If you know someone who could benefit from an introduction to data, School of Data is a great place to send them. The School has free modules written by knowledgeable folks, designed to be understandable by anybody. School of Data
If you know someone who could benefit from an introduction to data, School of Data is a great place to send them. The School has free modules written by knowledgeable folks, designed to be understandable by anybody. School of Data
Whether you're in commercial business, government or the not-for-profit sector, the need for transparency is the biggest outcome from the 2008 crash. There's general acceptance that, in order to avoid being blindsided by massive, unexpected risks, we've got to have clear and up-to-date knowledge of all the data we're dealing with.
Here, good management instincts are in line with the principle of accountability. You can't manage without trustworthy information. And trustworthy has to mean, in part, accessible. The work of standards is usually presented as saving money and promoting collaboration – and that's right. Absolutely. But data standards are also inseparable from the ideal of transparency.
Frankly, without standards, no transparency. Because without standards, you can't understand what you're looking at without the help of some interpreter. Without standards, you can't compare information from different sources.
What's new, I believe, is the growing appreciation that what used to be seen as specialist concerns of technology people inside large organizations – well, these concerns are now seen as belonging to us all. The realization that information is a business issue has made great headway inside companies. Now people are realizing that information is a civic issue too. FEDTECH
There's a new data standard for the private equity sector called Group One. It comes as an XML schema with some 800 items including capital accounts, schedules of investments and cashflow activity. The standard replaces a set of guidelines for information exchange.
Why now? According to Stuart Keeler, vice-president at the AltExchange Alliance which manages Group One, the industry is very diverse and wasn't able to adopt pre-existing standards. With new regulations coming up, and increasing demands for transparency, it made sense to invest in creating and adopting standards now.
I believe there's a tipping point where the cost of maintaining needless complexity gives way to the clear need for a collaborative standard. That's what happened here – but it's interesting to see that regulation and transparency play additional roles. It can be easier to move to standards when there are external drivers as well as the internal logic to pay attention to. WatersTechnology
Standards are good for you. So is brushing your teeth, getting a good night's sleep, being polite to your neighbors, and keeping your eyes on the road. No matter how obvious a good practice is, people need to be sold on the idea. It's not because they're dumb, or rebellious, or lazy. It's because there's always something more immediately gratifying that they'd prefer to do.
And, all other things equal, telling anyone to do something is a sure way to get their back up. Perversely, the more right they know you are, the more they'll resent being told.
So even the most self-evident change in practice has to be sold to the people involved. The case for standards writes itself, but it still needs to be repeated. Even with the toughest governance processes in place, the rationale of standards needs to be reinforced or non-standard practices will sneak into the organization – with all the attendant costs, complexity and all-round heartache.
Ben Woo takes exception to a Gartner analyst saying that Big Data is now in the “Trough of Disillusionment”. The nub of his argument is that where you are on the hype curve depends on how the hype curve plays out in your domain.
I think the hype curve is an interesting idea, but it's intended to remind us about the psychology of change, rather than necessarily guiding our investment choices. Also, the trough of disillusionment on one hype curve may create an opportunity for interest in another innovation. We need to remember that hype is about inflating expectations, and allow for both boosterism and disappointment in our technology decisions. Neuralytics
“Haven’t heard of Audit Data Standards? It’s not surprising; it is a relatively new idea developed by the AICPA’s Assurance Services Executive Committee’s Emerging Assurance Technologies Task Force (try and say that three times fast).”
There's your first problem, guys! I say this with affection. Better just to say “AICPA’s Audit Data Standards”. Annex yourselves a little authority. GBQ
Advocates of data standards are nice people. They want what's best for everyone they work with and for. Their message about standards is sometimes passionately made, but its essence is a sober one of business benefits. And we're talking about benefits that quickly become self-evident.
So I'm interested to learn the FDA is telling the pharma industry that if they don't use the standard data formats for drug studies, they won't get approval for their drugs. This is the stick, not the carrot. Is it a good approach? It's blunt. Frankly, the FDA have the power, so they can use it. But would they really deny Americans an effective medication just because of an apparently technical issue?
This is important. The FDA's stance demonstrates that data standards are not just a “technical issue”. If a company's submitted data does not conform with the standard, it can't be correctly evaluated. Without the standard, the science falls apart. Without the standard, the agency can't fulfil its mandate. The standard has a pivotal role in the approval process. It could really be a matter of life and death.
The FDA's approval power is rarely encountered in business, where the penalties for failing to use standards come from a more diffuse source – the market. In business, if we fail to use standards, we're punished by partners and abandoned by customers. Our productivity suffers and our operational costs are higher than those of our competitors. We're locked out of new opportunities.
Those of us in business can't look to an authority figure like the FDA to impose best practice. It's our responsibility to see the consequences of non-use of standards. Study Data Formats
Sounds like a long wait for an upgrade, right? Wrong. You may want your anti-virus software to be updating every few days, but standards are only updated as and when they need to be. The stability of UBL over these seven years is a mark of success.
