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Convergence

Published
  • July 14 2003, 1:00am EDT

When I play cards with my Dad, he makes two columns to keep score. They are labeled "we" and "they." The first time I saw this as a young boy (mind you, I have played a lot of cards with my Dad), I was amused at the simple, diplomatic but adversarial implication in this. There was "we" – our side, the good guys, and "they" – the other team, the competition.

Sadly, the same mind-set has existed in information technology (IT) for quite a while. From Grace Hopper’s time until today, there seems to be the innate need to separate business functions and technology functions. There are "users," usually the "they" team. There are the IT people – the "we" team. We have mountains of methodologies designed to make sure what one is saying, the other understands. Certainly some of this is necessary. We can’t understand everyone else’s professions in detail. However, the implication of two opposing sides has resulted in an adversarial mind-set. Moving beyond the data warehouse and into information asset management will require setting this mind-set aside.

Recently, a related issue surfaced while I was calling on a company. They possessed a pretty good information strategy, lots of models and meta data, and a good high-level decomposition of all business processes. They wanted to tie it all together into some type of technology vision but really could not find a solid reason. Given their culture, the economy and other distractions, they were not sure how to build the business case to do whatever it was they had to do.

In both examples, the word convergence addresses the core challenge. Historically, business has driven requirements for IT or IT has been an enabler for business. There has always been a linear relationship. However, this practical need for separation has evolved into a "we" and "they" view of business use of technology. The "we" and the "they" are converging.

Convergence is the label placed on the basic structural changes in business as a result of endemic information technology. With information power on all desktops and many businesspersons acting as their own information centers, automated information is a basic lubricant of all business processes. Convergence means that information is no longer a separate commodity. On one hand that means information is no longer a mysterious, abstract item. On the other, information, as a commodity, deserves the same treatment as any other core component of business – standards, governance, controls and valuation. There is even a growing thought that information is somehow new to basic economic forces of capitalism. Land and labor were enhanced by capital. Now capitalism will be enhanced by intellectual capital (information and knowledge.)

Why do many information projects act as though the business exists on the other side of a fence? Transactional packages are purchased and data warehouses are built as though IT departments are grocery distributors – customers select from a list of items for push delivery or go get what they need at the source. This mind- set does nothing to address "knowledge" or ensure that information is used efficiently. There is no incentive to really know where all the information is and what it means. As for the grocery distributors, unless they have a precise control of their supply chain, they are second-class citizen in their markets. The same for IT shops – they can be push or pull distributors or supply chain managers.

Without a mind-set of convergence, the net result is an elaborate mix of technology and business requirements, all in an environment where heritage-processing philosophies cannot deliver timely solutions. The environment is focused solely on the distribution of information, not the efficient use of information or retention of the knowledge gained from information over time.

Twenty-first century competition requires creation of new business models – models based on cultural, political, technological and competitive realities. Separation of information management from business processes must become historical artifact. Business/technology becomes one concept – busology??

A classic example is the recent Internet bubble. Ask any CEO of a dot-com. The technology was not the challenge to growing (or ruining) these companies. The challenges stemmed from identifying new processes, assuring there were of real use, implementing the ensuing cultural shifts and managing content and new communities towards a common benefit. Linear, two-dimensional approaches and structured communication processes were inadequate in this new realm.

Ditto for moving beyond the data warehouse or focusing on the delivery mechanism or the interoperability of data. These are all technical journeys, not destinations. Therefore, the destinations must be clearly defined via a vision to manage information to a business goal.

As this column moves into its second year, we will be visiting many of the components of convergence – business rules, enterprise interoperability, low latency enterprises. We will also update the view of traditional components in light of convergence, e.g., meta data, ETL, business intelligence and data quality. We will also visit some new techniques on improving the sustainability of existing data warehouse and other information environments so they may be adapted to convergence.

It is exciting to see an industry move beyond itself. There will be a few who cling to the religious architecture wars. There will be some who refuse to see the benefits of commoditization of data warehouse as the introduction to a more profound management of knowledge. But on the whole, the rest of us will have fun and enjoy the ride.

The contents of this article are Copyright 2003 by DM Review and KI Solutions. Any use, quotation, repurpose, duplication or replication of the diagrams, concepts or content without permission of DM Review and the author is prohibited.

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