Data Management

Don't be stingy with corporate data

You want to be the hero in your organization? Then wake up and smell the database coffee.

This message goes out to all of my IT brothers and sisters who are database administrators: It ain’t your data. You may have ownership of and responsibility for maintaining large-scale databases, but the information doesn’t belong to you. And that goes for the reports that come out of the databases as well.

Hear me now and believe me immediately: The data belongs to the company, and you have a responsibility to get as much information as possible into the hands of your coworkers.

Don’t fool yourself
Egos are funny things. A perfectly nice person gets put in charge of developing data-entry routines, maintaining and backing up databases, and creating custom reports based on those databases. And then that formerly nice person’s ego starts growing exponentially, creating a power-hungry megalomaniac.

You know these people. They show up in every IT shop on the planet. You’ve worked with them and learned to despise them because of their arrogance and complete disregard for the good of the company.

And if you are one of these people, if you want to be a hero instead of a goat, take a bit of career advice from your old pal Jeff: Come down willingly off your high-horse before someone knocks you down. You’re making all of us in IT look bad.

Share the wealth
What do chief executive officers, business unit managers, middle managers, sales representatives, and customer service representatives all have in common? They need as much information as possible about customers and business operations in order to make good business decisions.

To whom does everyone in the company turn for information? The IT department and the database administrator. And if you’re not forthcoming with every report they request, you’re not doing your job. You’re failing miserably. You’re hurting the business and, ultimately, you’re booby-trapping your own career.

If you’ve been a data miser and forced your co-workers to manually compile information for a report that you could have whipped up with a single SQL Select statement, guess what? Some day you’re going to need something, and your co-workers are going to remember your lack of team spirit. You won’t get what you want, either.

A quick case study
When I was IT manager for a home health company, one of the people who had been with the company for 10 years had been the only person who ever ran reports from a proprietary application. My boss, “Bob” the CFO, knew that this person had barely scratched the surface of the custom report generator that came with that application, and Bob asked me to check it out and see if we couldn’t run some new reports.

When I approached the “system operator” and told her that Bob wanted some new reports, she said, “What does he need those for? We’ve never needed them before.”

I tried to be nice about the whole thing. “Well, he wants those reports now. It’ll help him run the business more efficiently. Why don’t you and I work together and see if we can get the system to generate them?”

She didn’t like it one bit. In her mind, she was the queen of the system, the only person who could or should be allowed to run reports. It never occurred to her that the company would benefit from making those new reports available to the executive officers.

She resented the fact that the company dared ask me (or anyone else but her) to operate the system she’d been managing all those years. She couldn’t see past her own ego to appreciate the value of working as part of a team. She was living under the delusion that the database belonged to her.

Instead of rising to the challenge of doing something different and increasing her own knowledge of the system, she quit. It was pitiful, and it was a crying shame.

But you know what? I discovered that the “system” had a robust report generator. I learned how to use it, and we trained several other key operators who were eager to learn. The benefits for the company were many. The new system operators got the satisfaction of learning new ways to manage information. And the executive officers got in-depth reports to help them make better business decisions.

So the next time a coworker asks if you can run a report showing the number of customers in each zip code or the average dollar amount per customer sale, don’t be a miser about it. Say “I’ll get on that right away.” Do the right thing and share the data.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff's View from Ground Zero TechMail , and you'll get a bonus of Jeff's picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers.If you work with people who don’t give a hoot about sharing corporate data with their co-workers, please post a comment and share your experience below, or send me a note .

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