Certification For Data Managers?

Can "official" recognition help us gain respect?

A few months ago, I wrote a column in response to an e-mail from a fellow who complained, in an almost Rodney Dangerfield vein, that storage managers “don’t get any respect.” I sympathized with the reader in more than just principle.

Despite the fact that they deploy, manage, coddle, and protect an organization’s most critical asset, data, on a daily basis, rarely are storage managers given their own job designation. They are technicians, or administrators, or just IT grunts—never storage managers. It makes no sense.

Despite the fact that they are responsible for maintaining the single most expensive category of equipment in most IT hardware acquisition budgets—namely, storage platforms—rarely are storage managers given credit for the professional skills that they bring to the job. Again, it makes no sense.

Finally, despite the fact that they must slog through a seemingly endless muck of proprietary, unproven, half-baked, and non-interoperable technologies to find a combination of storage hardware and software products that does an acceptable job of supporting an organization’s most important business initiatives, storage managers are the forgotten men and women of IT. This must change.

Last weekend, I built a web site at www.datainstitute.org to front for an organization I am building to address this problem. I wanted to invite readers of Storage Strategies to be the first to visit the site and to tell me what you think about it. I will reward those with constructive feedback with free memberships or some other bonus as the business behind the organization ramps up over the next couple of months.

I believe there is a need for a professional training and certification program to serve those who manage data. You may notice that I emphasize data management and not storage management. That is because, at the end of the day, the importance of what you do is more than keeping a bunch of hardware in good operating condition. You deliver value by assuring the continuous accessibility of high integrity data to support business processes. You are data managers.

So why certify it?

As has happened in the security profession, and even in the disaster recovery profession, the certification of professional skills by an independent testing and certification institution has helped to establish a cadre of IT practitioners noted for their expertise in a specific field of endeavor. Having the tag “certified data manager” on your business card won’t make you more popular on date night, but it may help you to begin to get the respect that you deserve from your organization.

Now, I know the slippery slope of professional certification programs. I have a good friend in the disaster recovery field who provided excellent service as a disaster recovery manger to a large financial institution for over 20 years. When the company was acquired by a bigger fish a few years ago, my friend decided to retire and hang out a shingle as an independent DR planner. He approached a large outsourcing company with the simple proposal that, should they need disaster recovery planning assistance for any of their customers, he was available to offer his assistance.

The company asked him whether he was a “certified disaster recovery planner” or “CDRP”—the moniker for those who had completed a certification program offered by a private company. I know this program’s origins intimately, and didn't care for its business principles.

Neither did my friend. He abstained from seeking the certification at the time, instead relying on his record of experience to prove his skills. However, by the time he approached the outsourcing company, certification had gone mainstream. The outsourcer told him point blank that they could not hire him or anyone else who didn’t have a certification. Customers, explained the outsourcer, required certified consultants.

I keep the story in the back of my mind to check my own plans to develop a certification program for data managers. Unlike disaster recovery certification programs, which represent no specific content or skills expertise (DR, as I have said many times, is a straightforward application of common sense), data management has definable content, skills, and knowledge requirements, and methodology to master. You begin as the equivalent of an apprentice, develop journeyman skills, then, in time, become a master craftsperson. That is just how data management works.

So, I am assuring myself that there is enough “meat to go with the potatoes” for a professional certification in data management. I am investing my hard-earned money in this institute on the assumption that there are enough folks out there with responsibility for managing data who would agree with me that joining together into a profession would provide collectively, what we cannot obtain individually: respect for what we know and what we do for a living.

More importantly, as the cadre of certified data managers grows in number, the opportunities also increase to speak to the vendors of storage products in a loud, collective voice. Think about it. When neurosurgeons state in a unified voice what they need from the medical instrumentation industry, it gets delivered. When security professionals demand functionality from their firewalls or protocols, it gets delivered.

There is so much proprietary infighting in the storage industry that obfuscates the creation of truly interoperable and standards-based products, maybe a cadre of data management professionals speaking in one loud voice can make a difference too. That’s the idea, at least.

So, take a look at the site, which is still being built out. Tell me if you think I’m on to something. Tell me if anything else is needed, or if anything needs to be done differently. Together, I think we could make this thing work.

We have some interesting potential sponsors lining up to support the effort. However, I am holding vendors at arms length because, ultimately, whether DMI is a success will depend on you. I look forward to your input.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.