by CIO Staff

The Gathering Storm

Dec 10, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

By Megan Santosus

Shawn O’Rourke is more focused on data management issues than many other CIOs. His organization, Boca Raton, Fla.-based NCCI Holdings Inc., manages a database of workers’ compensation information for a clientele that consists primarily of insurance industry members and state regulatory agencies. The organization provides insurers in 37 states with all sorts of workers’ compensation products and services, including rate recommendations, credit reports and aggregated employee injury statistics. Data is the lifeblood of NCCI’s business, and O’Rourke knows it. He also knows all the dangers and challenges of managing that data. One of these is data overload. It’s not overload on the end user side of things that O’Rourke finds worrisome; it’s data overload on the front end.

NCCI doesn’t have a data overload problem itself. That’s because, as part of a highly regulated industry, all the data NCCI collects is required and therefore has a specific business value. For other companies, however, O’Rourke says that too much of the information they collect has no business value. Thanks to powerful enterprise content management (ECM) systems and inexpensive disk storage, “data collection is becoming easy and very pervasive,” O’Rourke says. “Many times, organizations collect data simply because they can, not because there’s a business need to doing so.” The end result is the information management equivalent of the “remodeler’s syndrome”: Companies can’t resist collecting more and more data, “while they’re at it,” only to contend with runaway costs and an ongoing maintenance headache.

It’s a problem with all too many data collection endeavors; while gathering data and even storing it is fairly cheap and simple, managing it, retrieving it and planning for disaster recovery are expensive propositions, particularly when considering that much of the data has no business-specific need. “In terms of data management, CIOs behave much as they do when they are creating an application,” O’Rourke says. “They are pretty good at getting the specs up front but the ongoing management and maintenance is like an afterthought.”

As O’Rourke sees it, data collection shouldn’t just be thought about on the front end in terms of getting an ECM and forgetting about it. Rather, collecting data is only one step of the data management process and one that should be reevaluated on a regular basis. “Technology has the responsibility to help the business make good decisions,” O’Rourke says. As such, CIOs have to tie data collection into the overall business strategy. Their first step: Think about how much of the data is delivering business value. If there’s too much data that is collected simply because it can be, CIOs should create policies for curtailing both the collection of unnecessary data and the culling of superfluous data out of corporate systems. Then, and only then, should CIOs craft retention and archiving strategies that are appropriate.

The bottom line: CIOs, says O’Rourke, have to look at data management in a holistic, and dynamic way. They need to determine what data their organizations need today, what data their organizations will need tomorrow and continuously revisit those approaches so that they can amend their organization’s data collection and content management practices accordingly.