The Use and Misuse of Information

 
 
By Eileen Feretic  |  Posted 2011-07-28
 
 
 

In today’s well-named “Information Age,” we are totally dependent on data in both our personal and professional lives. No matter what we need or want to know, we can find it by searching the Web, getting an RSS feed, checking the corporate database, logging on to various social networks, emailing or texting a colleague, or—for the more traditional individuals among us—reading a newspaper or magazine. 

That dependency can cause problems, but the difficulty isn’t caused by the information itself. It’s caused by the enormous volume of information that’s available, as well as the ways in which we find, categorize, store, secure, access and disseminate data.

In our cover story, “Riding the Information Wave”, contributing writer Sam Greengard reports on two related technologies—business intelligence and business analytics—that can help resolve some of the problems caused by the massive amounts of structured and unstructured information organizations must manage. With these technologies, enterprises can “substantially boost their return on technology and business investments,” says John Lucker, a principal at Deloitte Consulting.

BI and BA tools pull data from a wide variety of sources, including business applications, corporate databases, financial ledgers and R&D documents, as well as unstructured data from emails, instant messages, podcasts, videos and social networks. This data can then be consolidated, analyzed and pulled into reports to uncover trends and patterns that can help spot business opportunities.

In short, BI and BA systems can turn mounds of unrelated data into targeted, relevant information that can be used to make good business decisions. So why aren’t more companies taking advantage of these tech tools?

One of the problems is that these technologies can be complicated for IT to assemble and less than intuitive for businesspeople to use. But that’s changing as the technology continues to improve and a growing number of executives recognize the value of these tools.

Another data-related problem is not as easy to resolve: the misuse of information. That takes many forms, and it’s often caused by people rather than technology. An obvious example is when employees input inaccurate information into their company’s database, either by mistake or deliberately to get back at their employers. Or they store data in the wrong electronic file. In other situations, data is lost through human or technical error—or a natural disaster—and wasn’t backed up properly.

These problems can be fixed with the right technology and the right policies.

Sadly, there’s another category of information misuse that involves a lack of ethics and supervision. The most recent example is the phone-hacking scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, in which the paper’s reporters invaded the voice mails—and the privacy—of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people.

And the potential for such abuse continues to grow as the volume of information increases at a dramatic rate. In “A Data Governance Primer” , author Jill Dyché writes, “Standard industry intelligence says that corporate data volumes double every 18 months, but mobile and online data are growing at an even faster clip.” 

Clearly, as more individuals gain access to information, there are more chances for that information to be misused. So it behooves business and technology executives to implement policies and technologies to protect their company’s data, which, in turn, will protect their employees, customers, business partners and, in cases like the News of the World scandal, the broader population. 

Jill Dyché also notes that “Data should be owned by the business, which circumscribes its definition, rules, access and usage policies.” That includes providing oversight, managing risks and assessing compliance. She adds that “IT has a role to play as well … in the tactical execution of data governance policies and decisions.” 

It has become obvious that combining information and advanced technologies without providing ethical guidelines and policies for their use is a recipe for disaster. It’s a failure of leadership—of accountability—that goes right to the top of the organization.

So it has to be fixed at the top—now!