Software // Information Management
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11/7/2011
05:53 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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How To Get One Version Of The Truth

Employees need one data source they can trust. There's a critical first step leaders can take that will show the data's worth having in the first place.

How do you get "one version of the truth"--that one source that everyone in a company agrees is the real, trusted number for some operating data?

Without one version of the truth, people spend a lot of time arguing about whether there's a problem, how big it might be, and whose fault it could be. Notice what's not being discussed: how to solve the problem.

Yet one version of the truth is hard to come by at a lot of companies.

We're not talking about audited, public numbers like revenue and net income. We're talking about operating data, the kind that tells if you have product in stock, fulfilled an order, or met a customer service appointment. With today's growing use of dashboards by large groups of employees, and the focus on managing through key metrics, having one version of the truth is becoming more important.

Jeanne Ross, director of MIT Sloan School’s Center for Information Systems Research, has some elegant advice for how to create one version of the truth: just declare it. Pick the source, and declare that this is now the one version executives and employees will use to make decisions.

Getting to one version of the truth "doesn’t have anything to do with accuracy, it has everything to do with declaring it," Ross said. "Once you tell everyone 'This is our single source,' they work pretty hard to make it more accurate." Ross spoke at last month's TechTomorrow conference in Columbus, Ohio, about how companies can wring more value out of their installed IT to compete in the digital age. Establishing one version of the truth is one key element.

Does Ross's "declare it" approach sound rash? Well, the alternative is that teams spend far too long collecting, cleansing, and perfecting what they think is the right data, all while trying to convince people it's worth their while to embrace this one view--people who might prefer to keep the truth fuzzy, debating the numbers rather than addressing a business problem.

[ Want more on CIO strategies? Read 9 Critical Trends For Innovative IT: InformationWeek 500 . ]

My question for Ross: How do you get started? How do you get through the initial patch when you have weak data without steering the company onto the rocks and losing all credibility? "Be modest," Ross said. Start with an area where you know the limits of the data, admit the limits, while still making clear those are the numbers you're using.

The idea resonates with what I’ve heard from some CIOs.

Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini did something very similar. Passerini's IT team created an executive meeting room with data at its core, with 8-foot-tall screens projecting data that execs use to analyze how the business is doing. The IT team also is giving dashboards to tens of thousands of employees.

But Passerini didn't wait until he had perfectly cleansed data to get this analytics effort started. "We intentionally put the cart before the horse, because it is a way to force change," he said when we named him InformationWeek's 2010 Chief of the Year. If a data point is getting discussed on those screens by the executive team, the pressure grows to acquire that data.

The problem with waiting until the data is perfect to make it the "one source" is that getting the data perfect isn't a business goal. It reeks of data for data's sake. But if people can see how a single source of the truth relates to gaining market share, or not ticking off customers, then they know why it's important. That's a truth they'll find worth seeking.

Read here for more on P&G's tech strategy led by Filippo Passerini.

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schowdary951
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schowdary951,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/23/2011 | 4:31:19 AM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
Chris,
'Versions of truth' is a great topic and a very fundamental issue. It is at the root of all that is bad in our information systems. It can only get worse if the root causes are not addressed. Thank you for initiating this discussion.
Most of these issues were exposed in the IT industry when data warehouses were built. You had to deal with multiple versions of truth and hence the term 'single version of truth' stored in data warehouses. ERP systems were supposed to replace the fragmented systems and multiple sources of truth with a system of record delivering the truth. Unfortunately 16 years later and billions invested in ERP systems we are still addressing the issues of bad data again.

So what options do we have today that will make a difference?
Lets take the operating data examples mentioned by Chris, such as product in stock and order fulfillment. Products are typically manufactured at some location, shipped to another location and sold at another location hence the complexity of knowing what is where with accuracy. This simple supply chain and the supporting information chain is full of versions of truth. With globalization it has become worse and will continue to get worse. If we couldnG«÷t address this issue in the US for so many years, trying to impose existing dysfunctional processes and systems globally will not solve the problem.

Jeanne RossG«÷s suggestion to G«ˇjust declare itG«÷ works in exposing the issue and usually focuses attention in a monthly Operations Meeting once or twice and the decision makers move on to the next problem. The can of worms it opens up are just too big to stomach (ERP changes, IT resources, time to implement, cost of change, shifting priorities,G«™) and no systemic change takes place. It is time to think different. G«£If you find yourself in a swamp full of alligators, you can get one alligator at a time or drain the swamp and get all the alligators before they get youG«•. Not good choices. Think outside the constraints.
What if the change can be done without changes to ERP?
What if the changes donG«÷t require IT resources?
What if the time to implement is a day and not months?
What if it costs less than the coffee served in a meeting to try a solution?
What if we can get a new source of clean and accurate data?
Do you think this is possible today?

Subhash Chowdary, CEO Aankhen Inc.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/22/2011 | 3:59:24 PM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
This article also ran in the print issue of InformationWeek, and I got this response in email from a reader, Dennis:

Jeanne RossG«÷s commentG«™ G«ˇGetting to one version of the truth G«£doesnG«÷t have anything to do with accuracy, it has everything to do with declaring it,G«• is most interesting.

I always thought that the definition of truth had to do with absolutes, at least that is what I find when performing a basic search of several dictionaries. In fact, the common definitions of truth according to those sources is based on accuracy not on postulating, which is as I understand itG«™ G«£assumingG«• something is true without proof.

I can agree that G«£getting to one version of a postulate doesnG«÷t have anything to do with accuracy.G«•

Hmmm. Would I rather be operated on by a surgeon that assumes what he/she is doing or a surgeon that knows what he/she is doing?

