The Wall Street Journal recently¬†ran an article titled “Data is the new Middle Manager”. The theme is that many small startups are making all their data (sales, expenses, research, etc.) available to everyone in their organizations. The idea is that the people who need to make real time decisions should have all the data they need without having to go through upper management or requesting some special report, etc. Using desktop dashboards and cloud computing is making all this possible. The end result, many firms find, is better and faster decisions backed up by firm facts.

As with many things in my business career, I have been on both sides of the issue of who has access to what data.

In my old private company Donn, the founder and owner was very secretive about data. This is not unusual in private firms. Often only the Sales Managers were allowed to see product line and customer profitability, not the whole sales staff. And access to total earnings and the balance sheet, which showed Shareholders Equity or Net Worth, were restricted to only a handful of financial people, the owners and a couple longtime, trusted executives. Data was so restricted at Donn that when I first showed up as an external auditor, all the members of the Donn audit had to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement.

When Donn was acquired by the very public USG Corporation, there was a lot more data sharing among the troops. But USG had a typical big corporation management structure and hierarchy with layers of managers who each were granted access to only certain data. And in those early days, data was buried on a main frame computer which was slow to access and allowed for a lot of controlled distribution of data or, even worse, printed reports.

Our new USG subsidiary, of which I was the CFO, started to change that by using PCs and, at the time, a new consolidation and reporting package, called Hyperion. My whole, small staff could view and work on information and reports right at their desks, without generating a special data request of USG’s central computer group. Today all of USG and most other large firms use this type of PC accessible software. And, yes, you get faster, and usually better, decisions out of less staff. It is available, however, ¬†only to the professional financial staffers, not everyone in the entire company.

But are there any downsides to all this sharing of data? Of course there are! A subject that I have dealt with and written about quite a bit is Fraud in organizations. Fraud can occur for a lot of reasons but often involves lack of control. Lack of control can be in procedures, supervision or misusing or manipulating data. So you still need to have supervision of your employees and a method to track who is accessing what data and why.

And just because you can access all your firm’s data does not mean you should or need to to perform your job. Curiosity about peer’s salary or expenses or benefits can lead to trouble at a minimum and, at the worst, to an incentive for Fraud.

After being on both the very, very private company world of data and the increasing public, sharing world, I vote for more access and sharing of data. Everything in our world of business and life moves at almost warp speed and so should data in an organization. But remember you still need to do that often boring and sometimes tedious job of supervising and managing your employees to minimize your exposure to potential employee fraud.