Saturday, 30 May 2015

To software, or not to software

The oldest computers were not easy to use. Every time they were switched on, they had to be programmed before they could be operated. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81. It had 1 kilobyte of RAM, and no hard drive. You had to either write commands and programs in BASIC, or you had to load a program from a cassette tape.

Compare this to a modern tablet computer, and the difference is astounding. You switch it on, and right away you can perform tasks with the glide of your finger across the screen. This is all due to the magic of modern software.

Software are computer programs that enable a user to carry out tasks without having to program the computer first. So, your computer/tablet/phone's operating system (Windows, OS-X, Linux, Android, Unix, Chrome etc.) is software. You will also have a number of programs that you may have added to help you do common tasks, like image editing or playing videos.

However, when you take a serious look at what a lot of the software is doing (particularly when reading that huge license that appears when you first install the software), it is not hard to come to the conclusion that not all of it is ideal!

  • Many operating systems share your data with government agencies (Snowden revelations).
  • Google/Andriod uses your data for advertising purposes.
  • Apple's digital rights management means you cannot play their movies using non-apple software, or using non-apple portable devices.
  • Some Android apps collect your location data and contacts details. 
  • Many specalised programs have their own proprietary formats that cannot be used by other software.
So it is clear that not all software (particularly when it comes free) is working in your best interests. Even when you pay, you may find that the commercial interests of the company that created your software is enforced.

The most common large scale problem I have seen, is when a company buys an operational system, only to find out that they cannot easily obtain management information from the data, due to vital data being over-written or not saved. They have to go back to the software company to buy their proprietary management information layer to fill in the gaps.

I have also seen projects derailed because a supplier would not share their entity, or how they were going to administer their process.

So to be truly free in computing, it is clear that you need to be able to write your own software using a programming language (Java, C, Python, etc. etc.). A programmer can deliver bespoke systems that enable your organisation to do exactly what it needs to do, without conflicts of commercial interference from suppliers.

Many organisations with vision are now seeing that we need to be generally a more tech savvy society. The BBC, the UK's government, Google and Barclays Bank are just a few organisations that are investing in programming education for children. They now see that programming is a high value skill that benefits everyone.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Data - who cares?

Your data is important to your organisation. Everyone is clear on that. Your comms strategy is going great. You have profiled all of your important data sources, built scorecards that highlight where the bad data is. You take your reports to key people and ask for resource to fix the data. The reply is "so what?"

If there are no accountable owners of the data, you are going to find it hard to actually fix things. The buck has to stop somewhere, and if things are going wrong, someone has to put their vanity projects on hold and get their hand in their pockets. So when the rest of the organisation is in flight, how do you go about assigning data owners - and making them face up to their responsibilities?

1. Go to the top
Get buy-in from the most senior people you can find. Use their names, whenever you experience inertia.

2. Categorise the 4 Cs
In all organisations, data is Created, Changed, Controlled (including retirement) and Consumed. Creators put data into systems. Changers make amendments, Controllers monitor data and perform mandatory work, like data retirement,  data quality and data governance. Consumers are people who use the data. They are important, as they are instrumental in setting standards for data quality. Very often a natural data owner will arise, as they will have oversight over all of these people and control their budgets.

3. Categorise your data on its nearness to source
Your data is either Primary, Secondary or Tertiary. Primary data sources are operational databases. Data goes directly into them. Secondary data sources are data marts that are created from primary data sources. They are for a specific purpose. Tertiary data sources are created from Secondary or other Tertiary data sources. Why is this important? Your initial focus must be on getting ownership of Primary data sources. Very often, people will obfuscate by drawing attention to secondary and tertiary use of primary data. Do not get sidetracked until all of your primary data is owned.

4. Categorise your data from a business perspective
Look at how your business is structured. Categorise your data so it can fall under the present organisational structure. Very often, data owners will arise from this process.

5. Record what the owners are accountable for
Very often this is missed. Document what they are accountable for. Have the accountabilities written into their role profile. Have their performance measured against these accountabilities.