UBL is an XML standard for objects like invoices and purchase orders. Danish public sector organizations have been using it for invoicing since 2005, continuing to save 100m euros in labor costs every year. UBL has a lot of traction in Europe and has also spawned the e-freight standard, which is getting global attention.
We hear less about XML these days because it's become part of the business background. Good standards do good work – unnoticed, uncelebrated – saving time and money year after year. OASIS
Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen notices that many business applications lack fields for social identities. In other words, they can't capture details like Twitter handles. This is a replay of the old problem that arose when people started to have business and home phones, and then cellphones, and then Skype names, and so on.
The growth in social identities demonstrates that data standards must always develop to keep in line with business demands. We can't restrict this kind of data growth, and we can't benefit from it unless we cater for it structurally. Year 2000
The talk about organizations appointing Chief Data Officers (CDOs) might suggest people are taking data and its exploitation more seriously these days. And they are. But there's a long way to go, and a few symbolic appointments will not do the trick.
Looking at myths about big data, Rachel Clinton at Smart Vision Europe picks out a salient point: “Gartner research based on case studies of hundreds of companies estimates that in 2016 85% of fortune 500 companies will still not be able to exploit big data for competitive advantage.” That's a stunning conclusion, given all the coverage big data has had over the last several years. Predictions aren't the same as fate. It's possible to use a prediction as a wake-up call.
Think of the millenium bug: some people say it was all hype, because the world didn't come to an end. But the disaster didn't happen because people took heed of the warning, and fixed their systems. Successful data exploitation isn't in the gift of a CDO. It won't be provided by some silver bullet system. It's going to take the combined efforts of everyone in the business. This is the knowledge era. We're in a knowledge economy. This means there's a knowledge dimension to every activity we undertake. In turn, this means everyone in the enterprise has responsibility for data – its meaning, quality, and usability. Myths About Big Data
One of the major problems is the proliferation of user identities. Getting a “single view of the employee” across all the applications they use and the assets which have been issues to the is a real headache. Also, it's hard to make sure their access to applications is revoked and devices are reclaimed or wiped when they leave the organization.
Kurt Johnson has the insight that while this effect may be being caused by the growth of data, it can also be managed with big data techniques. Organizations need to use analytics to study identity activity in real time.
The people we used to call “users” – ie humanity – are now inside the system. They are actors within the information flow of the business. Data standards need to cover people, their roles and their relationships to each other and every relevant element of the business. Should this perspective develop from Security or HR? I believe it's a strategic issue which ought to be addressed by your information governance function. Taming Identity Data
Blogger Marco Mirandola has a fun way of pointing out that you don't need to use much of a standard to get benefits from it. He says that as a kid at the beach in Italy, he used to watch young Italian men managing to engage with female German tourists “with just few words of German, and frankly even poorly pronounced”
The 80/20 rule has a strong effect in the standards world. There are truly great benefits to be gained just by using the core elements of a widely used standard. And increasingly, using the core common vocabulary of the industry you're in is the only meaningful way to start participating. Standards
Here's something to ponder: “[Healthcare industry providers and payers are spending an enormous amount oftime and resources normalizing data and layering on analytics, but no one really knows what they need to know.” Healthcare isn't the only industry looking to analytics for insight and innovation, and the conundrum about not knowing what you need to know affects everyone.
But I think people are beginning to appreciate that great insights are not just going to emerge by themselves from even the biggest, baddest collection of data. We need to be asking questions of our data – even if they're not the right questions from the get-go.
This is the objective, a scientific approach. Astronomers don't just measure a load of star light and then expect the data to mold itself into truths about the universe. They come up with theories, and test them against the data.
That's what businesses need to do. If you're working with, say, health data, then first you need a data standard which ensures you're analyzing the data properly – comparing apples with apples. Then you need to frame some theories. Off the top of my head: If the Emergency Room is busy on a Friday night, it will be quiet on a Monday morning. This is based on the assumption that some percentage of accidents is related to the onset of the weekend. We could chew through the data and find the theory isn't true in one hospital – perhaps because Monday morning is short-staffed or people have realized you can't get seen at the weekend, so they wait for Monday.
That's not an exciting example – but it could be part of a chain of investigation and process redesign that eventually saves lives. It could easily be a dumb question, or a question that doesn't give as high a return as some other question. But how long does it take to frame and process such questions? Literally, seconds. Let's not wait around for lightning to strike. Let's standardize the data, and start the queries. HDM
Identifying stakeholders is usually mentioned as an important part of any change program, or any project that impacts a diverse range of people. Standards come under both these descriptions. Implementing standards is about improving the way work is done and enabling people or organizations to work together. So stakeholder identification must be an important priority.
Except, I submit, everybody is potentially a standards stakeholder. User groups for standards are almost by definition large. Standards also encourage the growth of the population using them. This means standards movements have to include very large numbers of people.
