|By Dana Gardner||
|August 20, 2011 12:00 PM EDT||
Why is it still difficult for businesses to get the information they want in the way they can use? Why has this been a persistent problem for decades?
We recently conducted a panel discussion, held in conjunction with the recent Open Group Conference in Austin, Texas, to explore these questions and examine the state of data and information management strategies. The discussion centers on the latest in the framework approach to information and data, and takes a fresh look at how an information architect can make a big difference.
To help better understand the role and impact of the information architect, and also how to implement a successful data information strategy, please welcome the panel: Robert Weisman, CEO of Build The Vision Inc.; Eugene Imbamba, Information Management Architect in IBM's Software Group, and Mei Selvage, the Lead in the IBM Community of Information Architects. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: The Open Group is a Sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tell me, Robert, why it is that it's so hard for IT to deliver information access in the way that businesses really want.
Weisman: It's the general insensitivity to information management concerns within the industry itself, which is very much becoming much more technology and tool-driven with the actual information not being taken into consideration.
As a consequence, a lot of the solutions might work, but they don’t last, and they don’t, generally speaking, get the right information to the right person at the right time. Within The Open Group, we recognized this split about four years ago and that’s one reason that in TOGAF 9 we redefined that information technology as “The lifecycle management of information and related technology within an organization.” We didn’t want to see an IM/IT split in organizations. We wanted to make sure that the architecture addressed the needs of the entire community, especially those requiring information and knowledge.
Gardner: Eugene, do you think if we focus more on the lifecycle management of information and the architecture frameworks like TOGAF, that we'll get more to this requirement that business has that single view of reality?
Imbamba: Definitely, focusing on reference architecture methodologies are a good way to get going in the right direction. I don’t think it's the end of all means to getting there. But, in terms of leveraging what's been done, some of the architectures that have been developed, whether it's TOGAF or some of the other artifacts out there, would help organizations, instead of spinning their wheels and reinventing the wheel, start building some of the foundational capabilities needed to have an enterprise information architecture.
Getting to the finish line
As a result, we’re seeing that each year with information management, projects starting up and projects collapsing for various reasons, whether it's cost or just the process or people in place. Leveraging some of these artifacts, methods, and reference architectures is a way to help get started, and of course employing other areas of the information management disciplines to help get to the finish line.
Gardner: Mei, when it comes to learning from those that have done this well, what do we know about what works when it comes to data and information management?
Selvage: Eugene and I had a long debate over how we know that we've delivered a successful information architecture. Our conclusion comes out three plus one. The first piece is just like any strategy roadmap. You need to have a vision and strategy. To have a successful information architecture vision you really have to understand your business problem and your business vision. Then, you use applicable, proven referenced architecture and methodology to support that.
Once you have vision, then you come to the execution. How do you leverage your existing IT environments, integrates with them, keep good communication, and use the best practices? Finally, you have to get implemented on time and on schedule within the budget -- and the end-user is satisfied.
Those are three parts. Then, the plus part is data governance, not just one time project delivery. You’ll have to make sure that data governance is getting consistently implemented across the projects.
Gardner: How about in the direction of this organizational definition of what works and what doesn’t work?
Weisman: The information architect will soon be called the knowledge architect to start realizing some of the promise that was seen in the 1980s and in the 1990s. The information architect’s role is essentially is to harmonize all manner of information and make sure it's properly managed and accessible to the people who are authorized to see it.
It's not just the information architect. He has to be a team player, working closely with technology, because more and more information will be not just machine-readable, but machine-processable and interpretable. So he has to work with the people not only in technology, but with those developing applications, and especially those dealing with security because we’re creating more homogenous enterprise information-sharing environments with consolidated information holdings.
The paradigm is going to be changing. It's going to be much more information centric. The object-oriented paradigm, from a technical perspective, meant the encapsulation of the information. It's happened, but at the process level.
Gardner: How do you see the role of the information architect as important in solidifying people’s thinking about this at that higher level, and as Robert said, being an advocate for the information across these other disciplines?
Imbamba: It's inevitable that this role will definitely emerge and is going to take a higher-level position within organizations. Back to my earlier comment about information really becoming an issue, we have lots of information. We have variety of information and varied velocity of information requirements.
We don’t have enough folks today who are really involved in this discipline and some of the projections we have are within the next 20 years, we’re going to have a lot more information that needs to be managed. We need folks who are engaged in this space, folks who understand the space and really can think outside the box, but also understand what the business users want, what they are trying to drive to, and be able to provide solutions that really not only look at the business problem at hand but also what is the organization trying to do.
The role is definitely emerging, and within the next couple of years, as Robert said, the term might change from information architects to knowledge architects, based on where information is and what information provides to business.
Gardner: Please update us on what took place at the Austin Conference.
Weisman: We had some super presentations, in particular the one that Eugene and Mei gave that addressed information architecture and various associated processes and different types of sub-architectures/frameworks as well.
