Satellite Crash Shows CIOs Must Drive Data-Sharing - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
2/14/2009
12:23 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Satellite Crash Shows CIOs Must Drive Data-Sharing

OK, folks, be honest: are you sharing data with customers, partners, and suppliers as aggressively as you should be? How about across divisions within your own company? If that makes you a little queasy, consider this: the recent collision of two space satellites has inspired a top U.S. military officer to urge better data sharing with Russia and China, and France. If our military's willing to go that far, what's holding you back?

OK, folks, be honest: are you sharing data with customers, partners, and suppliers as aggressively as you should be? How about across divisions within your own company? If that makes you a little queasy, consider this: the recent collision of two space satellites has inspired a top U.S. military officer to urge better data sharing with Russia and China, and France. If our military's willing to go that far, what's holding you back?Also, a former Air Force colonel who's advising the firm whose satellite was destroyed in the collision placed the blame squarely on the unwillingness of organizations with common interests -- and common risks -- to communicate more openly and share a deeper and wider range of data.

"There's absolutely no reason for anybody to be withholding data that could have been used to avoid collisions like the one on Tuesday," said retired Air Force Colonel T.F. Kelso in a Reuters report. And because of the unwillingness of government officials to collaborate more effectively with commercial and civilians operators, more accidents are likely to happen, Kelso added.

Does that hit a bit close to home when you consider discussions you've had with suppliers over critical deadlines and when you absolutely positively need to have deliveries; or with partners over when they can realistically expect price changes; or with customers over new service policies and product strategies?

We all used to believe the cliché that "knowledge is power," and in the slow-moving business world of the past the consolidation of that power could be effective because there was far less cross-company interaction and interdependence than there is today. And while the satellite story is centered on 18,000 objects in space swirling around the Earth , the situation isn't so far removed from global supply chains requiring constant synchronization, sourcing, and manufacturing and servicing going on all over the world, and heightened customer expectations that demand credible, timely, and actionable information at all times.

We've all heard the remarkable story about now FedEx founder Fred Smith wrote into his original business plan for the package-delivery company that he could foresee a time not so far in the future when the information about the package would become more important than the package itself. We are now surely well past the time when that became the norm, and there are a couple of strong lessons for all of us to take away from the satellite-crash story: first, it could have been prevented; and second, it could have been prevented through more open and intelligent sharing of data across organizational lines.

"The process is only as good as the data. If we don't all share the best data we have, we're going to have more collisions," said Kelso, who added he had been urging the Air Force for years to adopt use of the computer-based system and disclose fully all its orbital data.

And if your concern is the risk that those other organizations will misuse the data you've chosen to share, just remember that the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is advocating that the U.S. share more data about certain space operations with Russia and China:

"Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the command that runs U.S. military space operations, said on Thursday he would like to see more information-sharing on debris avoidance with Russia, China, France, and other countries using space."

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