Is this possible? In order to make standards development practical, we tend to use a kind of representative democracy. We draft interested experts from across the domain to bring their knowledge, champion their colleagues, and constructively critique each other's viewpoints. When it comes to standards deployment, we often have to recruit a new set of representatives or at least augment the current representatives with additional leaders.
We therefore have two sets of stakeholders: Those who are invested in the creation of a good, robust set of standards, and those that realize the undoubted benefits for standards. Ultimately both groups are motivated by the impulses that standards users will share: The desire to make life better, save money, grow the business, and compete.
My friend, Celent's Jamie Bisker suggests that incremental process improvement in insurance is reaching the land of diminishing returns. He sees the future as lying in individualization, and grouping for risk management rather than sales or functional reasons.
I'm not sure that process improvement will ever end. We go through phases of development where we think we've almost reached the high point of what is humanly (or technologically) possible. These periods always turn out to be short – terminated by new challenges, new opportunities and new ways of seeing the world. He writes an engaging piece. take a look.
The action in data exploitation today is in communities. Groups of people getting together to progress their common aims are the real innovators of our growing digital economy. And, overwhelmingly, the major activity of such communities is to establish data standards so they can share information, collaborate effectively and build the capability of their interest area.
The ACORD community embarked on this journey a long time ago, and has continued to create, maintain and promote standards so that everyone in the community benefits. We have used whatever technology has been available to us. Our focus has always been on communicating and working together. The motivation comes from the inherently collaborative nature of the insurance industry. Insurance is the original network business.
Communities of interest have always existed. But members couldn't always find each other. Today's – and tomorrow's – technologies make it easier for people to discover each other and prepare to collaborate. Then the real progress comes from the standards they adopt.
RFID tags and readers are built with common technical data standards. This means you can use equipment and tags from any supplier. People in the supply chain business are urging greater use of business data standards on top of these technical standards. What does this mean?
It's the difference between everybody in your business speaking a common language, like English, and them using a common business vocabulary. If people didn't know what an “invoice” was, or had different names for it, there would be confusion. Also, if invoices contained different data items according to who produced them, then you would need to query every single one.
Organizations have been standardizing their working languages since time began. Business data standards are the contemporary form of this phenomenon.
So, companies in the automotive industry tend to use standard sized cartons for shifting parts. These are called totes, or bulk boxes, or even gaylords (after the company that first manufactured them). Totes now usually have RFID tags. But the data on those tags doesn't follow a common business standard. Your reader will be able to read the tag, but you'll then need to interpret the data.
Currently, receiving an alien tote is helped by RFID in that the reader can do a simple count without having to understand the data. Life would be even easier if the tote could tell the receiver what it contains.
Here's the path data standardization typically takes. First, you get one or two innovators who introduce a new system based around a new type of data. Next, a competitive market develops. Then suppliers and customers alike realize their costs will be lower, and their services potentially better, if they use a common standard for the data.
This is currently happening in crash telemetry. OnStar led the field in systems that notify emergency services in the case of a crash. Other manufacturers introduced their own systems. As the systems became mainstream, costs for responders increased because they had to interface with different formats. Costs for manufacturers were high because they had to maintain their own formats. Meanwhile customers found it hard to compare systems.
Now there's VEDS, the Vehicular Emergency Data Set. It's XML for data about collisions. This standard is produced by the industry, for the industry. It will benefit everyone.
The auto industry has responded in good time to the need for standardization. It's unrealistic to ask every innovator to propose an industry standard when they first launch. That would restrict their own room for maneuver and constrain the evolution of the new industry.
But it's equally unrealistic to expect an industry to persist without common standards. Fragmentation leads to friction. Customer confusion. Lost sales. Partner liquidations. The slow death spiral of the whole sector.
With standards, innovations have the chance to stick and grow. Collision Notification
Bill Smith passed away last week. He was one of the founders of ACORD in California when he worked as CIO of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Companies. In fact, he was the first volunteer Executive Director overseeing the original staff. The picture of Bill (center) is with with Paul, the Chair of the ACORD Committee in the California Independent Agents & Brokers Association.
Bill called me on a regular basis to get an update. He was amazed at how the original idea for ACORD has gone so global. He was an amazing fellow and has been an inspiration for all of us who knew him.
At the reception following the service, Paul and I met Bob Wheeler. Bob was VP at FFIC and worked for Bill. He later went to Crum & Forster. He is now retired.
When you hear “standards” and “requirements” in the same sentence, it's usually because people are discussing what they require of standards. But this is to get things backwards. We need to talk about standardization requirements. Standards are an answer, and business poses the question. The idea is to query where we are performing common activities in different ways, or translating data about common concepts between different formats and/or languages. Where there is a needless process difference or an unnecessary data mismatch, you have a standardization requirement.
This way of looking at standards is somewhat embedded in the management of military complexity. The US Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms even defines a dependent “standardization objective”: “Within NATO, a precise statement of objectives to be achieved within a standardization requirement.”
