As adjunct university faculty, I get to talk to students about how business strategy increasingly depends upon understanding how to leverage information. To make discussion more concrete, I share with students the work of Alvin Toffler. In The Third Wave, Toffler asserts that we live in a world where competition will increasingly take place upon the currency and usability of information.
In a recent interview, Toffler said that “given the acceleration of change; companies, individuals, and governments base many of their daily decisions on obsoledge—knowledge whose shelf life has expired.” He continues by stating that “companies everywhere are trying to put a price on certain forms of intellectual property. But if…knowledge is at the core of the money economy, than we need to understand knowledge much better than we do now. And tiny insights can yield huge outputs”.
Driving better information management in the information age
To me, this drives to three salient conclusions for information age businesses:
- Information needs to drive further down organizations because top decision makers do not have the background to respond at the pace of change.
- Information needs to be available faster which means that we need to reducing the processing time for structure and unstructured information sources.
- Information needs to be available when the organization is ready for it. For multinational enterprises this means “Always On” 24/7 across multiple time zones on any device.
Effective managers today are effective managers of people and information
Effective managers today are effective managers of information. Because processing may take too much time, Toffler’s remarks suggest to me we need to consider human information—the ideas and communications we share every day—within the mix of getting access to the right information when it is needed and where it is needed. Now more than ever is the time for enterprises to ensure their decision makers have the timely information to make better business decisions when they are relevant. This means that unstructured data, a non-trivial majority of business information, needs to be made available to business users and related to existing structured sources of data.
Derick Abell says that “for (management) control to be effective, data must be timely and provided at interval that allows effective intervention”. Today this is a problem for most information businesses. As I see it, information optimization is the basis of powering the enterprise through “Third Wave” business competition. Organizations that have the “right to win” will have as a core capability better-than-class access to current information for decision makers.
Putting in place a winning information management strategy
If you talk to CIOs today, they will tell you that they are currently facing 4 major information age challenges.
- Mobility—Enabling their users to view data anytime, anyplace, and any device
- Information Trust—Making data dependable enough for business decisions as well as governing data across all business systems.
- Competing on Analytics—Getting information to business users fast enough to avoid Toffler’s Obsoledge.
- New and Big Data Sources—Connecting existing data to new value added sources of data.
Some information age
Lots of things, however, get in the way of delivering on the promises of the Information Age. Our current data architecture is siloed, fragile, and built upon layer after layer of spaghetti code integrations. Think about what is involved just to cobble together data on a company’s supply chain. A morass of structured data systems have vendor and transaction records locked up in application databases and data warehouses all over the extended enterprise. So it is not amazing that enterprises struggle to put together current, relevant data to run their businesses upon. Functions like finance depend largely upon manual extracts being massaged and integrated in spreadsheets because of concern over the quality of data being provided by financial systems. Some information age!
How do we connect to new sources of data?
At the same time, many are trying today to extend the information architecture to add social media data, mobile location data, and even machine data. Much of this data is not put together in the same way as data in an application database or data warehouse. However, being able to relate this data to existing data sources can yield significant benefits. Think about the potential benefit of being able to relate social interactions and mobile location data to sales data or to relate machine data to compliance data.
A big problem is many of these new data types potentially have even more data quality gaps than historical structured data systems. Often the signal to noise for this data can be very low for this reason. But this data can be invaluable to business decision making. For this reason, this data needs to be cleaned up and related to older data sources. Finally, it needs to be provided to business users in whatever manner they want to consume it.
How then do we fix the Information Age?
Enabling the kind of Information Age that Toffler imagined requires two things. Enterprises fix their data management and enable the information intelligence needed to drive real business competitive advantage. Fixing data management involves delivering good data that business users can safely make decisions from. It, also, involves ensuring that data once created is protected. CFOs that we have talked to say Target was a watershed event for them—something that they expect will receive more and more auditing attention.
We need at the same time to build the connection between old data sources and new data sources. And this needs to not take as long as in the past to connect data. Delivery needs to happen faster so business problems can be recognized and solved more quickly. Users need to get access to data when and where they need it.
With data management fixed, data intelligence needs to provide business users the ability to make sense out of things they find in the data. Business users need as well to be able to search and find data. They, also, need self-service so they can combine existing and new unstructured data sources to test data interrelationship hypothesis. This means the ability to assemble data and put it together and do it from different sources at different times. Simply put this is about data orchestration without any preconceived process. And lastly, business users need the intelligence to automatically sense and respond to changes as new data is collecting.
Tiny insights can yield huge outputs
Obviously, there is a cost to solving our information age issues, but it is important to remember what Toffler says. “Tiny insights can yield huge outputs”. In other words, the payoff is huge for shaking off the shackles of our early information age business architecture. And those that do this will increasingly have the “right to win” against their competitors as they use information to wring every last drop of value from their business processes.
Solution Brief: The Intelligent Data Platform