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That's another fine (data) mess you got me into.

As part of my recent audit work I have mused with colleagues as to how an organisation populated with intelligent, committed, conscientious and well-intentioned individuals can get itself into such a fine mess with its data and/or systems. Generally, things have improved as new methodologies have emerged and been honed. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of scope to go wrong, and I am going to contend that mostly this boils down to old-fashioned management issues rather than anything inherently technical. My particular worry is that managers are not taking responsibility.

I have been struck how IT departments are now viewed as a cost and have been pared down. Where development work is still done in house it may be done as sprints under an agile methodology. This is fine, and a good way to get the development done with involvement of all parties based on quick prototyping. The danger is that issues that come to light after a sprint may be left to fester. Particularly if they may seem small issues. Big bugs are easy to spot and should be caught in testing, and if not will still get fixed quickly when found. It is the little bugs or missing functionality that are more insidious. They may just work gradually corrupting your data. That incomplete lookup will cause wrong categorisation. The missing field will mean that another user field is doubled up with a comma; or was it a semicolon. Such problems may cause the users to need to run a little manual fix, or more likely a log of some sort on a shared spreadsheet. The resolution could be a small fix but doesn't fit into a sprint anywhere. IT have moved on. The close link between system and developer, possibly intermediated by a business analyst, has gone. Nobody is responsible.

The problems run deeper into our organisation populated with intelligent, committed, conscientious, well-intentioned and thoroughly nice individuals. Being well educated and experienced they are all managers. It will say so in their job title. They may manage external relationships or if they have any direct reports they are managing other managers. It is like an army with officers but no sergeants. Supervisors seemed to have been managed away. Nobody is supervising. With them has gone the quality control of data at a record level - the data that the rest of the organisation runs on.

Eventually the organisation will realise its systems/data are not fit for purpose and will investigate. Surprisingly often the perceived fix will be to build or buy a new system. There is an optimistic belief that somehow new systems will cure organisational/management problems. Even where the old system was a bespoke internal development. I could go into the reasons why this may seem a good idea to management, but that may send the cynicism way off the scale for one short blog.

But don't worry. These are not issues you need to fret about; it is not your responsibility.

John Davis
7 Aug 17.