In business, standardization requirements and their associated objectives can often be articulated via a single, plain English objective. For example: “Choices about technical, data, and process standardization strongly influence IT architecture design. MetLife's IT principles specify the need for a common customer view - a data standardization requirement. In addition, MetLife wants to ensure information integrity; use industry standards; and reuse before buy, buy before build.” (IT Governance: How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights for Superior Results, by Peter Weill and Jeanne W. Ross, Harvard Business School Press, 2004)
Problem: We can't understand our customers because the data is distributed, incompatible, probably incomplete, and indeterminately interrelated. Requirement: We need a common customer view. Solution: Industry data standards.
Notice how the language gets simpler as you move along this chain of reasoning. Stating the problem is fuzzy, clunky and long-winded. (And the problem statement above has already been much simplified.) The requirement statement is coherent and compelling. And the solution is obvious.
An old objection to using standards is that standards supposedly slow development. People have to get their heads around the standards, choose how to use them, and manage their implementation. That sounds like delay. It's natural for people to want to see results – fast.
This fallacy has been around for all time. It's the origin of a load of boring proverbs like “look before you leap” and “a stitch in time saves nine”. You might have the best intentions when you rush into something, but you can still get bitten badly.
Using standards will add a certain amount of labor to the front end of a project. But it will save much, much more labor farther along the line. It's exactly the same principle as getting the right tools before you start a job. By improvising, you get started quicker. But you end up doing a worse job that takes longer, and you probably injure yourself or others along the way.
IT is a profession. Professionals use the right tools, methods, and processes for the job in hand. Professionals educate clients to appreciate why they do what they do. Professionals walk away from projects that don't recognize the professional viewpoint and the benefits it is designed to deliver. Every profession exists to protect its clients first, its members second. That's right – because without clients, there's no profession.
Business technology without standards is cowboy work. Clients must not tolerate systems that don't adhere to relevant standards. IT professionals must continue to educate their markets about the value of standards – the value to clients.
Some people are suspicious of standards because they think standards are opposed to creativity. With this mindset, if you're using something you didn't make yourself, then you're not being creative. The error here is thinking that standards are a product, when they're actually a tool. You wouldn't make your own chisel, or your own paintbrush. That doesn't stop you being creative with those tools.
Sure, there are companies that make chisels and paintbrushes, and from their point of view tools are products. When the user is shopping for tools, they're comparing products. But the product status vanishes the moment you put the tool to work.
When you meet this mindset, get the person to consider whether Picasso was any less creative for using brushes somebody else made. For that matter, ask them if using Legos stifles the creativity of kids. Pablo would probably have produced some pretty weird brushes and missed his appointment with fame.
Standards are tools. They are the right tool for the job – the job of growing a business, connecting with customers, collaborating with partners, complying with regulators, saving money.
Technology assists knowledge work, but it doesn't replace it. Denis Smith, a VP and executive adjuster at Cunningham Lindsey in Vancouver, says this: “without understanding doctrines of proximate cause, proper policy interpretation/application plus strong people and communication skills, you just don't get there.” Which is to say, you've got to understand the information you're dealing with, and use it purposefully in real life.
Barry Zalma hits the nail on the head in the same article: “Technologically, the adjuster should be able to type using all ten fingers, understand and use effectively the insurer's computerized log system; understand how to estimate—using computer programs—the cost to repair buildings and vehicles; and most importantly how to read and interpret an insurance policy.”
Technology means “tools”. The fanciest power tool in the world won't make you an accomplished handyperson. Yes, you need to know how to use it. But you also need to know what to use it for, when, and why.
The common term in the two quotes is interpretation. Systems don't do interpretation. I don't know if artificial intelligence will ever do interpretation. AI still seems stuck at inference. So, our tools keep getting better, but we still need people with brains to exploit their power.
“FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological
Health (CDRH) encourages manufacturers to use data
and terminology standards in pre-market submissions and post-market reports
for medical devices, explaining how product review occurs more quickly when
manufacturers use the CDRH published standards. Standardized electronic
applications have increased data quality and timeliness and contributed to
reductions in total CDRH review time and approval backlogs.”
Yes, standards are the grease that speeds up business of all kinds. Standards eliminate ambiguity. Standards enable comparison. Standards facilitate decisions. Government CIO
First is the “army of volunteers”. To build a robust, credible standard, you need to tap the expertise of people across the domain. ACORD standards for example, are created by the industry, for the industry. In the mortgage world, the equivalent standard comes from MISMO (Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization).
Second, you need a core group of industry players who decide to take the standard and run with it. In the mortgage world, this happened with the Uniform Mortgage Data Program (UMDP), when “FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac decided that it was their mission to standardize data transfers among the primary markets and the GSEs [government-sponsored enterprises]”. In insurance, the most recent example of such leadership has been the Ruschlikon project.
