Information Management

Sarbanes-Oxley's Silver Lining

Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is forcing key decision makers to get their head into the data quality management game.
I won't forget the first time I heard a high-level business executive say something good might actually come out of Sarbanes-Oxley. I was at a small conference in San Diego last August, and gripes about the law's Byzantine complexities were de rigueur among the executives there. Then one of the speakers, the CIO of a prominent apparel retailer, shocked me and everybody else in the room by saying the rigors of Sarbanes-Oxley would inject needed discipline into his company's operational procedures.

The more time passes, the more I think that CIO might have been on to something. When it comes to data-quality management, at least, it seems a lot of CEOs and CFOs are coming to understand that data entry mistakes, incompatible data formats and inconsistent data gathering are killing the value they want from their IT initiatives.

I'd like to say it's enlightenment about the power of BI that has opened their eyes. Truth be told, it's probably more the fear of going to jail for getting Sarbanes-Oxley compliance wrong. Regardless, that apparel CIO is looking more prescient every day. More than ever, strategic decision-makers want to straighten out their enterprise data. One result is that BI is going to become more valuable to businesses by virtue of being more accurate.

It's been said a million times, but it bears repeating: Data analysis is only as good as the quality of the data being analyzed. Up until now, C-level executives have tended to sign off on BI projects and then turn them over to IT with a list of expected business results. But gathering and compiling accurate, consistent data is as much a procedural issue as it is an IT issue, and when business procedures haven't been put in place to ensure that IT has good-quality data to analyze, BI projects go awry. More often than not, the IT department takes the blame.

That might change. Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is forcing key decision makers to get their head into the data quality game more than ever. The smart ones will dedicate people and assets to their companies' data management processes. As data improves, so will the quality of data analysis. Maybe that's what that CIO in San Diego meant by "discipline."