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An Architectural Framework

Published
  • June 01 1999, 1:00am EDT

My job as the executive director of an information technology research and development organization includes keeping abreast of new developments in information technology and new trends. So, it is not surprising that in the course of a week I am asked several times by clients what I think is going to be the next trend or "hot" technology topic. Surprisingly, recently clients have not been satisfied with asking me about the next hot topic. They want to know about the next revolution. Now, being an immigrant from the third world, I know enough about revolutions to be uncomfortable with them and the elements of destruction and annihilation they contain. So when asked to talk in terms that are larger than the next hot topic, I prefer to talk in terms of an "age" which builds on what has gone before, benefits from past lessons learned and keeps its best elements as stepping stones to the future.

The age we are entering is the age of innovation, exemplified by the concept of knowledge management and made possible by information technology. This new age is mandated by the change in the marketplace that has made the customer boss ­ demanding change, assuming quality, buying novelty and no more loyal than he has to be. It is made possible by information technology and as its foundation requires the integration and implementation of some of the best architectural concepts developed to date to support IT. Success in this age requires that we continuously ask how can we take the raw data and facts of the business and transform them into insights and knowledge that can be turned into actions and deliver value. Knowledge management is not an option for organizations of the future, but an imperative. Information technology is allowing us to develop new relationships through networked computer systems, using knowledge representations that are the convergence of the different forms of traditional media. In the age of innovation, information technology is the medium for representing, organizing and deploying knowledge.

Knowledge management is complex. Good knowledge management needs a solid IT infrastructure that takes advantage of an integrated set of tools and methodologies. Good design, good communications, good technologies, business intelligence, satisfied customers and better production and service methods are all prerequisites. Knowledge management is not just a set of IT tools, but also processes, technologies, attitudes and reward systems that make up an integrated methodology for leveraging the IT infrastructure. Knowledge management takes advantage of the information provided by business intelligence and collaborative technologies and moves the organization into the next phase needed for effective marketing and customer management services and support.


Figure 1: Business Intelligence Framework

At the AMS Center for Advanced Technologies, we are developing such an integrated approach with input from a diverse and multidisciplinary group of practitioners. To begin, we have developed a framework that defines the architectural elements that are the IT support structure for knowledge management. We have divided this framework into two major components. The first component, which will be the subject of the next three columns, is the business intelligence framework, which is graphically shown in Figure 1. The underlying premise for developing this framework is simple:

  1. Business value comes through business intelligence and knowledge management.
  2. Business intelligence in the absence of a data warehouse is ad hoc and takes too long.
  3. One cannot build a successful data warehouse without understanding the underlying database management technology.
  4. Knowledge does not actually deliver value to the enterprise unless it is put into action through a feedback loop that takes the results of analysis and translates them into operational actions.

The second component focuses on the architectural components for non-numeric, unstructured data. Business advantage to the organization is in the seamless and organized delivery of business intelligence and knowledge; but knowledge does not come only in structured media, nor does it only appear in the numerical results captured in operational systems and available through OLAP and data mining tools. The tools and architectural components to integrate knowledge management seamlessly with business intelligence are still immature and emerging. For this reason I will discuss this framework at a later time ­ after more research has been completed.
In the next few columns, my colleagues Tricia Spencer and Thomas Loukas will discuss their contributions to the development of this framework. Tricia will discuss the integrated business intelligence tools, and Tom will follow with the role of the database management systems in the integrated framework.

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