Success with standards won’t follow from regulatory fiat. Nor will it be supplier-led. Authorities and vendors can encourage and facilitate standards adoption, but they can’t lead. It’s got to be an alliance between the domain experts – the people who know the persistent pain points in the business, and the top business management – the people who are responsible for securing a prosperous future for the stakeholders in the sector. Mortgage
“Home | Find a standard | Discuss | Learn |
This is infostandards.org, a site set up by
the British health and social care community. And it's full of standards –
standards people can use right now. It's great to see different agencies
collaborating like this, and reinforcing the message that standards are key to
creating better care. There's plenty of talk about collaboration in standards,
but here's the proof. Infostandars NHS Website
There have been two similar stories about the misrecording of data in hospitals in Australia and England. It’s a coincidence, and it doesn’t mean hospitals are worse than other organizations at recording accurate data. Health systems are under intense scrutiny around the world, so mistakes like this tend to come out.
How many businesses are knowingly falsifying data in order to meet targets? Just as worrying, how many business are unknowingly fouling up their data because they have no data standards?
The world runs on information. That information had better be right. Decisions depend on it. Sometimes lives depend on it.
We need two levels of basic governance for data. The first is data standards; that is, agreed meanings and formats for the entities of interest to the business. The second is data quality standards. This is more about practice than structures. Business leaders need to impress on people that getting the data right is critical to the performance of the organization. And those who set KPIs and incentive targets need to audit for data accuracy, and impose sanctions for people who try to falsify corporate information. Knowingly entering incorrect data is akin to fraud. Don’t stand for it. Perth Now
The UK government had big plans for open
data. After lots of activity, they appear to have come up with a pretty
underwhelming plan: They'll use UTF-8 as a coding standard, and (wait for it)
“there should be a single method of describing data items across government”.
This is the somewhat bitter analysis of
Computer Weekly's Mark Ballard. His colorful report includes chewy lines like
this: “Britain's legendary bureaucratic machine consumed the coalition
government's open standards policy like a boa constrictor would consume a
child: one languorous gulp at a time.” And damning conclusions like this:
“Other governments and public authorities around the world have opted for open
formats without such a fruitless and prolonged rigmarole. The Cabinet Office
has effectively given up on software standards. It has been cowed by the
industry forces it puffed itself up to oppose.”
Strong stuff. The details in Ballard's
article will create a strong sense of deja vu in anyone who has tried to
promote the adoption of standards in a complex organization that lacks a real
vision about information. What's missing here is a strong articulation of why
government needs to make its data open.
I think there are at least two approaches to this issue. The first is that taxpayers have a right to inspect and critique the activities of the government. The second is that open data is a potential source of valuable information and driver of innovation. Both of these beliefs need to be present, and held with conviction and urgency.Computer Weekly
What is the business case for standards?
It's every implementation of standards. It's the project that used an existing
standard to cut weeks off its development schedule, and years off its
It's the connection you made with a customer who wanted to trade with you electronically – using the same procedures they were using with their other partners. It's the product you shipped on time because you didn't have to invent the tooling. It's the profit you made by being able to analyze data fast and accurately, so you could make the right decision at the right time. The business case for standards isn't some abstract formula. It's countless instances of recurring, solid benefits.
Here's why. Any item of data has value because it answers a question. Data that doesn't answer a question in not data, it's noise. If you can run your business without answering any questions, then your data has no value, and you are very lucky. Otherwise, you could say that the value of your data is equal to the value of your business. Looking for any valuation in between these extremes is pointless.
According to Brent Johnson of Intermountain Healthcare: “We’re making good progress. A few years ago, we couldn’t even decide on a standard. Now, at least we know what the standard is and we’ve just got to get over the top. But that’s problematic. The problem is, it takes effort. You have to have resources to be able to change or clean up your database.”
Curt Miller at Amerinet GPO agrees: “The reality is it takes time and money. We can decide on a standard. But in most cases, whether you are a provider or supplier, moving to that standard is a significant effort.
First there’s changing your item numbers within your item master in a provider. Well, that item master ties over to your accounting codes and in many cases it ties to your revenue cycle systems as well. And those may require modification in order to make the change work. On the supplier side, it involves changing many of systems – distribution systems, and the relationships with all their partners. I’m not aware of many hospitals or suppliers who have those kinds of resources just waiting for projects. So, teeing it up, timing it correctly and then having the resources available are the key.”
I'm sure you can see how these quotes apply to all kinds of sectors as well as healthcare. It's good to see the resourcing issue aired so clearly. Change does take effort. The effort needed is the investment you need to make for the efficiency savings.
However, I want to see a shift in emphasis. It's time people were asked to make the case for sticking with the old, broken, slow, plagued-with-redundancies, hard-to-maintain, inflexible, inaccessible and incompatible ways of doing things.
Why is it always that we're asked to justify the resources needed to fix our processes so we can save money, be more agile, grow the business and serve our customers better?
