"An extraordinary thinker and strategist" "Great knowledge and a wealth of experience" "Informative and entertaining as always" "Captivating!" "Very relevant information" "10 out of 7 actually!" "In my over 20 years in the Analytics and Information Management space I believe Alan is the best and most complete practitioner I have worked with" "Surprisingly entertaining..." "Extremely eloquent, knowledgeable and great at joining the topics and themes between presentations" "Informative, dynamic and engaging" "I'd work with Alan even if I didn't enjoy it so much." "The quintessential information and data management practitioner – passionate, evangelistic, experienced, intelligent, and knowledgeable" "The best knowledgeable, enthusiastic and committed problem solver I have ever worked with" "His passion and depth of knowledge in Information Management Strategy and Governance is infectious" "Feed him your most critical strategic challenges. They are his breakfast." "A rare gem - a pleasure to work with."

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Exciting times! I have joined the advisory board of QFire Software

I am delighted to have joined the newly formed advisory board of QFire Software, alongside Bill Inmon, President of Forest Rim Technologies LLC and "father of data warehousing". 

As an advisory board member, I will provide QFire with domain and corporate advice in the areas of Data Governance and Data Quality including input to product review, corporate strategy and approach to market, as well playing a role in customer advocacy and community engagement.

I anticipate an exciting partnership, (especially as Bill and I already see eye to eye...!)

QFire is emerging from the Australian startup market and is potentially a game changer in the area of Data Governance and Information management.  The company provides solutions for distributed data quality management and is focused on making their product very easy to use for end-users, while it is also very easy to embed within other applications - for me, that makes them unique.  

QFire’s exciting, innovative approach means that companies do not have to enter into a major project implementation to drive a culture of data quality in a business. It deploys easily and cost effectively, allowing companies to see rapid results and to drive the cultural change necessary to support the financial benefits of improved data governance.

Neil Currie, QFire Chairman and CEO comments: “We are very pleased to have Bill and Alan on board they bring  a wealth of experience to the company.  The open and honest dialogue we have with our advisiory board ensures we remain well grounded and is good for us as a startup. We don’t need to keep hearing how great what we have is - we need people who can look at our company, our strategy, our product and direction and constructively ask the hard questions that drive our ability to be successful.  We see the advisory board as people who believe in us and have those special skills that will force us to continue to differentiate ourselves in an international marketplace.”

About QFire Software
Founded in 2012, QFire Software delivers organisations the ability to understand, collect, validate, protect, monitor and enrich their data aimed at lowering the complexity of governing data quality rules, and empowering responsibility within business users.

QFire is a versatile data solution for both government and industry, delivering data quality at the desktop. Designed by business users for business users it ensures that data inaccuracies are identified and rectified before they become part of critical decision processes. 

QFire is now represented in Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Europe and the US.

Further information and full announcement form QFire can be found here...

Thursday, 23 January 2014

5th Annual Records & Information Officers' Forum, 19-20 Feb.

I am delighted to be chairing the forthcoming Records and Information Officers' Forum, to be held at the Rendezvous Grand Hotel, Melbourne on 19th & 20th February.

This two-day event will address key issues and trends for information management and records keeping, and will provide practical insights to ensure that practitioners are well equipped to perform in a shifting reform, technology and information management landscape. The event features an exciting range of speakers and panelists including:

  • John McMillan (Australian Information Commissioner)
  • Michael Gindy (CTO, Insurance Australia Group)
  • Justine Heazlewood (Director, Public Records Office Victoria)
  • Colin Fairweather (Chief Information Officer, City of Melbourne)
(A one-day, post-conference masterclass will also be held on the 21st February: "Developing a Roadmap for the 2015 Digitisation Target".)

As well as chairing the event, I will also be presenting a session on "The ABC of Data Governance". In this presentation, I will address key questions and foundational capabilities for the strategic data agenda, including:

  • Why we need to re-think our Information Management Strategies
  • Techniques and capabilities we need to focus on
  • What data should be stored, and how long should we keep it.
A full brochure for the conference can be dowloaded here... 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Donald Rumsfeld – My Hero!

Introducing the “Donald Rumsfeld Magic Quadrant”

Back in February 2002, Donald Rumsfeld (then US Secretary of Defense) made a now infamous statement during a news briefing in relation to evidence linking the Iraqi government to the supply of weapons of mass destruction:

…. there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.”

Rumsfeld was broadly ridiculed, then and since, including earning the 2003 Foot In Mouth award. However, I have to declare that I am a fan (not of the man himself, I personally think his politics were pretty much despicable!), if only because this seemingly tortured use of language inspired me to develop the “Donald Rumsfeld Magic Quadrant”, which I have been using successfully as a diagnostic model for a number of years now within business transformation and change situations.

Combining Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” thinking with the well-known two-dimensional matrix structure popularised by Gartner Inc. gives rise to the following quadrant model:

  • The X-axis illustrates a measure for a person’s overall consciousness of a given subject – how aware are they of the issues at a level of theoretical understanding.
  • The Y-axis captures a measure of a person’s level of competence in executing the capability or skill at a practical delivery level.

