Last week I moderated a breakfast on the subject of Interconnectivity. As someone who spent years covering supply chain and topics around buy side and sell-side applications, I guess I was an obvious choice. And while the meeting was informative and useful, it reminded me of how fast things are changing – and the dangers of losing perspective on just what is important and relevant to the audience at hand.


I should back up. What “Interconnectivity” refers to are the connections that enable business. It is the ability of software and hardware on multiple machines among multiple partners to communicate.By itself, Interconnectivity is not Business Intelligence, not Information Management. It’s just Business.


The question that arose for me was, “What is the relationship between these notions of Interconnectivity and Information Management?”


As it applies to Interconnectivity, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), flat files and batch processing have long been services and sets of rules to exchange transactional receipts and notices between partners. These things were around long before the Web and their own deep subject. But not long after Y2K, EDI and other transactional protocols, already decades old, took on new relevance as the means to grease supply and distribution value chains. EDI remains hugely relevant in manufacturing. It sequences the arrival and installation of the parts that go into the stove or the automobile you buy. Without EDI you actually couldn’t buy a car because whole production lines would stop for want of a single component. EDI is also fodder for business intelligence, though not by itself.


Maybe I just found myself focused on a higher or extracted level in the technology stack. But it came to me immediately that there’s a lot of overlap between people whose jobs depend on transactional security and timeliness and people who are concerned with making hay out of scattered information. It’s obvious that those pursuing information management and those pursuing interconnectivity share many of the same problems: poor extended visibility to information; too many missing connections; too much diverse technology; too much expense; worries about the quality of information; and so on.


But make no mistake: If you are a logistics manager, you are interested in better insight, but that’s not what your job hangs on. Higher learning is no excuse for an empty loading dock


For functional purposes, Interconnectivity is better nailed down than is Information Management. EDI and batch are headed toward SOA just as is Information Management, but are currently more bulletproof for their purpose today because they have to be. Operational Interconnectivity can absolutely never be considered an afterthought.


Maybe it boils down that Interconnectivity is the requirement for having information, and that Information Management creates a secondary market for information. As I was wrestling with my question, I came across a report by Greg Todd, North American lead for Accenture’s Information Management Services Division and had a chance to ping him on the topic.


Information Management, to Todd - and he stressed that this is only his personal view - is just the next evolution of the transactional focus of ERP. “What ERP did on the transactional side of the house is what Information Management is trying to do on the analytical side of the house.”All the big players, SAP, Oracle, HP, Microsoft and IBM are now starting to build “Information ERPs” as a result, he says. Information ERPs are stacks of data integration, master data repositories, analytics, content management, portals and search capabilities. If not quite ready for market, Todd feels that corporations will soon install Information Management systems as they once did ERP systems. Consolidation, both on the customer side and the vendor side is likely to drive this. “As vendor M&A goes on, in the next couple of years it may be reasonable that companies will settle on one stack and go with Microsoft, Oracle or SAP, use that as their Information Management stack and start to eliminate a lot of redundant tools.”


The return of the proprietary platform sounds excruciatingly familiar, given what followed the ERP wars of Y2K. What’s moving the dial now are early and somewhat isolated project-level demonstrations of service-oriented architecture (SOA). SOA is also on the radar of the Interconnectivity folks, with or without the concept of a platform, though their SOA won’t be built on spec. It can’t be because it would kneecap commerce. The tension between Interconnectivity and Information Management is going to be tested by SOA strategies and plans.


“Leveraging SOA to provide information access to business users will be a near real-time solution replacing a lot of the what would be considered EDI or ETL type of capabilities; going from batch to a kind of fluid highway that can be shared through services,” Todd says. In his view, information as a service and the ability to look at operational scorecards and relevant information that’s being pulled from multiple sources around the world is very interesting to a lot of his clients. It’s very interesting to us too.


But don’t mistake. SOA will not be a replacement for operational interconnectivity until it is equally bulletproof, scales and doesn’t impede performance. Otherwise it will remain just another extraction or abstraction.


Greg Todd’s roadmap for Information Management is something I’m hoping he’ll soon write about for BI Review, because it starts with establishing strategic vision and identifying internal assets before it ever gets to data. And data seems to be the thing most companies foolishly rally around first and foremost in their IM quests. Once this sequence is followed, Todd says corporations can move onto process reengineering, and finally, technology.


That’s very good advice for properly pursuing Information Management. But I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the operational folks and the SOA federalists come together and who has the final word.

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