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Data Confidence, Decisions and Guide Dogs

November 18, 2013

For a business person who has struggled to take responsible action based on questionable data, there is something immensely energizing about the arrival of information that is clear, relevant and well founded.  Even if the data brings bad news, the facts themselves provide a level of confidence so that it’s now possible to perform analysis and plot a course of action that can make a difference to the organization.  After a big sigh of relief, there’s excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead.

Since the latest IBM innovations in the area of information integration and governance (IIG) are designed to help business and technical people to build confidence in their data, stories about confidence have been at top of mind in recent weeks.  We’ve heard from a data governance director who is combining data and people from different companies after a merger, and working toward building confidence.  We’ve heard from a chief data officer who is making sure good value is being delivered to end users demanding reliable data during an interim period while longer-term strategies are being put into place.  A master data management strategist has talked with us about his focus on getting trustworthy and usable data delivered to business professionals fast enough to keep up with their escalating demands.

What is data confidence?  I like the definition used by the Oregon Department of Education in conjunction with its Central Operational Data Store: “the process of bringing system-wide data quality up to a sufficiently high level to support high-stakes decisions.”   

It’s that connection between confidence and high-stakes decisions that brings me to the subject of guide dogs.  For most of us, the decision to walk several blocks to the bank or to jump onto a train for a few stops is not a high-stakes decision.  But for someone with serious visual impairment, it may be.

At an event I attended recently, a visually impaired sommelier and a visually impaired musician teamed up for a musical wine-tasting event where they also talked about the impact guide dogs had had on their lives.  It all boiled down to one word: confidence.  With a trusted dog, both individuals were able to overcome obstacles and pursue active, fulfilling lives and careers that otherwise had seemed impossible.  They could proceed without fear because they were getting information (that the coast was clear, that the intersection was safe) that gave them the confidence to leave home, cross the street, take a subway or a bus or a plane, run a race, speak in front of a group.

The stories we hear from business people working with trusted data may lack the human interest of the story of a blind sommelier, but they certainly resonate for the business.  Before taking a big step into a new market, what organization would not want to have confidence in its data?