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Doing Smarter Things With IT

Information Ownership and Responsibility

All the information in a business system has an owner, what is interesting is that the owners of information may be unaware of its existence and their responsibilities as an owner. A computer system is a model of a business system, not a perfect model but a useful model. This is a generalization that applies to many types of model. Ownership and responsibility are implemented via business rules, which may be implemented in both code and data.

The owner of information may be the creator, the maintainer of even the reader of information. You will not find ownership by looking at the data or even at the code, it is intrinsic to a business system. The owner is responsible for the processes that affect information. What is even more interesting is that ownership is contextual and can vary over time.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of ownership. An owner may be a person but is better described as an actor. An actor may be an entity like the accounts department, so that ultimate responsibility may lie with the manager of that department however ownership will be implemented by proxies such as accounts clerks and computer systems. As a piece of information travels through the business system , context changes, and ownership may change. For instance, as a customer transforms from a lead to an opportunity and then becomes a customer. So a piece of information can have multiple owners, but a sensible business rule would be for an instance of information to only have one ultimate owner for any given context. These actors should exist in a hierarchy with the ultimate owner delegating down the hierarchy of contextual actors and their proxies.

Why is this important? Well, information ownership is implicit in any business system and in order for a business system to function in a predictable fashion you need to know who is responsible for your data. Let's get back to customers, the core of any business. A business system is a model itself that will consist of several computer systems at various levels of integration. The problem is to identify a customer uniquely across all the systems that they are with. Duplicate (or more) customer records are the bane of any organization and ownership of customer identity is essential for managing customers. Duplicate records should be the exception, not the rule.

An example is often found in payment systems, businesses have multiple methods of making payments which often leads to multiple methods of generating account number. An account number and associated customer records should be raised by the information owner or their proxy. For those that would say this is impractical, I would say that this is what we have computer systems for. My favourite complaint is the use of cut and paste in business environments. Successfully implemented ownership will eliminate this.

Identification is the key to managing information ownership. Information ownership is the key to quality data. Quality data is key to high functioning computer systems and the resultant data analysis for decision management using BI and AI tools.

Analysis, design and improvement of business systems and the computer systems rely on establishing lean efficient information management. But let’s move on to the ownership of transactional data. Transactions frequently flow across multiple computer systems and multiple owners. An order is raised from a website entered into payment systems, general ledgers and order systems. At the end of the day we must be able to reassemble this information into unique transaction in order analyze sales performance.

This is a complex area that can yield high returns in the areas of business efficiency and planning, but again it requires identifying areas of responsibility. Then when dealing with business rules for tricky areas such as refunds and warranty, we will know which actors are involved.

When we know who owns the information we can also better identify the consumers of information, but I’ll leave that for another day.

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