A Conversation with Author Douglas Laney

Congratulations to Douglas Laney, whose book Infonomics publishes today!  To celebrate we sat down with him to talk about the origin story for his book.

September 19, 2017

Congratulations to Douglas Laney, whose book Infonomics publishes today! To celebrate we sat down with him to talk about the origin story for his book.

What inspired you to write your book?

It really all started with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the aftermath, clients called us lamenting not only the tragic loss of life, but also the loss of their businesses’ lifeblood – their data. This was in the days before cloud storage or before many companies had offsite backups. When I found out that insurers wouldn’t honor claims for the value of the data they lost (because data is not considered “property”), and that data isn’t considered a balance sheet asset, it set me in motion researching and advising on the topic of information value.

What was your favorite part of the writing and publishing process?

Being able to really deep-dive into researching some topics, e.g. property laws, ownership, and economics, and developing new ideas on how they relate to information. Also photos that clients, friends and colleagues have sent of them receiving the book. J

Who do hope reads your book? What do you want them to get from it?

I really hope that business leaders, not just data and analytics leaders, read it. If there's one question (maybe two) that I’d like the book to evoke from them in particular, it's this: “Why hasn't our organization been treating information as an asset all along, and how the heck can we hope to thrive, let alone survive, in an increasingly digital world without doing so?”

Who was your #1 influencer for your work?

Although innumerable colleagues within and outside Gartner have contributed and been supportive, the person who comes to mind first is the late University of Chicago professor and Nobel laureate, Gary Becker. Under Milton Friedman, Dr. Becker developed ideas about how labor could and should be treated as a corporate asset. He coined the term “human capital” in the 1960s which gave rise to the modern HR organization. On the shoulders of giants like him, I’m applying the same sort of ideas to information. Originally however, Paul Strassman’s work on the value of IT throughout the 1980s moved me to consider whether he was chasing the wrong animal, and that it was information, not so much the technology it sits on, which is the greater contributor to economic value.

What one thing do you hope readers take away from your book?

I’d like readers to begin to fully appreciate that information has incredible unique economic characteristics, well beyond even those of cash or oil, making it a potentially more valuable resource than any other.

What common misconceptions about your topic would you like to clear up?

I often hear people say that information only has value when it’s used. That’s a narrow view, and one entirely inconsistent with the way that other assets are valued. For example, a can of soup sitting on a store shelf, isn’t being eaten by anyone yet, but has a definitive value reflected on the store’s balance sheet. Organizations need to recognize and measure this gap between their information assets’ potential and realized value if they ever hope to close the gap.

What else are you working on?

I’m working on getting back into shape, getting more sleep, and spending more time with my family and friends! I dusted off my tennis rackets, my bike, and they’re getting to know me at the gym. At Gartner however, we’re starting to research the role of the chief data officer in more depth—what makes them successful versus what are typical failings. And related to this, the bifurcation of IT organizations into separate “I” and “T” organizations has been interesting to watch happen—just as we predicted.

What are you reading right now?

Mostly I’m a podcast junkie: “Startup,” “How I Built This,” “Marketplace,” “99% Invisible,” “RadioLab,” “BackStory,” and “Story Corps” are my go-to podcasts while traveling. (Closing one’s eyes is underrated.) But I’m also reading Stella Suberman’s The Jew Store, a biography of a Russian immigrant, not unlike some of my own, who worked his way into the dry goods business and the favor of his gentile neighbors in the South. It’s a great story of conviction, compromise and commitment.