This Magic Quadrant style matrix now allows us to assess the current-state situation for any given organisational endeavour, simply by mapping the levels of consciousness and competence against the quadrant diagram.

This simple evaluation matrix can be applied to any area of skill, capability or endeavour e.g.
  • Are the business team aware that there are data quality issues preventing us from marketing to some of our key customers, and what the underlying root causes are?
    • YES=Conscious, NO=Unconcious
  • Do they actually have the skills necessary to fix the data and ensue that it stays fixed?
    • YES=Competent, NO=Incompetent.

If you’re in the mood to make your assessment a bit more sophisticated and want to evaluate the degree of consciousness & competence, then you could choose to grade on a Likert Scale e.g.

1=Blissfully Ignorant; 2=Largely Oblivious; 3=Somewhat Concerned; 4=Matter of Urgency; 5=Aaaargh!!!!

1=Doh!; 2=Yes, I'll Get Onto...Oh Look A Squirrel; 3=Leave It With Me; 4=I've Got This; 5=It's Already Dealt With, What's Next?

Typically, when any new capability is to be introduced within the organisation, people will initially be in a state of blissful ignorance, unaware that an issue might even exist, let alone have the skills to address the problem. This baseline starting point is mapped in the red quadrant of “Unknown Unknowns”. We aspire to achieve the “Known / Knowns” status of the consciously competent expert practitioner, where the issues are well understood and with the skills and resources available to ensure that they are properly addressed.

Now, a standard learning and teaching path will lead us out from the red zone, and towards a developing a level of the “known unknowns”.

We start by raising the overall level of awareness of the issues at hand and develop people’s appetite to address the problem, while at the same time recognising that they don’t yet have the skills necessary to address the matter in a proficient manner (N.B: this is home territory for all those Management Consultants…!)

Once there is understanding of the requirements, then delivery and capability uplift can occur to develop the organisational skills and competencies necessary to deliver value.

A a more problematic learning path occurs when people exist within the organisation who already have some level of proficiency in the capability, but without fully understanding the processes and mechanisms that they are executing (we might call them “happy amateurs”). They’re getting by, but their efforts are typically not efficient, and may not be all that effective. 

The challenge in this situation is to convince the protagonist that they actually need to improve; very often however, you will be met with resistance. (“I’m fine as I am”, “I’ve always done it this way”, “who are you to tell me what to do”.)

This is where we need to work really hard to identify those “what’s in it for me” factors that will encourage further learning and improvement.

Whichever learning scenario you encounter, mapping your customers against the “Donald Rumsfeld Magic Quadrant” will help you understand the dynamics that are at play, so that you can then target your education and change efforts accordingly. 

Final thought: even though Donald Rumsfeld will now forever be remembered for the "unknown unknowns" quote, he at least has in his favour that he's not Dick Chaney...

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Business Entropy - bringing order to the chaos...

In his excellent blog on the MIKE2.0 site, Jim Harris recently drew an analogy between the interactions of atomic particles, sub-atomic forces and the working of successful collaborative teams, and coined the term ego-repulsive force.

Jim’s post put me in mind of another aspect of physics that I think has parallels with our business world – the Second Law ofThermodynamics, and the concept of entropy.  

In thermodynamics, “entropy” describes a measure of the number of ways a closed system can be arranged; such systems spontaneously evolve towards a state of equilibrium, which are at maximum entropy (and therefore, maximum disorder).

I observe that this mechanism also holds true for the workings of organisations – and there is a law of Business Entropy at work.

It’s my contention that, just like in any closed system that a physicist could describe, business organisations will tend to decay towards a chaotic state over time. Left to their own devices, people will do their own thing, suit themselves, and interact only intermittently and randomly to a level sufficient to meet their own needs. Business entropy continues to act until a state of disordered equilibrium is reached, at which points random events may occur but effectively have no impact on the overall business (almost the business equivalent of BrownianMotion.)

The role of management, then, is to introduce additional energy into the closed system of the Brownian organisation, whether through raw enthusiasm, new ideas, encouragement, or changes of processes. And management only serves a purpose when it is acting to add energy to the system – when that stops, then the law of Business Entropy will kick in and the organisation will begin to decay over time.

This management energy applies forces that disrupt the chaotic state and create dynamic new motion (innovation), gain momentum (business change) or maintain the bonds between particles (organisational structure and process). If the right forces are applied at the right time and in the right way, then the business can be moved to a new desired state.

(As an example, when Lou Gerstner joined IBM in the early 1990s, he turned around the fortunes of a rapidly failing business by introducing an approach of continuous renewal, innovation and re-invention which is still prevalent today.)

Of course if too much energy is added, then the system may become unstable and can either collapse or explode. Too little, and the natural inertia within the organisation cannot be overcome. (e.g. RonJohnson’s failed leadership and change of direction for J.C. Penney, while time will tell whether Kodakcan survive its endemic complacency and too-cautious response to digital imaging).

What is the state of Business Entropy in your organisation? Are you moving with momentum, with management applying the right forces and energy to achieve the desired state? Or are you in a Brownian Business?

And more to the point, what are you going to do about it?!

(This post also to be published on the MIKE2.0 Open Methodology site)