Monday, November 12, 2007

Importance, Urgency and 'Noise'

About a month back, Tom posted that "It's all about the data", saying that "Applications come, applications go. They are secondary."

My own take is slightly different, because there's a difference between Importance and Urgency. I'll agree with Tom that in the vast majority of cases (and more so for database applications), the data is far more important than the application.

But urgency is a different matter. Urgency is about doing things. Getting a lottery ticket for tonights draw is urgent, because it has to be done today. However it is also pretty unimportant. It won't make a difference if I miss it, I'm not going to win anyway. But deciding on who to marry is important, although it is generally far less urgent. [If it has become urgent, there's probably nothing left to decide.]

For a business, it is all about continuity. They need to be able to keep on doing business. When the 'system' is down, management really doesn't care if the problem is in the data files, the Database Server, a mid-tier node or the end-user application. It just needs the problem fixed as quickly as possible. The data and the application are equally urgent, and, as links in a chain, they are equally important in those circumstances. A week, or even a day or hour, without the data or the application would both be catastrophic.

Generally speaking though, an application should be simpler to recover. You need the hardware and software, but it is less dynamic. It mostly doesn't really matter if it is yesterday's software or last month's. The data is constantly changing, so while having application and data backups are equally urgent when it comes to recovery, having a TIMELY backup is more important for data.

And finally, there is noise. The amount of discussion, meetings and general 'buzz' about a topic. Noise is all about emotion. People get emotional about the applications they use, THEIR applications. Apple Fan Boys, MS-haters and flame wars. You've seen it before. A clunky application generates lots of bad feeling, a smooth one gets praised. Business users generally aren't dealing with their own data, but that of the customers or suppliers. Incorrect data may make the job harder sometimes, but a bad application can make it harder all the time. People wll love, loathe and occasionally be indifferent to their application. People blogged about 'creating passionate users'. People don't get excited by data. Well not the sort of data I see anyway.

Noise has NOTHING to do with importance or urgency. We recently passed the anniversary of a young girl being abducted from her bed where she was sleeping with her two younger siblings. Not, in this case, Maddie McCann, but Rahma el-Dennaoui , who disappeared two years ago in Sydney. Since she was at home, there were no big media inquisitions about the competancy of the foreign police . Because she is dark-haired, there's been no hunting parties to far off countries sparked by mere sightings of blonde girls . No soccer stars , tycoons or famous authors throwing around money and publicising it world wide. Different noise levels. Same level of importance.

So there may be more noise about applications rather than data. That doesn't reflect their relative importance. The whole data-warehousing/data mart/business intelligence movement reflects the fact that businesses are seeing the value in their data and putting money into realising that value. if we can just get them to pay the same level of attention to securing that data...

Now I'll let you get on and read the next dozen posts from OpenWorld

1 comment:

Robert Vollman said...

This reminds of Stephen Covey's book about the 7 Habits. He talks about how the most effective people focus on what's important rather than what's urgent. I changed my working style accordingly after reading that book and it really turned things around for me.