I certainly agree with identifying a source of information as a target, if you will, to focus efforts on the process of improvement. During the process of improvement, the target data should be tested though for accuracy. If the target data does not accurately represent the process, the target data should be re-evaluated for usefulness. Perhaps another data source will be identified during the improvement process that better represents what is attempting to be accomplished.

Best regards,

Dennis
Jeff Tyzzer
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Jeff Tyzzer,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/17/2011 | 9:07:24 PM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
Thank you for this article, Chris. While I'm often dubious as to the validity (or even existence) of a "single," canonical truth (and I don't mean metaphysically), I certainly realize its practical necessity and can appreciate Ms. Ross's "cut the Gordian-knot" approach. Surely between its Center for Information Systems Research and its IQ program at the Center for Technology, Policy, and Industrial Development, MIT's bona fides are well established in this area. I also really appreciate your remark regarding waiting for perfect data. It's chimerical, and as Voltaire said, "the perfect is the enemy of the good."
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/14/2011 | 2:54:54 AM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
That's a great example of people working to make a data source accurate because it's essential. Joemail's point above is true enough -- you have to know the limits of the data you're using, including whether it's being distorted. But the point i'd reiterate is you can't wait until the data's perfectly validated to plow ahead, and to declare your source of the truth. If you wait for that, people will just wait it out to see if this is just the "data flavor of the month."
rcoffield64
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rcoffield64,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2011 | 4:20:07 AM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
One of the most important parts is to make people responsible for the data they enter, or fail to enter, or fail to update. At one department I worked with, I was surprised by how many project managers reported that they were too busy running their projects to update critical information in a dept wide database. Telling the project managers to update the information for the good of the organization (and their careers) did no good. Then the department got a new Dept Head.

Being new to the organization, the New Dept Head, started using reports from the dept wide database. When she asked why the reports did not reflected the new contract award dates by her Division Managers cited, we suggested that new dates were being passed up the organization by word of mouth. But, project managers were not updating the information about their projects in the dept wide project database.

The new Dept Head informed her Division Managers, she was going to print out the "Scheduled Contract Award Date" Report for their Divisions before their individual weekly meeting with her. And they discovered, she wanted any discrepanies in award dates cleared up before she met with her manager or other people outside the department who had even "limited" access to the department's project database.

Big Surprise, within a couple months all of the scheduled projects award in the database were being reviewed and updated regularly. People inside and outside the department were using the "award dates" in the database instead of calling around the department to get an answer.

When people are accountable things happen.
dchasselshp5
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dchasselshp5,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2011 | 9:53:05 AM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
Hi Chris
So my first post did not pass scrutiny? Take out the link it is subsidiary to the real issue. People are the source of all information and capture must start here to get on version of the truth. There should be no need for duplication with a system that supports people at work handling their mission critical data that is then passed on as required. It is simple and effective and I told a story of how we tackled. The fact we are UK based makes it easy to ignore but such change has to happen. Users are fed up with make do solutions.....with no seeming end to the complexity that vendors love to sell!
ANON1241186373194
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ANON1241186373194,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 7:19:10 PM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
Make sure that your chosen data package has an excellent reporting component. If people cant conveniently extract the data, they will export to Excel, etc. Now you have a rogue data base on your hands which an owner may be inclined to update at the expense of the official data.
dchasselshp5
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dchasselshp5,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 7:09:49 PM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth

This is a very interesting subject and was at the heart of some original thinking as our founder set out over 20 years ago to solve the "IT" problems which included "one version of the truth" "once only entry of information" "update information as it flows across the business" and finally "what do programmers know about business....!"

There are some fundamental business principles to understand
G«ůPeople are the source of all information so capture information as it is created and should not need to be entered more than once
G«ůBusiness logic has never changed since commerce started; indeed business is actually quite G«£simpleG«• if you focus on supporting people at work.
G«ůIdentify the generic task types, human and system, including the user interface that address all business driven issues? Remove need for repeatedly recoding for every function in a business?

So we mapped out every conceivable event in a business to make sure we missed none and that includes recognising the real world of G«£rulesG«•. We then decided to express such task types as data and where able to put into a RDMS. We then added process engine and in effect we created a SOA in a box whereby the process engine orchestrated all required elements such as task type with reference data i.e. people and their roles with historical data and run time data. The G«£workflowG«• was created by links with in built flexibility in insert conditions as required by the desired process.

What we created was a combining front and back office in a micro environment that reflects the way people in business work in relatively small team. This environment resulted in virtual elimination of custom coding, with no code generation or compiling which allows for rapid build and flexibility for future change. Finally we put a graphical front end as the designer build to make it easy for developers and business to follow the build of applications.

The G«£orchestrationG«• continues as the G«£process hubG«• approach is able to call legacy as required and over time duplication can be eliminated and reliance put on the one version of the truth where it was created!

In 2008 Bill Gates called such capability the "holy grail of software". Oracle have publicly described as G«£re-writing the application build rule bookG«•. So why is it not out there G«™G«™ yet? Well it is called the G«£innovators dilemmaG«• and applies to the dominant suppliers "If they adopt or make new products that are simple to implement and easy to use, they will lose their massive streams of services revenue. Their sales models are based on selling big deals. A switch to simplicity will crater their businesses"

So folk it is up to you the end user to become the intelligent buyer and demand what is now possible. See note on that subject! http://bit.ly/nQOAzE

joemail
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joemail,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 6:51:40 PM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
Ross's "declare it" approach doesn't make the declared data more accurate. In fact, it gives those affected by decisions based on the data incentive to bias the data their way in any way they can. This is not the truth. You still have to validate that the data you're using is the truth if that's what you really want.
Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 5:50:18 PM
re: How To Get One Version Of The Truth
Great article, Chris.

Tom LaSusa
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