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Process data management demystified at Enterprise Data World

Forrester Research Inc. analyst Rob Karel explains the need for greater alignment between business process management and data management efforts.


The crowd at the Enterprise Data World 2011 conference in Chicago last week got a real kick out of a photograph featured in Forrester Research Inc. analyst Rob Karel's keynote address on the topic of process data management. The slide, which depicted an unhappy-looking couple sitting on a couch and failing to communicate with each other, symbolized the typical relationship that exists between business process management and data management professionals -- and it got a lot of laughs.

Karel, a well-known and outspoken data management technology and strategy expert, used the slide to illustrate his point that business process and data management efforts should be considered "two sides of the same coin," and that business folks and data management folks need one another more than they may think. caught up with Karel following his address to learn more about process data management and to get some advice for organizations that want to seek greater alignment between business process and data management efforts. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

What is the difference between process data management and process data governance?

Rob Karel: Process data management is an approach that assumes that data management efforts are going to be more effective if you focus on the business processes and decisions that data enables. Process data governance, then, is really the coordination of your data governance efforts and your process governance efforts to ensure that your data management priorities are focusing on the most critical business processes and decisions. It’s ensuring that your business process efforts are accepting accountability for data quality.

It's clear that you see a need for greater alignment between data management and business process management. Is this a newly emerging problem or is it something that has been around for awhile?

Karel: It's one of those grand “aha!” moments where everyone says, “Well, duh.” I have not pitched this approach or concept to anyone that has disagreed with it. There is nobody that says, “No, that is not what you should do.” It's just that in the day-to-day life of a data management professional or a business process professional, they don't do it, even though they realize they should. They recognize that it's important, but [seem to have] a “not me” or “it's not my job” mentality [about it].

How would you describe the attitudes of business process professionals and data management professionals when it comes to seeking greater alignment?

Karel: The business process person is saying, “Well, data is an IT problem, right? IT has to deliver good data for me.” [But they fail to ask how] IT is supposed to define quality data when they don't consume it. The same goes on the IT side. IT has been taught that the business doesn't want to talk to them about data, so instead of changing the conversation to one that the business can have, they stopped trying to have the conversation. They just tried to solve the problem themselves, which of course led to a lot of investments with very little value.

What role should an organization's business analysts play in the effort to seek greater alignment between data management and business process management?

Karel: When you kind of look at who business analysts are within your organization, these are the liaisons between business and IT. These are the folks that are most skilled at having both technical and nontechnical conversations. These people actually are the translators. They know how to translate a business problem into a technology-functionality-requirements context, and they know how to describe a technical capability in a feature-functionality-usability context for businesspeople. In other words, they know how to talk both languages. That's why they’re critical.

Consultants often complain about the failure of business users to properly document workflows and business processes. They say this is something that can make alignment efforts exceedingly difficult. How should organizations deal with this problem?

Karel: There can't be an assumption that both [business process management and data management] efforts are on an equal level of maturity. I've talked to many organizations that have mature business process efforts in place, and the processes are clearly documented, [but there is] zero data management competency. The way to solve this is this: No matter which situation you're in, leverage one area to improve maturity in the other.

What advice do you have for organizations that want to start seeking greater alignment between data management and business process management efforts?

Karel: The first thing you do is change the conversation. From a data management professional standpoint, anytime you catch yourself [trying to] prioritize and scope based on data, stop what you're doing and ask yourself, Is data the thing that the business cares about, or is it processes and decisions that the business is trying to enable that is important? If you start with the processes and decisions that are most critical to your organization, and then identify the data that is feeding those processes, you're going to do a lot better job of scoping, prioritizing and building a value-driven business case for your data management investment.

Mark Brunelli is the News Editor for Follow him on Twitter @Brunola88.

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