You know the scene. Xmas morning, a child’s delight as the shiny new toy emerges from the wrapping paper, the disappointment as the realisation dawns that it doesn’t work, followed by the recriminations as the parents argue about who was supposed to buy the batteries; whilst in the background the toys really are thrown out of the pram!
And I’m sure many of you also recognise this scene. The new IT system is unveiled, you know, the one that will finally solve the multiple information management (IM) issues that have been bedevilling the organisation for years. Everyone stares expectantly at the screen as the man from IT takes them through the leading edge functionality offered by this best in class information management system. And then someone asks the inevitable question “how do I ... “ .. and then the recriminations start as IT and business users argue over the differences between what IT thought the business needed, a technically proficient system, and what the business actually wanted, an effective business solution.
Why do organisations so often find themselves in this situation? Experience shows that:
- too much focus is placed on what the technology can do rather than on the application of its capabilities in the most appropriate way to address the business challenges
- not enough focus is placed on the stuff that the technology is supposed to manage – the information – to make sure that it can be managed and used in the way the business needs
Technology is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Deploying a system and simply pouring information into it won’t work. A couple of analogies may help to illustrate the point:
- most people would agree that a Ferrari is a great piece of vehicle technology. But if you have a wife, kids and a dog then it’s of no practical use; except to make the neighbours jealous. What you need is an SUV that has been designed with your family’s needs in mind –the appropriate application of technology
- the human brain has been dubbed the most sophisticated computer in the universe. But unless a brain is wired properly through the input of relevant information, the creation of meaningful connections between the information and the application of a set of rules, gained through teaching & experience, to guide behaviour, then you don’t have a viable human being who can function effectively – appropriate content properly configured and managed
But how do you decide what is appropriate? Well you need to start by re-assessing the role information plays in your organisation. If you want to develop an effective IM solution it is critical you understand what information your organisation needs, the role it plays in supporting activity, the way it flows through the organisation, how it is used and how its use needs to be governed.
The output from the process used to develop that understanding is the logical information architecture (IA) comprised of a number of key artefacts such as an entity/information model, metadata model, access control model, operational model, collaboration model etc.
The next step is to interpret the logical IA into a physical implementation model appropriate for the technology platform(s) being deployed. That means, for example, defining the explicit (hierarchical) structures in which information will be stored, the implicit (metadata) relationships that support information retrieval, the navigation paths, the security controls, operational procedures etc.
The end result is an information architecture that animates the technology by harnessing and directing its capabilities in a way that matches the information management needs of the organisation. The information architecture is “the battery in the toy”.