Shari would like to thank Greg Todd, senior executive, Accenture Information Management Services, for his contribution to this month's column.

Managers say they spend too much time searching for information that often has no value. They feel bombarded by the sheer amount of information, much of it redundant or outdated. These were among the findings revealed in an Accenture survey of middle managers at U.S and UK companies on the topic of information management.  Fifty-nine percent of respondents said that as a consequence of poor information distribution, they miss valuable information on a daily basis because they know it exists but just can't find it.1

C-level executives now find themselves awake at night worrying about what's happening with their information. This concern is certainly justified in light of the numerous places where information exists throughout a company. Without a process in place to share this information with those people who need to make important business decisions, it is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. It also is a dramatic change from what existed just three years ago when a Google search on the term "information management" would have uncovered few matches.

An analogy can be made to a period 10 to 15 years ago when the approach to fixing transactional systems was disjointed and disconnected. With the advent of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, businesses could capture disparate information and pull it under one roof. Today, companies can break through those silos of business intelligence (BI), data management and content management by building a strategy that will help them share, communicate and collaborate on information more effectively and efficiently, thereby creating greater value to their internal and external customers. The value proposition for streamlining information stores and providing easier access to relevant and trustworthy information has never been greater.

There can be no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to information management. Different industries and different businesses must satisfy their own information management issues in terms of the capturing, storing, analyzing and archiving of information. Over the last 15 years, the number of information stores has grown exponentially, which has made it extremely difficult for managers to find information that is useful for their jobs. The survey brought to the forefront those perceptions regarding the amount of time wasted searching for relevant information and the value of that information (should it be found). This is hardly surprising as many companies have experienced multiple mergers and acquisitions, resulting in different ways of reporting and integrating information. Take five executives walking into a room, and chances are that each has a different set of numbers to describe the same performance indicator or metric.

The first steps for any organization wanting to make the information work for them begins with defining what information management will mean to their company and to communicate and achieve consensus across all its business users in terms of how it will be addressed. Applying a governance framework and treating information as a corporate asset is the first step toward gaining control of your information architecture. Only then can the organization move on to diagnostics, assessments, blueprinting and planning, and implementation phases.

Two maturing innovations have changed the face of information management: search and service-oriented architecture (SOA). New and emerging search technologies drive the ability to traverse across both structured (BI) and unstructured (content management) content. Search capabilities can provide tremendous enhancements in helping individuals find information relevant to their jobs. These tools can help save valuable time and free up hours currently wasted (as much as 25 percent of their day, according to the survey).

SOA stands at the very heart of information architecture design today. It constitutes a fundamental shift, similar to the evolutions in the past that moved the business environment from mainframe to client server to net-centric computing. SOA now gives an organization the ability to access repositories of information across a number of different application types, store information and provide access to the right individuals. Companies are starting to embrace this change, recognizing the value of moving away from purchased data models and rigid applications that have to go through vast quantities of customization and nightmarish maintenance problems.

The findings of the survey bear out what businesses are admitting. CIOs are prepared to discuss the independent requests they receive for information - security, integration, access, storage - and that there must be a better way for them to address how they manage this. Many want help with the information governance process - setting up the procedures, the people who drive those procedures, the restrictions to access to certain information, and the tools that will enable them to manage their information management capability seamlessly. They often want management procedures for taking independent one-off requests from the business and pulling them into a more strategic approach, using a centralized set of gatekeepers to help them make decisions on how best to prioritize their information requests and implement them.  

References:

  1. "Managers Say the Majority of Information Obtained for Their Work Is Useless." Accenture online survey, 4 January 2007.

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