We frequently hear complaints that a critical event should have been avoided, with the common cause being that people were unable to "connect the dots" before the event happened. The problem expressed here is that the dots were all available in various repositories but there was no way to synthesize the intelligence. Further, this intelligence would appear only after the information was assembled and analyzed. Inaction itself isn't the issue-it's a problem of access to insight. Organizations can't act on what they don't know.
This is a critical, and sometimes life or death, issue for government and law enforcement agencies. In a recent article, President Obama said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, had been allowed to board a plane on December 25, 2009 because United States intelligence agencies failed to share data and make sense of it-or connect the dots, as some say-to identify the threat before it materialized.
Although the publicized "unconnected dots" stories are typically about poor communication and information sharing among government agencies, corporations of all sizes suffer from the same challenges. This is the case even when all or most of the dots are internal data.
In a recent Op-Ed piece, Toyota President Akio Toyoda addressed the company's recent recall of nearly 8 million cars to correct serious safety problems, a crisis that has eroded a fifth of the company's market value (or $30B) and has already cost the company more than $2B. Toyoda acknowledged that the root of the problem was that the company "failed to connect the dots."
Toyoda went on to say that the company needed to improve "sharing important quality and safety information across our global operations. When consumers purchase a Toyota, they are not simply purchasing a car, truck or van. They are placing their trust in our company."
The cost of not connecting the dots can destroy not only quantifiable market value but also the long-term value of the brand. That trust, once tarnished, is hard to restore.
Businesses and government intelligence agencies alike suffer from poorly consolidated and under communicated insight. Fixing this vital problem has frustrated IT departments and software vendors for years.
Yet another challenge is data quality. For example, there are often multiple spellings of suspected terrorists' names (Osama bin Laden or Usama bin Laden, as an example) that must be resolved. It has been reported that State Department officials did check to see whether Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a valid United States visa. However, because his name was misspelled in the visa database, their search came up empty.