Software Can’t Transform Organizations That See Data Merely as a Thing to Be “Managed”

by Brian Timoney

All words are prejudices.


The first problem with Data Management is that it’s called “Data Management.”

In the NFL there is a certain type of quarterback about which the best that can be said is that they are “game managers“. Their talent lies not in a strong arm or pinpoint accuracy but in not fumbling, not throwing interceptions, not taking sacks–in short, they stay within themselves.

These quarterbacks don’t win games for teams; they just try not to lose them.

Not wholly unlike the corporate attitude towards Data Management: don’t be too much of a burdensome cost-center, don’t lose anything too important, don’t get in the way of employees “doing their job”. The most important data (at least what was considered the most important data sometime in the early 1990s when the Sun Sparc workstations were purchased) is coerced into the third normal form relational database, with everything else being dumped into folders on the shared drive.

                                  the Data Management team, hard at work

While billion-dollar companies have sprung up that have data management at their very core–Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn–far too many self-styled ‘real-economy’ firms allow their employees view Data Management as the grown-up equivalent of eating one’s vegetables or cleaning one’s room.  I once witnessed the head of an Engineering Department declare that if anyone wanted his department’s files uploaded to the new 7-figure document management system, they better hire some college kid interns and leave his people alone.

The best-laid schemes of mice and men, etc.

Software’s power and promise is ever on the increase.  But I have yet to see it triumph over an internal corporate culture where workers have been conditioned to see Data Management as someone else’s problem. Big rewards await whomever can figure out how to motivate employees to organize and annotate the work that puts food on their table with the same gusto that they take the unpromising ephemera of their personal life to construct an online “social presence”.

Until then, competitive peril awaits those firms for whom “Data Management” is a separate, named thing, distinct from how they drive profits.



—Brian Timoney