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The Need for Data Management

Dr. Mike Osborne,
Managing Director,
OceanWise Ltd.



Modern sensors and sensing platforms have the potential to acquire vast quantities of data, on top of the data already being acquired. When combined with an organization’s other spatial, operational and business data, the importance of managing all data in a coherent, efficient way has never been greater.

There is a general lack of awareness and understanding of the importance of data management in the marine and maritime domains, although this is not unique to these sectors. Most organizations do not have a data management system, data policy or framework of data governance. Yet those data—and the knowledge created from them—are probably the most important asset an organization has after its staff.

No international standard for data management exists. Fortunately, there is plenty of material and best practice information from, for example, the International Data Management Association (DAMA). OceanWise is active in DAMA and will bring forward a proposal for data management to be an ISO standard. We are also active in the Marine Environmental Data and Information Network in the U.K., the Open Geospatial Consortium Marine Domain Working Group and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Marine Spatial Data Infrastructure Working Group, which we helped establish a decade ago. These organizations promote best practices in marine and maritime data management.

Data governance entails establishing and maintaining data and information infrastructures, like corporate governance entails managing a business effectively. Without some form of governance stating which standards, specifications and guidelines to use within a particular domain, interconnectivity of systems and the resultant interoperability would be impossible. This isn’t lost on the IHO and the International Maritime Organization in their support, for example, of e-navigation, an applied form of information infrastructure. But why stop there?

Data should not be tied to a single application, product or individual workflow but be managed holistically and made accessible to many applications. This data-centric approach uses open standards and systems and treats data as the building blocks to modernize business processes. In many organizations, where there is a lack of responsibility for data, a state of data anarchy often prevails; data governance would be the catalyst for improvement.

Data governance can be considered as a hierarchy, like data or information infrastructure. These infrastructures can apply at a global level (e.g., the World Meteorological Organization), at a regional and national level (e.g., EU’s INSPIRE Directive) and at an enterprise level within an organization, with systems at one level being able to connect to systems on the same and adjacent levels. This interconnectivity allows data to be exchanged easily between systems, akin to browsing the Web. This approach has multiple benefits for businesses, such as ease of data access, reducing rework and storage requirements, avoiding replication and improving communication between stakeholders.

Data governance applies at a project level too, ideally following organizational policy in its adoption. The preparation of a data management plan should be mandatory for all projects, defining how data are acquired, stored and disseminated and considering how data from one instrument or platform can be combined with data from other platforms and instruments. The plan should consider data QA/QC and the data life cycle and define which data dictionaries are used to ensure consistency and reduce the risk of data being used inappropriately. It should control the preparation of metadata and sensor calibration records to ensure data are fit for purpose and can be used, reused and exchanged without ambiguity or confusion.

Data management must go beyond marine scientists/engineers and IT function. It should be a corporate responsibility, just like business management. It should be applied top down and bottom up to impact how a modern enterprise does business.

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