Also, I want to point out that the remedial work needed to retro-fit or wrap any systems landscape for a common data standard is a one-time project. You can create a team to perform the necessary steps and then disband it. A third party will be happy to do the work for you, probably using tools and methods they've used elsewhere. And if you don’t embrace standards and do the necessary remedial work, you’re committing to carry unnecessary labor in the organization – in perpetuity. COUPA
Shaw of IDEA, the standards body for the electrical industry, shares a useful
deck of slides from an e-business presentation. It's a different industry than
mine, but her core messages about standards bodies ring true. Answering the
question “Who are we?” she says:
“We are you. We represent you, we are the voice of the industry […] We don't believe 'it's someone else's problem to solve'. We are a family, an industry family [and] we want you to be part of the family too.” IDEA
2004 introduction to healthcare data standards is available as part of the book
Patient Safety: Achieving a New Standard for Care, which you can read online or
download as a PDF. The relevant chapter is number 4, which starts, at page 127,
standards are the principal informatics component necessary for information
flow through the national health information infrastructure. With common
standards, clinical and patient safety systems can share an integrated
information infrastructure whereby data are collected and reused for multiple
purposes to meet more efficiently the broad scope of data collection and
reporting requirements. Common data standards also support effective
assimilation of new knowledge into decision support tools, such as an alert of
a new drug contraindication, and refinements to the care process.”
would serve as a template for a description of the role of data standards in
any sector. Change the healthcare-specific terms to equivalents in your own
domain, and you have the base case for standards.
standards have moved on since 2004, but the role of standards remains the same.
But how many handbooks on the key topics in other industries feature standards
in such a prominent way? If you know of any, let me know.
Meanwhile, the web serves to keep people informed about data standards on a day-to-day basis. Take a look at CommonDataHub (CDH), “the global repository for commonly used data standards such as ISO codes and industry code sets. CDH consolidates data sets from multiple sources, provides additional attributes in some cases, and maps related code sets to provide a complete picture of a subject area”.
about standards for open data, Matthew McClellan neatly sums up the three
biggest benefits to be had from standards. He calls the first one “scale”, by
which he means speed of development, reduced costs and saved labor. The second
is “integration” – the ability to share data inside and across organizations.
his third benefit that makes me sit up. He calls it “serendipity”: “Open data and open standards invite public servants and private
citizens alike to build novel applications on top of government data, leading
to unforeseen insights.”
message is at the heart of the open data movement – but it's strangely muted in
the business world. Why is this? Is it because the idea of gaining insight from
standardized, shared, and aggregated data has been colonized by promoters of
big data and analytics? Maybe the use of these technical-sounding terms – and
their association with vendors and consultants – is inhibiting people in
organizations from championing data-based discovery. If so, that's more than a
beat ourselves up about our track record with innovation, when potential
sources for new ideas, processes, products and services lay buried in our data.
The tools are out there. The data is accessible. With standards, the data is
meaningful. Commerce needs to take a leaf from the open data community's book –
these guys are looking more creative and more entrepreneurial than the
traditional technology shops in many industry sectors.
And don't you love McClellan's use of the word “invite” in that quote? Standards are begging us to raise our game. Data Smart
There’s an illuminating slip of the tongue in this response by Eric Ly, co-founder of LinkedIn, to a question about legacy systems: “Data is good when it’s well linked and you can build upon it, enriching the information around identities over time. There seems to be a view in the events industry that when you look at technology, you’re only considering the next upcoming event that you’re planning.
After the event and before the next one, there is an opportunity to switch vendors if you didn’t like its performance. However, you’ve just made the data issue worse because the information you have doesn’t correlate. The lack of data standards for these tools exasperates this issue.”
You could swap out “event” for “product” and have a good description of the short-sighted error many businesses have traditionally made. “New product = new system” is the kind of thinking that has created the legacy problems we tackle every day.
I like Ly’s use of “exasperates” though he probably meant “exacerbates”. “Exasperates” gets across the needless frustration caused by short-term decisions that ignore data usability and cause recurring problems down the line. Lack of data standards certainly exacerbates the data problem – and it exasperates business leaders. TECCSOCIETY
Business keeps changing. What remains stable? Business data.
Change keeps changing. What remains stable? Business data.
When you follow standards, you are adopting a pattern derived from the knowledge, experience, and goals of the community. Standards are the tried and true articulation of business data. Whatever changes, this won't.
As the information age progresses, our ability to work with data is becoming more sophisticated. This is not just because we have more sources of data than ever before, greater storage, faster processors, ubiquitous connectivity and so on. It's also because our growing familiarity with data exploitation is generating new ways of thinking about data.
Fifty years ago it was a big deal to print out a phone bill. Today, multichannel customer tracking is becoming the norm. Likewise the ability to generate an accurate graph is no longer big news. The keynote today is on understanding the different business values data can take depending on its context.
I like the language Paul Rowady uses to articulate this new thinking. He talks about the “nutritional value” of data. Which data is potentially valuable information, and which is just noise?
