Horse and Cart Assembly – RFTM advised

By Daragh O Brien
January 19, 2012
10min read

Over the past few weeks there has been a glut of news stories in Ireland about proposed uses of, sharing of, or plans for data in Ireland. I’ve even been interviewed in the media about one of them in particular. In one interview I used the phrase “cart/horse assembly instructions” to describe the approach that seemed to be prevailing with regard to the development of key Information Assets. While somewhat deadpan, that term sums up the problem with the approach being taken, an approach which is pervasive and malignant in any organisation which does not have a key strategic vision for the value of Information and doesn’t exercise joined up thinking about information and data to ensure quality outcomes.

By “quality outcomes” I mean that

  1. The information asset that is developed meets all current and currently foreseen future needs
  2. The governance and management of that information asset needs to be established in a way that avoids uncontrolled scope creep, breaches of regulatory requirements (e.g. Data Protection/Privacy) and ensures that data that needs to be shared is shared in a controlled way and data that needs to be kept up to date is done so efficiently.
  3. The plan, when launched and announced, is greeted by the populace with the deafening absence of comment or discussion that tends to surround a project that has been done well and a change that has been executed cleanly and effectively.

That requires the cart to be put before the horse. To do that you have to actually have thought about what you will be doing with the information, the purposes it will have to meet, the uses it will be put to, and the operational, legal, technical, or other barriers that might impede that use. In other words you need to start by understanding and respecting the fundamental Information Asset Life Cycle.

  • Plan – think about what you are going to need to do, what data you’ll need to do it, what issues might arise. Make sure you have controls, governance, data sources, scope, purposes etc. at least sketched out BEFORE you begin gathering data or transferring data or sharing data.
  • Obtain – where will the data come from? How will you ensure you are obtaining it in a fair and lawful manner? What will be asked for? Are the systems and processes in place to do all of this in a way that will deliver reliable and trusted data?
  • Store and Share – where will the information be stored and shared? Who will be able to access it? Why? How? What controls will be in place?
  • Maintain – Now that we’ve got it we have to keep it up to date. How exactly is that going to happen?
  • Apply – What uses will the data be put to? How will it be put to use?
  • Dispose/Destroy/Delete – How long do we need to keep the data for? How will it be purged, aggregated, processed for posterity? How do we do that in a safe and lawful way?

By doing this, and by thinking about Information as an Asset, as a powerful raw material for your processes, you will quickly formulate the correct “Cart/Horse” assembly instructions as a variety of questions will be raised when you look at things through the POSMAD lense. The answers to these questions will let you define solutions that put the horse in front of the cart where it can more efficiently drive you forward.

For more information about the POSMAD framework, check out this resource and this resource from my friend and mentor Danette McGilvray of Granite Falls Consulting.

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