Data Sharing "Rules of the Road"

Over the past several years. My partners and I have spent considerable time and effort applying our performance management technologies in the Energy and Utility Sectors, among others. One of the unique things about that sector is the “extremely open” nature with which they share performance information and best practices with each other. Perhaps a little TOO OPEN? When was the last time you heard of Proctor and Gamble sharing information with its closest competitors THAT openly ?

Am I saying that you should stop sharing information all together? Far from it. What I am saying though, is to TAKE SPECIAL CARE when doing so. You can instill a learning culture and share peer to peer information, but don’t do it without taking the right precautions. As much of a paradox it is, you can BET that P&G is one of the best benchmarkers and learning organizations around. They are just very deliberate and careful about how they do it.

Here are some tips that will help you “manage” the information as you go about your benchmarking and best practice acquisition process.

a)- Don’t even THINK about sharing information in an UNBLINDED fashion. This is cardinal sin #1. The ONLY reason someone would want you to do that is to be able to strip it down and glean information for competitive gain. If the information is blinded, the consultant won’t be able to target you for that lucrative project unless YOU want him to. And that overly philanthropic peer company won’t be able to use the data for competitive positioning. Only you will be in control of your data assuming it stays masked. Peer companies will often tell you that having the data unblinded is necessary in order to maximize value from the program. Hogwash. There are TOO MANY ways to foster learning with blinded data that I have discussed in previous posts for you to give in to that kind of BS. Either share information in BLINDED FASHION or NOT AT ALL.

b)- Don’t begin without clear Executive approval, make sure they know EXACTLY how the program will work, make sure you know what the PROTOCOLS for that sharing are for your company, and follow that process diligently. Trust me, your executives are the only ones with a broad enough purview to make good decisions and tradeoffs between information sharing and shareholder value. Second, is a deep concern I have about decentralized sharing that is not managed centrally. True story: A member of one of these “peer company” sponsored initiatives told me that despite an “iron clad” confidentiality agreement, and the decision to mask data, the FIRST thing that occurred at their results meeting was an exchange of identity codes! No kidding? Do I believe this was endorsed behavior? Absolutely not. It was, however a direct product of information sharing being too decentralized- to the point that the employees sharing the codes had lost touch with their corporate policies on information sharing.

c)- Demand Confidentiality / Non-Disclosure agreements. I’m not talking about these little “we won’t tell anyone if you don’t” type of statements. I’m talking about agreement that will hold legal steam. Be clear about when and how the information can be used. For example, our data cannot be used outside of x, y or z departments for purposes other than a, b, and c. If the information is used for purpose d (e.g. acquisition analysis, competitive targeting, etc.), be clear about the penalty and how it will be enforced (who will enforce it, what jurisdiction, etc…). Also, the less “blinded” the information is, the more complex the non disclosure agreement must be. The first line of defense is in what you share and what the peer company can glean from the data. The non disclosure is your SECOND line of defense. Once they’re in, they’re hard to stop.

d) Avoid consultant and peer company sponsored initiatives. Then who do I use? There are many sources and technologies out there, from published studies, to internet driven benchmarking tools and services ( http://www.benchmarkcommunities.com/ ,for example). The key here is to avoid anyone who doesn’t have benchmark facilitation as their CORE business. The farther their core business is from the facilitation of these programs, the farther you should stay away from them. And by the way, there are consultants whose sole business is benchmarking. In terms of benchmarking, these are the “good guys”. Remember though, these companies are the exception rather than the rule as far as consultants go. So be on guard.

e) Make sure your partner’s data management process is bullet proofed- Even with an iron clad NDA in place, a poorly configured process can be as dangerous as not having an NDA at all. Look for assurances from your vendors or partners that their process is secure. Ask to see their process. Was it audited or tested for compliance? Is it ISO certified in these domains? Is the data transfer technology and platform secure?

There you have it. A nice checklist to go through each time someone invites you into a .data sharing environment. Data sharing can be a very rewarding game if it is played right. But you need to be both cautious and prudent about the process. It’s kind of analogous to “let the buyer beware”, only we’re dealing with bigger companies, more shareholders, and bigger stakes!

-b

Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com


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