Rowady also uses metaphors from chemistry and physics to explore the value of data. An item of data can have, for example, “catalytic” value because, combined with other data, it produces an important effect – perhaps even an explosion. Then there's the rate at which a data item decays – a great way of bringing attention to the vitality of timeliness in data management. These are vivid metaphors which can help us recognize data as a vital asset, and help us communicate the real importance of excellence in data management. TABB Forum
Four lawmakers writing about the DATA Act in The Hill give a good, non-specialist introduction to the Act and why we should care about it. The key thought is: “Policymakers and taxpayers should be able to quickly answer some basic questions about federal spending, like how much did we spend, and who received our money?”
Alongside the growing movement for open data in general, greater transparency in government will have a beneficial effect in business. I don't mean necessarily that new businesses will arise on the back of new access to data, although this is an exciting possibility. I mean that people's experience of transparent access to government data will lead to increased expectations at work. People will expect better access to data at work, and will not accept excuses for disparate and non-standard data. Also, they will expect the same kind of access from their business partners – with the right kinds of controls, naturally.
Think of how consumer power has spread across traditional business boundaries. If your bank can give you instant information about your transactions, then you expect your power company to do the same. It's no good them complaining they're not a bank – consumers don't see it that way, and why should they?
Think also of how the power of personal computing and then mobile communications has pushed inhouse IT to up its act. It's the consumer experience of always-on computing that's torn down the nine-to-five work regime. Once we can effortlessly see where our trillions of tax dollars are being spent, we'll be able to engage properly with the political process. And once that happens, people will want to see and critique their business data – all of it.
It used to be called “management information”. The implication was that it was special information for people called managers. The future lies in everyone being part of the management. Everyone is a leader. So everyone needs the data. The Hill
For anyone who is still pondering the business case for standards, let me offer an observation. Increasingly, data standards are being incorporated within business cases for projects. That is to say, proposers of projects are improving their investment profile, time to market, and risk curve, by incorporating the use of relevant standards upfront.
The pragmatic argument for standards in general is universally accepted. Do we need to a single number or even a range of numbers for “the” business benefit of standards? The reality is, standards provide lots of benefits, all the time. So perhaps the place to quantify and track these benefits is in individual business cases for real projects.
We need to continue explaining the generic benefits of standards. But we may be better off deferring quantification to the project level. This will, in turn, feed example and aggregate benefit numbers to the generic picture.
Forget looking at tea leaves or the magic 8-ball – Google's auto-complete suggestions might not be a way of figuring out the future, but they might give a hint as to people's concerns for the future. To complete the query “the future of insurance”, Google suggests, in this order:
agents.... is mobile.... brokers.... compliance... regulation and supervision.... broking.... regulation.... agencies.... sales
recent report Insurance 2020 predicts “a quiet revolution” over the next few
years, with plenty of M&A activity but no startling breakthroughs. Google
seems to be gesturing at somewhat more fundamental concerns. PWC
Mick Smothers at Capco summarizes the typical forces that act against standards adoption in the financial sector. He notes the arguments for standards outweigh those against – in fact, "it is self-evident that data standards are crucial to financial organizations – from insurance firms to mortgage companies”.
But: “Firms resist adopting standards due to the costs and time involved in enterprise-wide implementation. Often the push to implement specific standards is not well-aligned with business cycles. Business heads push back and projects are put on hold or even dropped entirely.” The problem here is perceptions. The “costs and time” objection arises from short term thinking and a tendency to confuse investment with cost.
The objection about alignment with business cycles is the good old “yes, but not now” argument. This is a powerful tool of obstruction, because it's very hard for anyone to determine with accuracy exactly which business cycles are relevant, where we are in those cycles, and what we're doing to manage them. The phrase “business cycles” is being used a little like “will of the gods”.
So here's the thing. If a business head doesn't want to think rationally about investing in the self-evident, and is superstitious about making changes that might not somehow align with a bunch of ineffable patterns – then what's the value of this person? Sure, leaders have to take a lead. But we expect them to base their decisions on analysis, not voodoo.
You've got to fight inertia, because inertia is generated by people. It's a product of fearful thinking and avoidance of evidence. CAPCO
An excellent insight piece from Chris Johnson of HSBC explains why Solvency II has serious consequences for data management, not just in the core insurance industry at which the measure's aimed, but also the extended value chains in which carriers sit:
“Insurance firms generally possess the majority of the data required in respect of their liabilities. The data on their assets, however, will be trickier to gather. That is because it usually resides with multiple external parties – with the fund managers to which they may have outsourced the investment management function, with third-party custody and fund administration firms, and with vendors of market and reference data. Insurance companies will therefore have to rely on them to provide this additional data, which will have to meet certain standards and be reported quarterly (and ad hoc if required) within 5 to 10 days of each quarter’s end.”
