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My Friend Barry

Published
  • August 30 2002, 1:00am EDT

I’ve spent most of my nineteen-year career trying to be right. Once in a great while I happen upon someone who understands the value of being right too soon, even if it means being perceived as wrong. My friend Barry is one such individual. Barry was always willing to accept the pain and stress of staking a new claim rather than working an old one. Barry was wise enough to understand the difference between vision and eyesight, so he constantly strived to tie long-term vision to short-term deliverables. This is a common challenge for all of us engaged in data warehousing and business intelligence. Barry’s struggles and vision are worth sharing precisely because we all face these challenges and can benefit from a different vision.

Fighting Commoditization

We are all faced with the commoditization of previously specialized functions such as database technology (SQL), extract, transform and load tools (ETL), and business intelligence and analysis (BI, Analytics). Barry constantly worked to tie together innovations in these fields and understand their impact from the enterprise level. Barry was very good at applying the Corporate Information Factory construct for customers and vendors. Barry’s focus was to prevent commoditization by increasing discrete value offerings.

He was very careful to exercise "Information Factory Discipline" when reviewing new technologies. Barry would consider the appropriate architectural placement in the information factory for new technologies so that he could discern dependencies and impacts. Barry also understood the difference between information assets and information processes. He often applied this understanding to the adoption of enterprise class assets such as portals to identify potential ROI enhancements. He also grounded his opinions in this approach to ensure realism in his projections of likely adoption rates.

Beyond Academic Knowledge Management

We all struggle with issues like these on a regular basis. Barry’s gift was his constant drive to innovate, a rare combination of passion and vision. I was fortunate enough to work with Barry in a developing area of integration. Barry saw the intersection of knowledge management (KM) and the Corporate Information Factory. He had worked with KM specialists and was frustrated by their parochial approach to customer requirements. Barry never thought one tool was enough and often fought back against the "everything is a nail" approach taken by tool specialists who thought of their skills as a hammer. He saw the tremendous value that could be unlocked by applying KM to all kinds of information processes and assets.

Applying Enterprise Metrics to Portals

His work in the field of enterprise portals was focused on this intersection. Barry wanted to go beyond the simple application of taxonomy builders and indexing crawlers within the portal framework. These crude first steps at data mapping were not enough to solve the problems he saw customers facing. His thought process was years ahead of most vendors and consultants because he applied an enterprise value approach to what were seen as point solutions. Barry’s customers required enterprise value from portals. Barry rightly (and very early) surmised that these enterprises required a complete and flexible navigation system for a wide variety of information assets. Barry articulated this navigation requirement in both product and service dimensions. He drew upon his experience with KM practitioners to develop a means of capturing information road maps and then worked with portal designers to identify ways to present this road map. This enhanced vision for portals in the enterprise is still a long way off, but Barry’s vision is being proven correct in a variety of concerns. Barry’s vision for enterprise portals also helps portal vendors that can support this value proposition prevent commoditization and marginalization.

KM Meets the ODS: The Data Exchange

Another area Barry innovated with the help of his wife Emma is the Data Exchange. The notion of a data exchange grew out of a business Emma and her partners founded that generates significant and unique consumer information. Barry and I worked together to architect an open data exchange capable of supporting a multitude of constituents and uses. The operational data store (ODS) was our starting point, but the form and structure of this new information asset proved to be much different in physical instances. This new information asset is now in great demand, particularly in critical areas related to public sector security.

It turns out that the Data Exchange (DX) is being utilized in public and private forms to provide a secure means of accumulating and analyzing sensitive information on citizens and students. One of our state government clients is using this design to accumulate information of service recipients without tracking individual identities. The structure of the DX permits the abstraction of Identities (Account Names) and their respective Owners (People). So, a state level entity can maintain massive amounts of information about identities (think of these as virtual people) without breaking privacy laws by tying this information to real people (the Owners of these Identities). The two can be recombined using public/private key encryption by the appropriate authorities.

The other current use is in higher education, where the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has mandated a reporting system (SEVIS) for exchange students and visitors. This post-911 requirement is essential in the tracking of foreign nationals but must be managed by universities and colleges to provide regular, secure updates to the INS. The two-way nature of these sensitive communications is enabled by the real-time nature of the DX and its multiple tiers of security. Barry knew the Data Exchange had many applications; he also understood most of them were yet to be discovered.

Barry struggled with health issues recently that resulted in his untimely passing. The challenge he leaves us with is constancy of vision. Can we continue to evolve and apply our vision while engaged in the daily act of meeting deadlines and solving problems?

I am as anxious as Barry was to find out!

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