Today's organizations must manage the explosive growth of all types of information while addressing greater-than-ever business demand for insights into customer needs and the business environment. Meanwhile, the significant regulatory and compliance risk associated with information security has increased the urgency for tightly controlled information management capabilities. These requirements are hard to meet with scant best practices available to tame the complexity that firms encounter when trying to manage their information architecture. Enterprise architects must define the organizational capabilities they need to develop and evolve their information resources — as well as the technology to exploit them. You can only achieve all this with a coherent information strategy that defines and prioritizes your needs and focuses resources on high-impact goals.
Crafting a detailed information strategy and successfully executing it is a tall order, one that has eluded most organizations. IT has been managing information ever since businesses embraced the use of computers — so why are most organizations so ill-prepared to maximize the potential in their information assets? One word: volume. The sheer magnitude implied by the term "enterprise information" turns organizations away from the Sisyphean task of managing at the enterprise-wide level and toward the much more controllable scope of information in silos. However, the siloed view is an operational view, and maximizing information's potential means looking across silos for relationships, strategic synergies, and insights. Unfortunately, few organizations are mature at harnessing subject matter expertise from the various business and IT areas and engaging in the collaboration necessary to establish the structure in information to make it available for analysis. But time's up! You need to establish a clear information strategy and formalize your information architecture practice because:
· You can no longer afford to make suboptimal use of your information assets. There may have been some comfort in the past knowing that firms that make really clever use of information, such as industry stand-outs Amazon.com and Google, were few and far between. But mainstream businesses have awoken to the rich potential in their existing information stores, and organizations are transforming people, process, and technology resources to do what's necessary to finally make significant progress in harnessing information's potential. This is a difficult and long-term journey, and firms that get too far behind their competitors will be at a severe disadvantage.
· Valuable new opportunities exist in making best use of new information sources. The hype around big data has executives salivating about the new insights available regarding consumer sentiment, customer behavior, and the dynamics of the business environment. Many business execs know that the hype is not unfounded, and that rich new information sources are a significant driver of the digital disruption that is going beyond introducing beneficial change and value-add to potentially transform business models.
· New technology in this area is exciting, but this is a lot more than a technology issue. Technology is an important driver of the advances in realizing information's potential. The range of capabilities includes new tools that mine the gold in big data, cloud-based architectures for products and services that make the manipulation of large amounts of data affordable, and in-house deployments of virtualization techniques that significantly accelerate information discovery and analysis. But not only is the technology complex, any information analysis scenario is a garbage-in-garbage-out proposition that requires formalized business-IT collaboration to get right. Firms must achieve the organizational maturity that has eluded so many to date to take advantage of the technology's power.
The opportunities inherent in new and expanded information capabilities and the business risk in maintaining the status quo have finally begun to motivate IT and business leaders to make effective progress in an area that has seemed like an intractable boil-the-ocean endeavor. What's the bottom line? Why is an effective information strategy a must-have? The value is in:
· Getting the right information to the right people at the right time. There's little more frustrating than knowing that somewhere, inaccessible to you, your firm has collected the data that can inform the decision you're trying to make. Does the loyalty of the customer on the phone warrant waiving your standard policy on returns? Is there a pattern to the process errors you're experiencing in part of your operation? Is there conflicting information in the forms you've collected to comply with regulations before launching an expensive initiative? A well-defined information architecture tells you where that information is, and a well-executed information strategy provides the tools to access it to the staff that needs them, when it needs them.
· Establishing and maintaining trustworthy information in a secure manner. Forrester has found that in many cases the catalyzing event that has driven firms to information management maturity was a business disaster that could have been avoided. For example, a pharmaceutical firm looking to market a drug in a new region included incorrect molecule data that delayed the regulatory acceptance of the drug — as well as the revenue from selling it in the new market. The root cause? Conflicting changes to information due to a poor understanding of who had access to what — something that a basic RACI chart (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) and standard governance processes would catch. That firm now has mature information management practices, complete with a strategy and a formal information architecture practice. This is not an isolated story — can you afford to wait for a high-profile incident involving inaccurate or insecure information to be the trigger for better management?
· Taking advantage of the new business opportunities in new information sources. The unprecedented level of detail coming from newly digitized processes, such as smart grids in the utilities industry or customer location data available from ubiquitous smartphones, has created opportunities in new information sources. The opportunities range from more effective marketing to entirely new business models. Any firm that does not pursue them leaves money on the table and cedes competitive advantage to the firm that does.
Forrester's Information Strategy and Architecture Playbook provides the ways to address the people, processes, and technology issues that stand between you and an effective and coherent information strategy. Forrester's approach defines practices that: 1) focus on specific goals with clearly understood business value; 2) drive engagement and collaboration across the enterprise; and 3) stay pragmatic by achieving your strategic vision through tactical projects that address current business needs.Start with our Executive Overview, which will be your guide to the various modules in the playbook.
by Gene Leganza