The Information Architecture Working Group, which is winding down after two years, has created a series of whitepapers. The first one addressed the concerns of the data management architecture and maps the data management body of knowledge processes to The Open Group Architecture Framework. That whitepaper went through final review in the Information Architecture Working Group in Austin.
We have an Information Architecture Vision paper, which is an overall rethinking of how information within an organization is going to be addressed in a holistic manner, incorporating what we’d like to think as all of the modern trends, all types of information, and figure out some sort of holistic way that we can represent that in an architecture.
The vision paper is right now in the final review. Following that, we're preparing a consolidated request for change to the TOGAF 9 specification. The whitepapers should be ready and available within the next three months for public consultation. This work should address many significant concerns in the domain of information architecture and management. I'm really confident the work that working group has done has been very productive.
Gardner: Now, you mentioned that Mei and Eugene delivered a presentation. I wonder if we can get an overview, a quick summary of the main points?
Selvage: Essentially, we need to understand what it means to have a successful solution information architecture. We need to leverage all those best practices, which come in a form of either a proven reference architecture or methodology, and use that to achieve alignment within the business.
Eugene, do you have anything you want to specifically point out in our presentation?
Imbamba: No, just to add to what you said. The three keys that we brought were the alignment of business and IT, using and leveraging reference architectures to successfully implement information architectures, and last was the adoption of proven methodology.
In our presentation, we defined these constructs, or topics, based on our understanding and to make sure that the audience had a common understanding of what these components meant. Then, we gave examples and actually gave some use cases of where we’ve seen this actually happen in organizations, and where there has been some success in developing successful projects through the implementation of these methods. That's some of what we touched on.
Weisman: Just as a postscript from The Open Group we’re coming with an Information Architecture and Planning Model. We have a comprehensive definition of data and information and knowledge; We've come up with a good generic lifecycle that can be used by all organizations. And, we addressed all the issues associated with them in a holistic way with respect to the information management functions of governance, planning, operations, decision support and business intelligence, records and archiving, and accessibility and privacy.
This is one of the main contributions that these whitepapers are going to provide is a good planning basis for the holistic management of all manner of information in the form of a complete model.
Gardner: Why will the data and information management professionalization, this role of the information architect be more important based on some of the trends that we expect?
Weisman: Right now, it's competitive advantage upon which companies may rise and fall. Harvard Business School Press, Davenport in particular, has produced some excellent books on competitive analytics and the like, with good case studies. For example, a factory halfway through construction is stopped because they didn’t have timely access to the their information indicating the factory didn’t even need to be constructed. This speaks of information quality.
In the new service-based rather than industry-based economic paradigm, information will become absolutely key. With respect to the projected increase of information available, I actually see a decrease in information holdings within the enterprise itself.
This will be achieved through a) information management techniques, you will actually get rid of information; b) you will consolidate information; and c) with paradigms such as cloud, you don’t necessarily have to have information within the organization itself.
More with less
So you will be dealing with information holdings, that are accessible by the enterprise, and not necessarily just those that are held by the enterprise. There will also be further issues such as knowledge representation and the like, that will become absolutely key, especially with demographics as it stands now. We have to do more with less.
The training and professionalization of information architecture, or knowledge architecture, I anticipate will become key. However, knowledge architects cannot be educated totally in a silo, they also have to have a good understanding of the other architecture domains. A successful enterprise architect must understand all the the other architecture domains.
Gardner: Eugene, how about you, in terms of future trends that impact the increased importance of this role in this perspective on information?
Imbamba: From an IBM perspective, we’ve seen over the last 20 years organizations focusing on what I call an "application agenda," really trying to implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, supply chain management systems, and these systems have been very valuable for various reasons, reducing cost, bringing efficiencies within the business.
But, as you know, over the last 20 years, a lot of companies now have these systems in place, so the competitive advantage has been lost. So what we’re seeing right now is companies focusing on an information agenda, and the reason is that each organization has information about its customers, its products, its accounts like no other business would have.
So, what we're seeing today is leveraging that information for competitive advantage, trying to optimize your business, gleaning the information that you have so that you can understand the relationships between your customers, between your partners, your suppliers, and optimize that to deliver the kinds of services and needs, the business wants and the customer’s needs.
It's a focus from application agenda to an information agenda to try and push what’s going on in that space.
Gardner: Mei, last word to you, future trends and why would they increase the need for the information architecture role?
Selvage: I like to see that from two perspectives. One is from the vendor perspective, just taking IBM as an example. The information management brand is the one that has the largest software products, which reflects market needs and the market demands. So there are needs to have information architects who are able to look over all those different software offerings in IBM and other major vendors too.
From the customer perspective, where I see a lot of trends is that many outsource basic database administration, kind of a commodity or activity out to a third-party where they keep the information architects in-house. That’s where we can add in the value. We can talk to the business. We can talk to the other components of IT, and really brings things together. That’s a trend I see more organizations are adopting.
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