Information architecture in organizations has entered a period of regression rather than progression. As a consequence, information utilization in organizations today is more chaotic, unorganized, underserving the user communities and operating with insufficient governance.

Several factors undermine information architecture and forestall information sufficiency in organizations. The rash of options that the vendor market has added, while replete with high value propositions, are being patchworked into architectures that are already suffering. The problem appears to be a lack of interest from management and staff in integration with existing infrastructure. Admittedly, integration with legacy applications is difficult. These applications are working for their intended (although limited) purpose, but are otherwise difficult to maintain and upgrade.

Consequently, information management (IM) continues to take on a higher risk profile as businesses demand quick ROI from all efforts. This makes business integration difficult. Information integration is really a necessary precursor to business integration. True integration between departments working with separate preferences for information needs and with arbitrary cycle times for information request turnaround is next to impossible.

We’re at a point where continued focus solely on the tactical is insufficient. It will not lead to raises or promotions for IM. Demonstrated leadership is increasingly required. IM must spend more time and energy on situation assessment from the perspective of infrastructure ability to support current and anticipated user requirements. These needs may be articulated or implied. Articulated requirements tend to regress toward what has historically been fulfilled, with only slightly marginal progression. The business is too busy to waste time asking centralized organizations for what they believe will not be delivered.

While I agree with progress statements that align with the popularity of data warehousing and business intelligence (BI) as pervasive, those observations do not lead me to agree that it’s all good and effective. Although businesses are increasingly using information, it’s inconsistent beyond anything that could be labeled a single department.

This situation - increased spending but decreased effectiveness - means that we are definitely dealing with a top-down view of IM for answers. I suggest leadership is the top priority today. Change is in the air as awareness of the problem sinks in and IM leadership responsibility shifts. New IM leaders will find themselves inheriting a complex web of architecture, technology and relationships. The new skills required are aptly summarized as shifting from technologist to business technologist. The velocity of business change demands that business technologists look forward and take initiative to avert a deepening of the crisis. Three key actions will help:

  1. Quit playing it super safe. It’s time to start doing what your critical and expert assessment shows is right and stop waiting for the direct order. Sure, users and IT will revolt at the mention of change to an existing system, but it’s inevitable. Sooner or later, the main question will be whether you are going to be the one to lead change or if someone else will. Questions are on the horizon from business executive management about why you didn’t forge and execute plans around languishing legacy systems. Remember, system replacement and enhancement will take serious planning, effort and careful iterative progress. Then again, we may not be talking about replacement, but actually integrating legacy applications with new ones to control redundancy and total cost of ownership (TCO).

    Furthermore, you’re not expected to know and predict the future unless your name is Nostradamus, so break some new ground with some old IM.

  2. Trust your experienced intuitions. The first step is the realization that the current IM path is not scalable. Gut feeling will tell you that. Of course, you will get resistance if you loudly announce your plan to scrapheap the customer relationship management (CRM) system on the Tandy TRS-80. But you know it’s time. When you know there’s danger ahead but fail to act is when your life gets rough. This mentality extends to all important aspects of a project: scalability of the technology, budget reasonableness, setting reasonable expectations, risk planning, user buy-in, sponsorship and data quality. When these are inadequate, delays and failure lie ahead.

  3. Don’t ignore your plans. An IM leader’s job today is multifaceted. Leaders will add to their own “remember the milk” list well beyond the immediate directives from above. It is great to be able to delegate, but those items remain on your list. I believe elements of the plans to get out of the current IM mess have often been developed but lie dormant and are continually outprioritized. The ability to keep those balls in the air and give progress to IM strategically is critically important. Often, this ability will only come about through effective team development and the ability to delegate the daily visibles to the team.

A lot of these concepts have to do with facing up to resistance and being an agent for change. That’s not comfortable, but it is necessary in IM today. Stepping up to that higher plane of service to IM and to the company is often the hardest step. In my next column, I’ll explore the personal characteristics I believe are necessary to succeed in the IM world.

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