Whether an organization is trying to better understand its customers, detect fraud or protect its infrastructure from terrorism, it is true that the more data points available the better the situational awareness. Poor and inaccurate situational awareness results in poor decisions. And poor decisions result in inefficient operations, non-competitive offerings in the market place, and in the case of government, wasted resources and unforeseen attacks on a society. In many cases, poor situational awareness stems from too little, not too much, data.
Situational awareness requires Context and context requires data points. In the information management world it is recognized that an organization’s information assets are generally useless to the broad strategic interests of the enterprise because the data holdings are so disparate and isolated. The opportunity cost or consequence related to situational awareness is proportional to the size of the organization – bad decisions in the case of the manager of the barber shop produces one worst case outcome, bad decisions at Enron another, a country another, and mankind yet another, each with increasing consequences.
For example, large organizations lacking enterprise awareness inadvertently hire people who were once arrested for stealing from them. A large mortgage company once called and left me a message every week for months in hopes of getting me to refinance my loan through them when in fact they had refinanced my loan months ago. Your request for a wake-up call in the hotel will not stop the maid from knocking on your door – rather you are expected to hang your “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. Duh, that’s efficient.
The private sector becomes more competitive when it leverages its existing information assets better. And while privacy concerns matter to everyone, when governments attempt to leverage information assets especially across organizational boundaries, privacy and civil liberties end up front and center in the debate. As a member of the Markle Foundation’s Task Force on National Security in the Information Age we spent a lot of time thinking about how a government can be more effective while at the same time ensuring a higher degree of privacy and civil liberties protections. Our Second Report discuses this at some length.
The government is charged with protecting us, and it will be smart policy and effective technology that is called upon to answer the mail. And because it is true that in many cases “more hay helps locate more needles,” I encourage my technical colleagues to fully engage with the privacy community to better understand and explore what kinds of solutions get the job done and in a way that is more privacy conscious. And while there is no perfect answer, we can do a better job – and that includes me – and that is why I am doing my best to maintain a conversation with the privacy community.