A basic definition of information management, as provided by Wikipedia, is “the collection and management of information from one or more sources and the distribution of that information to one or more audiences.” This definition covers a wide range of activities for acquiring, manipulating, and using information, whether it is physical or digital. However, this definition does not provide guidance on making information management a systematic or valuable process for a company or organization.
The challenge for every IT organization is to determine how to implement information management so that it furthers the company’s business objectives and helps deliver business value. In other words, how should we make information management operational? How do we make information management a set of activities that add value to what IT delivers to the business?
Making information management operational requires a shift in thought and approach to how IT deals with data, applications, and delivers value.
Up until today, IT has delivered value to the business in several ways. Initially, IT was the provider of computer and network hardware for the business and developer of business applications to use them. As the demand for functionality grew and comprehensive, integrated front- and back-office applications became available, IT became an application implementer and integrator for customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and more. More recently, IT has become a developer of Internet and mobile application capabilities for the business.
Thus, the value of IT to the business has evolved from providing basic capabilities and infrastructure to application installation and management. Furthermore, IT outsourcing over the past decade has made contract management a core competency for IT management. At one time, IT was the source of computer and application expertise for the business, but IT has now become a cost center with application knowledge outsourced and declining knowledge of the business.
This is all a consequence of the focus on departmental business functionality that is in place today. The consistent thread through the past 50 years of IT in business has been a focus on applications – a focus that has driven IT away from data and information management. We are now in a world where this focus on applications gives rise to questions such as “Why can’t IT make my business applications as easy to use as those on my smartphone or iPad?”
Smartphones, social media applications, and more are transforming the way we live our lives. Yet in business we are stuck in the remnants of our past, as short as that past might be, and its legacy of numerous fragmented business applications and data. If we are to make information management a reality, this cannot continue.
It is time for the real transformation of IT to begin and data will drive it.
Consider what it would be like if IT was centered on data rather than applications or business functions. This would mean that you would have to think of the information necessary for performing an activity rather than thinking of the activity independently of any other use of information and most other activities
in order to program it. The difference that will arise from focusing on information first will be profound. Information management will become as essential an operational process as testing is to successful application deployment.
Let's consider some core aspects of operational information management:
- Business terminology. A glossary of business terminology is the set of terms or data names, definitions, and associated rules for every distinct piece of information used in the business. The glossary of business terminology allows businesspeople to identify the information they use for a business activity. It also provides an understanding of the criteria, hierarchy or classifications necessary to apply to the information.
- Data and rules. The focus on information will change business requirements from a focus of functional units or programs to a consistent use of business information, the rules associated with it, and the rules associated with presenting and using it before any application software is purchased or developed. Thus the focus is on information and the associated rules for using it, including those for data security and regulatory compliance.
- Information use. We can then look at an activity as one or more discrete interactions, such as web pages, queries, reports, files, or messages that embody and use the information necessary for the activity. This has the additional benefit of focusing on business activities or actions to accomplish a business purpose, rather than on developing application programs or units of code.
- Business processes. Understanding business activities will also make IT more knowledgeable of and responsive to business operations and needs. By focusing on business activities and how they interrelate, IT will learn about operational business processes. Applying information analysis principles to determine data latency, duplication and inconsistency will help IT become capable of operational analysis and business process improvement.
- Business value. A focus on business terminology, rules, information usage and business processes will make IT a core component of delivering business value. Consider a strategic goal. If a company’s existing business processes could achieve a strategic goal without changing, strategic goals would be realized almost instantaneously. The reality is that business processes regularly require improvement to realize strategic goals. An IT department focused on business activities and processes and their use of information will be essential for delivering business value quickly and effectively.
IT will be transformed by focusing on the data used to create information that enables business activities. Today this data resides in multiple application databases and data stores that create data redundancies, inconsistencies and exceptions. Managing data today is purely a physical effort, keeping the databases and data stores adequate for the applications they support. Efforts to deal with data redundancies, inconsistencies, and exceptions mostly happen downstream from the applications for data warehouses and business intelligence analytics and applications. This is not information management, and this environment has prevented information management from being operational.
Operational information management will require a fundamental transformation of IT and how IT supports the business. Fundamental transformations are always a challenge. What is true is that IT's focus on applications and programs has run its course – IT is now managing software and outsourcing contracts to deliver value to the business. I call the past 50 years of business IT the "Age of the Programmer." Programmers delivering software have been equated to delivering business value. I characterize the fundamental transformation of IT as moving from the "Age of the Programmer" to the true Information Age, and operational information management is the key to this transformation.
Investigating this transformation of IT and enabling it are the objectives of my BeyeNETWORK expert channel
. Exploring the details of operational information management and its effect on IT disciplines and practices will be the focus of future articles.
SOURCE: Making Information Management Operational
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