What’s an information agenda?
I had an opportunity to have a chat with Ambuj Goyal, General Manager of IBM’s Information Management division about the idea of an information agenda — an initiative that IBM recently announced. The company intends to make a major investment in methodologies, best practices, and technologies over the coming years as way to help its customers implement the information on demand strategy.
While it may seem confusing at the outset, I think that the idea of an information agenda makes sense. But first, I want to clear up a confusion that I have seen. I asked Ambju to define the difference between information on demand and the information agenda. While he agreed that both ideas are aspirational goals, he distinguishes between the two. Information on Demand is really the specific techniques and technology that help companies architect their information assets so that they can be able to deliver business value on time and in context. In contrast, he explains that an information agenda is really the business strategy for information that becomes the road map for the future. While the distinctions are subtle it is interesting to think about these two concepts.
Here are my thoughts. This problem is not new, it has been around for many generations of information management. I won’t use this blog to remind you that we have so many disconnected information sources, with differing definitions of what the simplest concepts – what’s a customer and what’s a price – just to name a few. And the problem is really getting worse. It isn’t enough anymore to just do joins across relational data sources. There is so much information that is stored in documents, on websites, in social networks, and customer service sites. And you can’t just throw everything into one massive warehouse.
I think that the initial instinct of most technically oriented organizations is to react. They embark on a Master Data Management strategy to quickly get one consistent view of data across relational sources. Or in many situations, they might go out and buy a tool that makes it easier to query many different sources. In some situations, customers are apt to invest in a massive data warehouse. Each one is a valid strategy and will work to solve one specific problem. But here is the difference that I see — reacting to one problem at a time is what has always gotten us into a mess with enterprise software in the first place.
Our team has been finalizing the second edition of Service Oriented Architectures for Dummies. One of the key lessons we have taken away from this project is that customers who are successful are those that have moved away from being reactive to the crisis de jour to creating a business focused strategy. For example, rather than taking on a project in isolation, these managers will make that project fit into an overall strategy for managing their business services or managing data across lots of business units. So, while they are solving problems on an incremental basis, they are ensuring that these problems are solved in context with the overall business strategy.
What I like about the idea of an information agenda is that it focuses customers on the idea of having a strategy and a plan. So, here’s my view of the top three things that should be in a customer’s information agenda:
1. Starting with an honest assessment. Companies need to start by taking a step back and determine how they use information as part of their business strategy. Information is used in different ways – both formal and informal. It is used as part of structured databases, document management systems, warehouses, and informal paper based workflows. Companies still use spreadsheets as their formal information management strategy. Taking stock is critical.
2. Imagining success. What would it look like if information could be available on demand and if that information could be trusted? I think this approach could become a strategic differentiation for companies. In fact, many of the companies that were interviewed for the second edition of SOA for Dummies were in the process of creating a strategy based on this idea. Most of these companies were looking for ways to leverage information as part of the strategy to proactively engage customers.
3. Fit small steps into a roadmap. I think this is the most important issue for companies. It is so easy to devolve into a reactive state – especially in complex financial times. I suspect that many companies will dump the idea of having a strategy and just try to do only what is necessary to survive. You can’t blame them. But, it is dangerous to take this approach. Yes, companies should implement pragmatic projects that match their current pain. However, they should be a step in a journey towards a strategic approach to managing information.