Enterprise Amnesia: Organizations Have Lost Their Minds

Well actually, organizations have never had a mind, but nonetheless, their lack of recognizing the obvious is embarrassing, or worse … life threatening.

When an organization misses the obvious (e.g., when other relevant information is trapped elsewhere in their organization) and then takes incorrect action – one might call this "Enterprise Amnesia" – or simply forgetting what was known or should have been known.

Sometimes enterprise amnesia is embarrassing, for example, when a retailer hires a person who had already been arrested for stealing from them.

Sometimes enterprise amnesia is more than embarrassing … it is tragic. For example: In Victoria, British Columbia, Sherry Charlie, an infant, was placed into the foster care of her uncle despite the fact he was known to be a violent criminal. Sherry Charlie was beaten to death less than a month later. [Story Here]

Generally, enterprise amnesia goes unnoticed. When it is noticed, it usually comes following a forensic review – like after the building falls over or after the bank has been scammed out of millions. Following such a disaster, each data custodian often interrogates his own pile of data to unearth its sheltered facts. Applying the 20-20 hindsight rule, these unconnected dots appear to have been so obvious. Unfortunately, such latent discovery of the obvious leads to congressional hearings, newspaper headlines or the risk of jail time for corporate executives (especially in this post-Sarbanes-Oxley world).

[Side bar: The story line after such a revelation often leads to the same outcry … "better information sharing". Then, despite such mandates, nothing actually happens of any significance. This is primarily due to the fact that the information sharing paradox prevents the problem from being solved directly because information sharing cannot be solved without first solving enterprise discovery – knowing first who to ask for what.]

Enterprise amnesia is the big "why?" behind many mishaps. Countries deport their own citizens by accident. Patients get the wrong procedure. Disaster relief funds are remitted to victims not once but in triplicate. Marketers send promotional materials to those they have already arrested. And so on.

[Another side bar: All too often, when an organization responds to a specific amnesia event, they simply engineer another brittle piece of infrastructure (e.g., hardwiring the foster care applicant system into the violent criminals database) only to later realize they have another amnesia event (e.g., not correlating foster care applicant system with the known pedophile or sexual offender database).]

Turns out the only way to solve enterprise amnesia in a real-time and scalable fashion requires perpetual analytics and persistent context.

Postings on this site don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions. Jeff Jonas is the chief scientist of IBM Software Group's Threat and Fraud Intelligence unit and works on technologies designed to maximize enterprise awareness; Jeff also spends a large chunk of his time working on privacy and civil liberty protections. He will be writing a series of guest posts for Security Blog.

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