All organisations need to comply with regulations and legislation. All organisations need to offer top-notch customer service.

All organisations need to manage their products and services as efficiently as possible. And all organisations want to stand out from the crowd. While these goals may not appear to be directly linked, there's one thing that makes all of them – and more – possible: a single view.

What is a single view?

A single view is a consolidated, up-to-date view of all the data you hold about the things that are important to the working of your organisation.

These 'things' could include customers, citizens, patients, products, suppliers, locations or assets – your single view is an organisation-wide single source of the truth about each one.

Information about each of these 'things' is typically kept in lists: a list of customers, a list of product parts, a list of suppliers and so on.

And so long as there's only one list of each key thing, everything works fine, because everyone in your organisation knows where the information is. In reality, however, operational needs result in multiple versions of the same list popping up; each department has different requirements when it comes to key information.

For example, an accounts function's 'customer' list will likely contain the billing address, while the order fulfilment department will want their 'customer' list to contain the delivery address (but may have no interest in the billing address).

Both are valid pieces of 'address' information about the 'customer', but there's now no longer a single view of each individual.

Similarly, what happens if a customer gets married and changes their name? This alteration may happen in one list, but not filter through to the other.

These two simplistic examples show how having multiple lists creates a problem, given that it is incredibly difficult to synchronise information across departments and lists, especially if they're stored in different formats, and use different terms to label the same thing.

Failing to keep a single view of these key things can lead to all sorts of problems, particularly as organisations grow and become more complex.

These consequences could be anything from minor irks that slow down business-as-usual processes and damage staff morale, right through to disasters that have big financial implications. Let's consider a few real-life examples.

What could go wrong?

Take the oil well drilling contractor whose insurance company had to pay out $42m (in today's prices) after a blowout during drilling sent oil gushing to the surface for three weeks before it was contained.

It was later found that the contractor had not compiled a single view of all available information on the local surroundings, which would have shown it was a volatile area where there had been numerous recent blowouts from wells being drilled[1]. Knowing this would have enabled the drilling firm to take necessary precautions to avoid disaster and the significant payout.

Firms entering into joint ventures or other collaborative partnerships – where sharing of information is key to making the engagement a success – will need a clear single view of what information can be shared.

Because while the two organisations may be working together in one area, they could be competitors in another, much like Apple and Samsung, for example: certain components in Apple devices are still made by Samsung[2], despite, at the time of writing, the firms being locked in an ongoing legal dispute over patents[3]. If the wrong information is shared by accident, this could significantly damage one of the organisations.

Then there's the example of the multinational company that was paying its suppliers multiple times for the same invoice – again as a result of not having a single view of each supplier, which would have shown that the invoice in question had been paid.