Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who's data is it? (Part 2)

In the first part of this series on who's data is it, I talked about the black-box mentality that some teams have with regard to vendor applications.  In that scenario, the hurdle to overcome is primarily one of convincing the right authorities to grant you database access.  That's the biggest hurdle, assuming the application data is actually understandable once you get at the underlying database.  Unless the application team is more loyal to the vendor than to your company, you haven't burned any important bridges in that scenario.  The vendor won't support your efforts at extracting and integrating data from the application this way, but they're the one's who put out a ridiculously high $250,000 bid anyway.  The next scenario is more politically charged, however...

It's MY data!

The "it's my data" culture sees the information behind an application as something that needs to be closely held and funneled through a controlled group of experts.  Unlike the vendor-data perspective, the my-data group is interested in sharing information outside of the application interface, but often with point-to-point interfaces that they can tightly control (as opposed to any kind of pub-sub or hub-spoke model that creates a more open access model).  They're interaction often sounds like: "You provide exact specifications with which specific fields you want and we'll send you an extract with exactly that information."

Another common response from application teams to a request for access to an application database might be something along the lines of "what are you going to do with that data?  We have responsibility for that data and it can be very complicated to understand."  This kind of response is indicative of a belief that the application team has some kind of exclusive ownership of the data and should be the only group allowed to parcel information out to users individually through reports or extracts.  At the extreme, it's reminiscent of early reporting days where a user would call someone in IT for a report; that IT person would build the program to generate the report; print the entire report on green-bar paper; and then send it through interoffice mail to the requester.  If the application team isn't already on board with a service oriented approach to exposing data to other applications or integrated reporting through data warehousing, then their natural tendency will be to create a plethora of individual point-to-point solutions across the application landscape.

This kind of architecture may lead to well defined standards and definitions of data, but either only in pockets across the organization or with an ever increasing cost of maintenance as the number of interfaces expands and complexity of that interaction increases.  There are some positive aspects to a culture that wants to protect the purity of its data and have a strong understanding of how other groups are using the same data.  Part 3 of this series will touch on that data purist counter-point.


  1. A really nice post. You are basically opening up an area of Data Access and its implications on Enterprise and/or Individual Agility that many simply fail to comprehend.

    For years I've tried to explain the implications of Open Data Access in relation to Data Ownership (typically covertly controlled by Applications Vendors and its unsuspecting internal associates).

    1. -- My most recent post re. ODBC, JDBC, ADO.NET, OLE-DB security matters sheds light on the security conundrum that emerges i

  2. Kingsley,
    Thanks for the comment. You're point on the the implications to agility are exactly right. I'm a huge proponent of open data access. It enables all kinds of positive behaviors like integration and transparency. I struggle to understand why it isn't a higher priority for every organization and every software vendor!