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Figuring out information stewardship

Aug 09, 20043 mins
Data CenterTelecommunications Industry

I’ve been doing a lot of work these days on the topic of “information stewardship.” Essentially, this is the discipline of ensuring that a company’s data is:

• Accurate and as complete as possible.

• Appropriately secured, with access granted only to appropriate parties.

• Auditable and compliant with pertinent privacy and disclosure guidelines.

• Stored on the most appropriate and effective storage mechanisms.

• Reliably backed up and available in the event of a failure.

The formal equation expressed here is that information stewardship equals data quality management plus information protection plus compliance plus information life-cycle management plus disaster-recovery/business-continuity planning (that is: IS = DQM + IP + C + ILM + DR/BCP).

In some large organizations, information stewardship is the single biggest issue. For companies that have grown through mergers and acquisitions, or are consolidating data centers, implementing effective information stewardship is mind-bogglingly challenging. “How do recognize that I see a customer in 15 different databases in 10 or 12 ways?” asks the CTO of a multibillion-dollar health services organization.

The stakes have never been higher. Regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Gramm-Leach-Bliley and Sarbanes-Oxley mandate information accuracy and privacy, with stiff penalties for non-compliance. Moreover, the cost and overhead of poor information stewardship is equally steep: Critical data that’s necessary to manage an organization’s day-to-day operations is missing, inaccurate or corrupt.

Much of this isn’t exactly news – IT executives doubtlessly have wrestled with information stewardship issues since the days of the ENIAC. What’s new, though, is the degree to which the challenges of information stewardship, and many emerging telecom technologies intersect.

For starters, telecom companies are among the companies facing acute information stewardship challenges. For many telcos, simply finding out what information resides in which database is a significant challenge. Additionally, telcos such as MCI that were formed from the merger of dozens of smaller companies have customer data distributed among dozens of incompatible databases. (That’s one reason your phone company can’t get your bill correct.) Phone companies are therefore among the most sophisticated consumers of data quality management, which as noted is a key component of information stewardship.

Even more intriguingly, telecom is a critical element that enables other aspects of information stewardship. Information is increasingly stored (at least in part) offsite, which means that providing an effective, secure, reliable circuit to that stored information is critical.

Most telcos are just beginning to understand both the issues and the roles their services can play. In the late 1990s there was a boomlet of “online storage” as companies such as Giant Loop envisioned that companies soon would begin storing their data “in the cloud.” A small problem was that most companies understandably don’t want to park critical data with a telco that can’t even create accurate bills. As a result, the services failed, which many interpreted to mean that telcos had no information stewardship role.

That perspective’s equally shortsighted: Networking is a critical component of the information stewardship equation. To see how, stay tuned.