Data Governance and “Churchill’s Adaptive Enterprise: Lessons for Business Today”

By Anne Smith

Readers of EIMInsight magazine (this publication), and others I have written for can tell that I am an avid reader; one of my favorite subjects is history.  Over the years, I have read many books and written reviews of some that attracted my attention for various reasons.  Recently, I discovered a book series that uses historical events and key persons to illustrate concepts and initiatives that could apply to business.  The series, Lessons from History, is the creation of a consultant, Mark Kozak-Holland, and the intention of the series is to examine complex business problems by applying lessons from history.  He uses historical case studies to demonstrate how challenges were overcome, offering a unique view for business and technology management to apply the lessons of history to their situations.

The book, Churchill’s Adaptive Enterprise: Lessons for Business Today, brings the reader to the late 1930’s and early 1940’s with descriptions of the world situation and the state of politics and lack of preparedness for World War II that existed in Great Britain.  When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, his country was facing the onslaught of Nazi Germany alone, France and the Low Countries had fallen under Germany’s control, and Britain was poised to be Hitler’s next victim.  As we know, Britain survived, it regained strength and allied itself with the United States and the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  The questions “How did he do that?”, “What were the actions and practices that enabled Churchill to emerge as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century?” are the subject of Kozak-Holland’s book.

This book is fascinating reading, despite the fact that the outcome of WWII is known to the reader.  Kozak-Holland explores Churchill and his Cabinet and other advisors’ actions to show how, under tremendous pressure, the Prime Minister transformed his organization to the modern-day version of an Adaptive Enterprise. An Adaptive Enterprise modifies the way an organization behaves, how it addresses and responds to change, giving it a competitive advantage.

With no room for error, the use of organizational adaptation, business practices and current technology, combined with the inspiration of the leaders, gave Britain and the allies the opportunity to turn the tide of the war to their favor.

In reading about the practices, technologies, and organization that Churchill established, we can see the emergence of governance and decision-making concepts well before they are widely believed to have been invented.  Although the teams created centers of excellence for code-breaking, military command and executive oversight (Bletchley Park, Bentley Priory, Storey’s Gate, respectively), the overriding need was for data and process governance, so that these centers could operate both separately and coordinated, depending on the need.  These centers handled large amounts of disparate data from multiple sources, and the executive committee needed consolidated data in real time to make immensely important decisions.  Developing a data governance approach and framework was essential and it had to be implemented in an unbelievably short time, with the future of Great Britain (and the rest of the world) hanging in the balance.

Churchill’s need was for competitive intelligence, and the data supporting that effort was required to be as accurate and timely as possible, given the limitations of technology that existed in 1940.  Data quality was deemed to be of utmost importance, and many analysts were employed to perform the data validation and meta data management tasks that are part of the modern data steward’s activities.  Validated raw data was given to leading analysts (“chief data stewards”) for some synthesis and applied to answer the executive committee’s questions and address challenges that erupted by the minute.  At Storey’s Gate, a sophisticated control center was created. It tracked real-time events from all theatres of the war, showing data identified as essential indicators for the allies’ performance.  The WWII version of an executive dashboard, the command center / map room became so important to Churchill that it was recreated for travel (train and airplane).  When Franklin Roosevelt saw the traveling version on Churchill’s first visit to the US, he had a similar center created.  Eventually, the two command centers were aligned and governance was given the highest priority, enabling the fateful collaboration between Britain and her former colony (SHAPE – Supreme Allied Headquarters – Europe).

Can history teach lessons for modern business and technology management?  Quoting Kozar-Holland, “Churchill’s use of executive dashboards, real-time event models, institutionalized decision-making, and competitive intelligence analysis helped turn the course of history. It was the first time that intelligence (and governance) had been used on such a scale, across an enterprise and in such a strategic capacity.”  Modern business may not be engaged in the epic struggle that was World War II, but the use of concepts such as governance, and practices from historical events can give some perspective on their application in 21st century organizations.

About the Author

Anne Marie Smith is a leading consultant in Information Management and is a frequent contributor to various IS publications. Anne Marie has over 20 years experience in information management for several corporate entities and has successfully led the development of data resource management departments within corporations and consulting organizations. Anne Marie is active in the local chapter of DAMA and serves on the board of directors of DAMA International, and is an advisor to the DM Forum. She has been an instructor of Management Information Systems (MIS) with Philadelphia, PA area colleges and universities. Anne Marie has taught topics such as: data stewardship and governance, data warehousing, business requirements gathering and analysis, metadata management and metadata strategy, information systems and data warehouse project management. Anne Marie’s areas of consulting expertise include metadata management including data stewardship and governance, information systems planning, systems analysis and design, project management, data warehouse systems assessment and development, information systems process improvement and information resource management/data resource management. Anne Marie holds the degrees Bachelor of Arts and a Master's of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from La Salle University; she has earned a PhD in MIS at Northcentral University. She is a certified logical data and process modeler and holds project management certification. Anne Marie can be reached at

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