Sunday, April 6, 2008

Politics, Presidents and Data Governance

I was curious about the presidential candidates and their plans to build national ID cards and a database of citizens, so I set out to do some research on the candidates stance on this issue. It strikes me as a particularly difficult task, given the size of the database that would be needed and the complexity. Just how realistic would the data governance strategy for the candidates be?

I searched the candidate’s web sites with the following Google commands:
database site:
database site:
database site:

Hardly scientific, but interesting results nonetheless. The candidates have very different data management plans for the country. This simple search gave some insight into the candidate’s data management priorities.

Focused on national health care and the accompanying data challenges.
• Patient Health Care Records Database
• Health Care Provider Performance Tracking Database
• Employer History of Complaints
Comments: It’s clear that starting a national database of doctors and patients is a step toward a national health plan. There are huge challenges with doctor data, however. Many doctors work in multiple locations, having a practice at a major medical center and a private practice, for example. Consolidating doctor lists from insurance companies would rely heavily on unique health care provider ID numbers, doctor age and sex, and factors other than name and address for information quality. This is an ambitious plan, particularly given data compliance regulations, but necessary for a national health plan.

Not much about actual database plans, but Obama has commented in favor of:
• Lobbyist Activity Database
• National Sex Offender Database
Comments: Many states currently monitor sex offenders, so the challenge would be coordinating a process and managing the metadata from the states. Not a simple task to say the least. I suspect none of the candidates are really serious about this, but it’s a strong talk-track. Ultimately, this may be better left to the states to manage.
As far as the lobbyist activity database, I frankly can’t see how it’d work. Would lobbyists would complete online forms describing their activities with politicians. If lobbyists have to describe their interaction with the politician, would they be given an open slate in which to scribble some notes about the event/gift/dinner/meeting topics? This would likely be chock full of unstructured data, and its usefulness would be questionable in my opinion.

• Grants and Contracts Database
• Lobbyist Activity Database
• National Sex Offender Database
Comments: Adding in the grants and contracts database into McCain’s plan, I see this as similar to Obama’s plan in that it’s storage of unstructured data.

To succeed in any of these plans from our major presidential candidates, I see a huge effort in the “people” and “process” components of data governance. Congress will have to enact laws that describe data models, data security, information quality, exceptions processing and much more. Clearly, this is not their area of expertise. Yet the candidates seem to be talking about technology as a magic wand to heal our country’s problems. It’s not going to be easy for any of them to make any of this a reality, even with all the government’s money.
Instead of these popular vote-grabbing initiatives, wouldn't the government be better served by a president who is understands data governance? When you think about it, the US Government is making the same mistake that businesses make, growing and expanding data silos, leading to more and more inefficiencies. I can’t help but thinking what we really need is a federal information quality and metadata management agency (since the government like acronyms, shall we call it FIQMM) to oversee the government’s data. The agency could be empowered by the president to have access to government data, define data models, and provide people, process and technologies to improve efficiency. Imagine what efficiencies we could gain with a federal data governance strategy. Just imagine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Larry English for president!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.