconcile a number of semantics that are different across the apps.  Sometimes you use ETL and scripts and other methods to build, define, and manage the transformation.  Ideally you set up an “information governance” framework to help maintain the references and rules.  And equally well known, business people have little interest in participating, even though they are the ones with the knowledge needed to resolve issues, anomalies and ambiguities.  No amount of IT or technology can do this work.

When these apps were on premise and just such a problem arose, you went down to the fourth floor, or drove over to the IT building, and flicked the ear of a developer or architect, and told them to “talk to the business and fix it”.  With cloud, this won’t work.  In fact, as each app moves to the cloud, and a different cloud vendor at that – each with their own data model – the need to reconcile semantics persists.  But now you can’t flick any ears.  Now you need to negotiate changes to your contracts and agreements and change the SLA.  In fact, all those savings you were planning on from moving to the cloud might get eaten up (and then some) to cope with the growing mess.  More cloud apps, more clouds: larger storm.

Hopefully the note will give you some ideas on how to get round this issue – and perhaps you can get out from under the building rain clouds before they start to pour…

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  • Harpal Singh says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for raising the awareness on this important topic. As the cloud application have been around for some time , example SalesForce isn’t some of these issues are being worked on and companies are integrating , mapping, transforming the data from SalesForce into their other cloud based and on-premise applications?

  • Andrew White says:

    Hi Harpal,
    Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.
    Yes, I think some of these issues are being worked on. You mentioned one popular application domain – SalesForce – and yes, many such users have to integrate that application to on-premise apps, or even other cloud ERP apps. But so far most of these integrations are one off, and very narrowly defined. The data that needs to be linked between a pipeline management and ERP/order management system is not overly complex. But if you were to add e-Commerce, across multiple channels, and a little M&A for good measure, then if each of these include a different cloud app, the storm is well and truly brewing. I guess the good news is that we will all be kept busy for a lot longer than we had first thought….

  • It is a hot topic Andrew. One thing I see grow hand in hand with cloud computing is that organizations also engage in more sharing of master data with business partners. Examples are increasingly exploiting rich third party reference data for the customer (or rather party) domain. Another example is sharing product master data within supply chains. This has the same issues about information governance. Indeed, information governance is going to take place outside the corporate walls in the future.

  • Andrew White says:

    Hi Henrik,

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

    I could not agree more with your point. Master data is everywhere. Some might even think that it is not confidential; though some would argue. After all, a retailer WANTS to have the consumer know about the products they sell…. But what about the customer master – is that really confidential? Just knowing who the customer list….is that really the end of the world? And as you say, information governance is going to take place outside the corporate walls in the future. I mused some time ago that such a shift will require organizations to focus less on truth, and more on trust. When I suggested this to a client, they laughed. The response was “How can I trust my external partners – when I don’t exactly trust my own business unit information!” Let’s see how we get on with that – shall we?