Are CFO’s finally ready to heed the advice of their Chief Data Officers and begin adding information assets to the balance sheet?
Although the commonly used quote “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” is regularly and erroneously misattributed to Victor Hugo, originating from his account of the French coup d’état of 1851 that brought Napoleon III to power, I feel it’s almost appropriate for Douglas B. Laney’s passionate argument on Infonomics. It’s an idea he’s been meticulously developing and arguing for almost two decades and has at last fully articulated in his latest book published by Taylor & Francis entitled Infonomics: How to Monetize, Manage, and Measure Information As An Asset For Competitive Advantage. Laney previously published his thoughts on Infonomics in Forbes back in 2012.
This brilliantly researched book, supported by industry giant Gartner, is steeped in both a mastery of information technology as well as economics, in particular accounting methodology and complementing business disciplines that range from supply chain economics to compliance frameworks.
Laney, with brevity and unfailing pragmatism, weaves his impressive understanding of the business of information, it’s flow and it’s enormous potential into a convincing pleading that I believe is a must read for not just the aspiring digerati, but any CFO, Chief Data Officer or executive hoping to survive and thrive in the Information Age.
Beyond simply making the case that information is an asset and ascribing it the worth it clearly deserves, Laney is clarifying and elevating the relevance of so many of us involved in the ownership, or what he prefers to refer to, internally at least, as the stewardship of data.
While the meaning of information ultimately drives business processes and decisions, it is the increasingly efficient, neat, and compact way with which we can technically represent information that allows its nearly unfettered flow and accumulation. Therefore, it is information’s meaning, representation, and context that combine to improve business process performance and decision making.
Infonomics, Chapter 9 – Is Information An Asset?
Drawing from frameworks including the ISO, the SCOR model, FASB, Records and Information Management and Library Science, Infonomics places each of these disciplines and approaches in a schema that unifies them around defining and realizing the value of our information, whether that is indirect or direct, raw or combined with external sources, to create value.
Although I do consider this a milestone book in the canon of Information Management, I do have some minor criticisms of course. Laney is a VP at Gartner in the Chief Data Officer (CDO) research and advisory team, so he sources a lot of his quotes from executives and others at the company, which are relevant, but chalk full. There’s a lot of big round numbers, many of which are self-reported, which are intended to evidence the cost benefits and value of certain initiatives he references. I would take some of those figures with a grain of salt but I don’t doubt in any way the legitimacy of the efforts he uses as his examples. There’s also a throw away comment about cannabis strains which is in line with a lot of the, at times, cheeky style he uses to balance what is for the most part a very academic text. I’m not sure it was very necessary but it’s a minor criticism.
I think the biggest gap in this book is the biggest elephant in the room these days, Privacy, PII and the new era ushered in by the EU’s GDPR and most recently California’s new privacy law. Laney largely glosses over this although he recognizes it at times such as in an example he uses about a North American airline he did some work for.
Laney also shows some grit and takes a few shots at the insurance industry, specifically actions taken after 9/11 to insulate itself from claims arising from destruction of information assets. Nonetheless, his observations, complaints and told-you-so’s remain professional while entertaining.
While the majority of the text is aimed at CFO’s and CDO’s, there is no doubt that this is essential reading for a wide swath of business folk and computer scientists alike, and even the general public really. Apart from the last chapter which spells out some specific calculations for assessing and measuring the value of your information assets, the book is a quick read, enlightening, and the best case made to date for an idea whose time has not only come, but is already transforming almost every business on the planet.