Last December, I slipped on the ice, fell, and hit my head. I also banged up a shoulder, hip, and elbow, although I wasn’t really aware of those injuries until later. But I could tell immediately that my head had bounced off the icy concrete, so I did the sensible thing; I stayed on the ground and called someone to help me get up. Within minutes, I was inside, feeling warm and lucky that nothing was broken. Then a headache hit, hard and fast, and my friends insisted I go to the ER to get checked out.
Since I wasn’t in a lot of distress during my visit, I was able to pay attention to the processes followed by the triage team, nurses, doctors, and technicians. They all used the same checklists and metrics when asking me to describe what hurt and how much. I don’t know much about medicine or anatomy, but we were able to communicate pretty clearly, thanks to a standard vocabulary and classification schema. Bones, muscles, arteries, nerves, and brain tissue: things that could be damaged. Breaks, cracks, stretches, bruises, and bleeding: things that could be going wrong. A scale of one to 10: how much pain I was feeling.
I was very lucky that day. Yes, I had a concussion and a week-long headache, but I walked away. Plus, I benefitted from some observations and questions. Why couldn’t diagnosing data-related pain be this standardized? After all, compliance mandates tend to be very proscriptive about how we must react to risks and requirements. Why couldn’t we be as precise about describing what’s wrong?
Well, I’ve been working with some others at the Data Governance Institute to create a framework for describing information-related pain. Here’s an excerpt:
Tell me what hurts. What kind of information are you having a problem with?
- Classification schemas
- Content chunks
- Data (atomic facts)
- Information sets
- Valid value sets.
What seems to be the problem? When you try to do something with or to your information, is it impossible, too expensive, too time-consuming, too burdensome, or too confusing?
When do you experience symptoms? Is it when you try to get information, evaluate it, process it, or control/govern it?
What happens when you try to get information? Is it impossible or too expensive, time-consuming, burdensome, or confusing to:
- Decide what’s needed
- Decide what’s allowed
- Choose the right source
- Find it
- Request it
- Gain access to it.
What happens when you try to evaluate information? Is it impossible or too expensive, time-consuming, burdensome, or confusing to assess its quality, integrity, or completeness; audit it; learn where it came from (lineage); or understand/interpret it?
What happens when you try to process information? Is it impossible or too expensive, time-consuming, burdensome, or confusing to align/standardize/normalize it, prepare it for use, or label/tag/index it?
How about when you try to control or govern the information? Is it impossible or too expensive, time-consuming, burdensome, or confusing to:
- Assign accountabilities for it
- Enforce standards or rules
- Make decisions about it
- Monitor quality and integrity controls
- Protect it from misuse
- Protect it from unauthorized access
- Set policy, standards, and rules for it.
My head is all better, and I’m back at work, helping clients with governance and compliance. Now, thanks to my new set of checklists, I’m finding it much less painful to ask them to tell me where it hurts.