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Can IBM turn information management upside down?

I am here at IBM’s IOD (Information on Demand) conference. The keynote is interesting because of the focus on outcomes. IBM has invested more than $12 billion over the past five years in the information management market. More than $8 billion has come through acquisitions (Cognos, SPSS, etc.) and the rest from organic growth.

The biggest changes that I have seen over the past 20 years or so of watching IBM in the information technology market is the change in focus from the database engine and tools to a focus on a process centric approach to information management. In essence, this means that IBM is building a foundation based on outcomes through the lifecycle of information. Last year IBM called this movement to using information holistically to help companies anticipate the future the Information Agenda. Now, there is an interesting and subtle shift to what IBM is calling information-led transformation.  What’s the difference? I think that IBM is actually attempting to turn the information management market upside down.  There is no doubt that data and information management is a technical discipline. What IBM is saying is that the focus is on business transformation that is supported by information management technology. It is a subtle difference but really important. It is very easy to get caught up in the details about schemas, data cleansing, etc. But if information doesn’t support key business processes and business strategy needs, it is just a pile of technology.

With the growth of social networks, an ever expanding world of information sources – structured, unstructured, images, video, data feeds, and more, it is more important than ever that these sources of data be managed in context with the business goals.  The movement to cloud computing will add a lot more information to the mix.  It is going to be a complex journey. One only has to look at complexities of managing information in the healthcare industry to start to understand what the implications for managing costs and lives. Today we cannot easily look across information across individual doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, patients, medical equipment, digital images, and more. We don’t have consistent definitions of data; nor can we keep track of how effective a treatment might impact individuals with a symptom. Nor do we have the ability today to use information to determine what solutions could be used to reduce medical errors by 5% a year. If healthcare information management were focused on predicting outcomes rather than creating the next report, image what we could accomplish.

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