Beyond the Crystal Ball

Discover why data governance will take best supporting actor in 2014

Program Director, Analytics Platform Marketing, IBM

This column is not the place for crystal ball–gazing and forecasting industry trends. There are already plenty of noteworthy predictions about trends for 2014 and beyond. But now is a good time to consider some of those predictions and assess what they mean for data governance. Do the prognostications suggest that this year will be the one in which governance takes center stage? Will data governance disappear from the cast of the 2014 drama? Or will it have an important (if less visible) role to play?

Here’s one prediction: the spotlight will not be on data governance in 2014. Other technology players will capture the leading roles that will get much of the attention and imagination of the analysts as well as business and technology leaders. But data governance will be a supporting actor without whose presence the entire performance might fall flat.

The data governance casting call

Predictions for 2014 tend to center around trends such as mobile, cloud computing, social media, big data, and anything that offers speed, simplicity, scale, and smarts—the four s terms that could in fact define the year. But as speed increases, as data grows, as computing becomes pervasively mobile, and as more of the action than ever before takes place beyond the controlled corporate stage and in the cloud, other s terms come to mind too. Is the information safe and secure? Can organizations be sure the data is correct and current, or at least suitable enough for its intended purpose? Safety, security, and suitability as well as confidence—these considerations are where data governance can really shine.

For example, in its 2014 outline of top strategic technology trends, Gartner, Inc. analysts comment on “The Internet of Everything,” including field equipment, consumer products, services, and assets for all types of industries.1 With different streams of information flowing to and from all these new sources and targets, assessing confidence in the data and putting it to uses that align well with their confidence level will be important for organizations. Enter information governance, stage left.

Another item in Gartner’s top-ten list is “Hybrid Cloud and IT as Service Broker,” with personal clouds and external private clouds brought together to compose new services. Where’s the data integration in that trend? Not at center stage. But an example of an early hybrid cloud service is integration of data between private and public cloud environments—with a clear requirement for information governance that is appropriate to the application. In all likelihood, early applications will be relatively safe choices, with lightweight governance requirements. But with success, these hybrid scenarios are likely to breed new ones, increasing the level of confidence required in the data, and thus the level of governance.

A preview of education and retail attractions

Sustainability is another s term that comes to mind for data governance. Governance isn’t a once-and-done activity. It’s an approach that needs to be sustained over time. And the returns increase as data governance becomes baked into business processes, not just in the coming year but also across a broad planning and execution horizon.

The IBM 5 in 5—a set of highly engaging predictions from IBM Research focused on innovations that will change lives over the next five years—provides a long-range view that continues to rely on data as a foundation for change. And it goes almost without saying—though I’ll say it anyway—that foundational data has value when it is data worthy of confidence.

For example, Katharine Frase, vice president and chief technology officer (CTO), IBM Public Sector, foresees a classroom that adapts to the skills, goals, and learning styles of individual students, so that they learn more easily than in the traditional classroom. What factors will make that personalized experience possible? Certainly mobile devices help; they enable students to learn anywhere. Another key factor will be cloud-based systems for collecting and analyzing data about teaching and learning, at both a global and an individual level. If that data becomes the basis for future learning, then the data itself is critical.2 Is that data current, consistent, and accurate? Are its origins and lineage well understood? Is personal information protected from unauthorized use? And is the data secure? Data governance technologies and processes are important for helping ensure a “yes” answer to those questions.

Sima Nadler, IBM Worldwide Research lead for retail and commerce, envisions a future in which the trend from brick-and-mortar to online retail swings back in the other direction, providing a local shopping experience with an advanced level of personalization. Retail associates armed with sales histories, product reviews, customer loyalty data, and more help shoppers in new ways. But what about the data? How will it be integrated across multiple sources, validated for quality, and kept fresh and secure? How will a trusted, 360-degree view of the customer be created from disparate data across the enterprise and across the Internet? Again, data governance plays the critical supporting role in these areas.

Beyond these examples, of course, lies the pervasive and growing requirement for analysis of all sorts of data, to support innovation and smart ongoing operations. What is the basis for sound analysis? Thorough, well-governed data that is high in quality and security, whose lineage is well understood, and whose lifecycle is defined and managed forms the basis for comprehensive analysis and meaningful results.

Behind the scenes

Data analysts, data stewards, chief data officers (CDOs), and others with a mandate to own good data for their organizations may not see their names in lights on the marquee of 2014 coming attractions. But if mobile, cloud, big data, smart machines, and personalization take the spotlight, data governance will need to be there on stage, making sure the show goes on.

What hot projects in 2014 do you expect to drive the need for information governance? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

1Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2014,” Gartner Newsroom, October, 2013.
IBM’s 5 in 5: In the Future, Computers Will Learn,” by Steve Hamm, Building a Smarter Planet – A Smarter Planet Blog, December, 2013.

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