6 Steps to a Smart Information Architecture Strategy

SOA efforts require well-designed information architectures in order to base their activities on trusted data -- or else the business value of the SOA project may evaporate. Forrester's Gene Leganza shares advice on building a pragmatic IA strategy.

By Gene Leganza
Wed, May 05, 2010

CIO — Mention "canonical information model" in some circles, and people will run screaming from the room. Memories of unending quests to map the corporate information model are still fresh for these IT pros, creating a post-traumatic-stress response. Is it any wonder that formal infrastructure architecture (IA) practices have had trouble getting off the ground?

A recent Forrester survey reveals that IA domain development lags behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) adoption, with only one-third of organizations having formal IA programs. Of the shops pursuing SOA, nearly 55 percent are pursuing a canonical information model and 45 percent are going forward without a canonical information model. This means that many businesses are pursuing SOA without clear guidance from any central authority on what information sources to use for services in general and information and data services in particular.

SOA Definition and Solutions

Although it may seem daunting, the bottom line is that cross-silo business solutions such as SOA, Business Process Management (BPM), and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) require well-designed information architectures in order to base their activities on trusted data. Organizations pursuing SOA without well-established IA risk undermining the inherent value of the SOA business service — the availability of common services across the enterprise.

An informal approach leads to problems when a series of unconnected one-of projects — implemented across the enterprise — yield a confusing array of data services with overlapping functionality.

IA success depends on your ability to apply "street-level strategy," which combines a long-term vision with near-term investments toward that vision. Forrester first described street-level strategy as a way to approach SOA, however, the sheer size of the problem that IA targets makes it an ideal candidate for this approach. The following outlines how development teams and EA can work together to build a pragmatic IA strategy:

1. Start by creating a vision

Rather than fully documenting the current and target state with detailed models, create a vision and stop there with the initial planning documents. The vision document should include high level goals, key principles, the benefits to gain and the problems to lose, and a conceptual architecture showing the major information subject areas.

One of the better ways to present a high-level vision of IA is to map the conceptual-level IA to a high-level business capability map. This avoids the error of presenting information without a business context and sets the stage for strategic enterprisewide thinking by linking key information entities to organization-agnostic business capabilities.

2. Select and execute projects

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