The asset data challenge has three aspects
– dealing with new data types, ensuring data quality, and creating data
transparency. People have been working hard to meet a January 2014 deadline
which is likely to be put back to 2016. But there's still more than enough to
do. Meeting the requirements of Solvency II isn't a purely inhouse issue. We
need outreach, negotiation, and coordination across the chain. Asset Data Change
“There are many roles which consume the products of Healthcare IT. CIOs need to plan work flows for their organization. Nurses need to ensure quality care for patients. Doctors need to access clinical decision support systems, report to outside agencies, and a myriad of other EHR functions. Provider accounting needs to properly code and manage accounting functions. Insurance companies need to process claims, interface to drugstores, and follow Federal policy. Lab technicians need to receive orders, report and archive the results. Achieving interoperability is based on a complex architectural coordination.
Standards are an important part of the choreography
which enables the dance of interoperability. Agreed upon common reference data
tables in the form of terminologies are crucial for communication between
enterprises. Interoperability is also concerned with the behavioral standards
of separate software systems.”
Hard-nosed, technical language – and in the middle of it, “the choreography which enables the dance of interoperability”. This phrasing perfectly captures the dynamics of complex business interactions. The multi-player activities we see in business need coordination, otherwise you've just got a melee. Standards are the core and foundation of the crucial choreography.
When people start to ask the same questions repeatedly, it's a sign that a community of interest is emerging, and that it needs data standards. Here's an illustration from the open civic data area, courtesy of Kevin Curry:
“The reason that a bunch of cities are talking bike share standards is because a bunch of cities have new bike share systems. More importantly, people have practical questions they want answered. Which stations are malfunctioning? What is the up/down time? When and where is the most usage? How does my city compare with other cities (like mine)? The reason inspection data — like the health of restaurants and hotels or the safety of buildings – is important is because every city does inspections (or pays someone to do them). Vacant and abandoned buildings? Check. Business licenses? Public parks? Yep and yep.”
Without standards, such questions can only be answered by making one-off investigations. Inevitably, such investigations tread more or less the same path. Over time, the trodden path from question to answer becomes known as “the current system”. Except, of course, that we're talking about lots of idiosyncratic paths – so it's lots of systems.
Create an inhouse standard and you save your own time and money. Adopt a community standard and you save everybody's time and money. Plus, you increase the value of your information by making it usable across the community. You also get to use the community's information to enhance your own knowledge. And the market you serve, or your business purpose, benefits.
Be on the lookout for repeated questions. They're a trigger for standards. Open Civic Data Standards
The city of Houston, Texas, is hiring an Enterprise Data Officer to deal with “digital sprawl”. Isn't that a great phrase? Reporter Sam Roudman also gives us what could be the new EDO's mission statement: “To fight the scourge of messy data, and improve access to it for both those who work for the city, and those who live in it”. Tech President
It's good to look across industry
boundaries for insights and case studies. This is one of the best ways of
innovating in your own business. I also sometimes find people in sectors very
different than insurance saying things I can imagine being said by insurance
Here's a great example from the world of
machine tools. There's a data standard enabling devices from different
manufacturers to talk to each other, so that factory managers can monitor and
optimize performance. The quote is: “So why is Mazak—a machine tool maker that
itself has proprietary software—adopting this open, brand-neutral communication
standard? During a trade press breakfast, Mazak Corp. President Brian
Papke put it this way: 'I would like to dream that everybody would buy Mazak
machines, but that isn't the reality. But we feel it’s good for manufacturing,
to improve machine utilization. From here, we asked ourselves, What about our
Dream, reality – and then what's good for
the industry. This is a vendor who is embracing the future willingly. Also,
Mazak is not just adopting standards, but seeking to benefit by exploiting them
in its own plant. That's real vision, real commitment – and real smart.
One of the most powerful slogans of our time is “Do more with less”. Everyone is being challenged to increase productivity and value while accepting reductions in budgets – or, at best, static budgets. Technology is a lever that can help produce this outcome. Automated processes are cheaper, more reliable, and less prone to fatigue, than human ones.
But there's a simpler strategy which can also raise throughput, improve quality, and generate higher customer satisfaction. This is simply to “Do less”. Huh? Well, what I mean is that every organization needs to take a long, hard look at its processes and eradicate those which aren't adding value. This means looking not just at the formal processes, but also what people really do. You will find unnecessary duplication and delay. You'll find bottlenecks where some individual or team has to take a decision whose methods and parameters are unrecorded. You may even find dead letter offices where difficult cases go to die.
This is “systems analysis”. The growth of IT systems tended to eclipse this meaning of systems analysis, which is all to do with what actually happens in a piece of business, rather than how a computer might be able to help out. But just as hardware and software developed, so too did analysis and its sister discipline, design.
Today, the kind of hard scrutiny of processes that enables organizations to do less is articulated and enacted in standards. Standards are design artefacts that provide stable architectures for the business areas they address, and which solve typical problems people have encountered in these areas.
Standards simplify. They enable you to do less of the pointless stuff, the habitual make-work and re-work which too many of us put up with. And IT solutions based on industry standards will ensure that wasteful processes are not converted into fast wasteful processes.
Gregory A. Maciag: The Business Information Revolution: Making the Case for ACORD Standards
This book was the end result of my writing monthly columns for ten years.