The pain of disparate data

What tends to happen, at least to some extent, in most organisations

A typical organisation holds its information in a variety of formats, in a number of different locations. Traditionally different areas within an organisation, or even different people within the same area, will each have their own method for tracking what’s going on. 

They will have their own spreadsheets, databases, lists, Outlook folders, in-house developed tools, whiteboards, filing cabinets, loose bits of paper plus a fair amount of knowledge that they don't have anywhere to put so it stays in their heads. 

Although all the information may be recorded somewhere (some of it duplicated many times), it's an ineffective and costly way to manage information.

What's the effect of this?

Different organisations express different symptoms when it comes to the problems of effectively managing data. These are the ones that we come across most frequently:

Information is hard to find. The information you need to get on with your job should be a few mouse clicks away but when that information is spread out, hours are wasted every week tracking it down.

When you have trouble finding information, it’s very tempting to take a copy. Now you have duplication and the same information being held in multiple places. Inevitably one copy will get out of date.

Key decisions will now be made based on out-of-date information or, if you are unable to find the information in the time you have, incomplete information.

Information needs a context, so it is not only important to be able to record the attributes of an item, but also the relationships it has with other items. However it is not possible to manage the relationships between rows in a database table, cells in a spreadsheet, lists on a whiteboard and a folder in a cupboard.

With either no or incomplete relationships between pieces of information, traceability and impact assessment becomes akin to archaeology.

It is impossible to get a birds-eye view of the organization. What management want is to instantly see the high-level position but instead they have to interrupt the people doing the work. And if that person struggles to find the information then, well... the bar charts may look pretty but Garbage In-Garbage Out.

If a person who looks after a particular bit of information is unavailable then their information often is too.

Spreadsheets and e-mail do not allow themselves to be updated by multiple people at the same time. Additionally they don’t have any validation making sure that only valid data is recorded.

With these tools there is also no record of who changed what, and when.

If you can’t find out who did what the next best thing is to stop people accessing things they shouldn’t. But it’s nearly impossible to apply security in a simple and effective manner.

With information spread about you also risk not having it properly backed up.

In some cases, if you are not physically in the owning area, the data cannot be accessed.

Information stored on whiteboards and pieces of paper is physically restricted to a single location and is very easy to wipe out or lose.

The data cannot be analysed or made to work cohesively.

It will be impossible (or next to - never underestimate the determination of heroic effort) to implement full text searching. Although this does not actually cost you anything it robs you of a fantastic time saving technology (imagine life without Google?).