An information enterprise is an organization that is effective and efficient at providing individuals throughout the organization with timely, relevant and accurate information for reporting, analysis and decision-making purposes. The foundation of an empowered information enterprise consists of business processes, transactional systems, information technology infrastructure, an information repository and meta data. Each of these components, along with the need for integration across components, presents a challenge for both business and information technology professionals as they attempt to create an information enterprise. In this column, I will define these components and examine the challenges and opportunities that are unique to each.
For discussion purposes, I have grouped business processes into two categories: infrastructure and core. Infrastructure business processes are activities such as payroll, purchasing and call center activities that are conducted in the same manner from one organization to another and from industry to industry. While there may be slight variations, these processes are generally very similar across enterprises. Infrastructure business processes are so well defined that they can be outsourced without impairing the ability of the organization to function effectively. What makes one industry different from another, apart from product or service offerings, are the business processes associated with the industry's core activities. For example, the business processes associated with drug discovery are radically different from those that support retail operations. Understanding and integrating core and infrastructure business processes helps to define the information enterprise.
With enabling technologies, enterprises are able to implement business process management systems, which provide managers within an organization insight into key activities at each significant step of the process. In an information enterprise, business processes are dynamic and are able to evolve with changes to the business.
Software vendors offering applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) systems address the need to automate business processes while capturing data. The continuous evolution of packaged software offerings has eliminated the need to develop custom applications for infrastructure business processes and has significantly reduced the need to develop custom applications for core business processes. As an organization standardizes on packaged transactional systems, the magnitude of data that is collected, processed and stored becomes overwhelming. The accumulation of data in a transactional system hinders its performance. Thus, historical data from transactional systems is off-loaded into an information repository for analysis and reporting.
Information Technology Infrastructure
Network, storage and computing capabilities are well-established technologies that enable the existence of an information enterprise. Advances in these technologies, including the emergence of wireless fidelity (WiFi), increased storage capabilities and increased computing power, will foster new requirements for the information enterprise. Organizations will have the ability to provide individuals with information access through WiFi connection; perform trend analysis on five, ten or twenty-five years' worth of data; or increase the speed at which computing requests are fulfilled.
While one element of data by itself is worthless, grouping it with other elements of data to form information creates value. This need to organize data in a manner that is conducive for extraction, reporting and analysis led to the creation of data warehousing. The most comprehensive and effective data warehousing architecture is the corporate information factory (CIF), which provides a framework for organizing data in a manner that supports the integration of subject areas and data supplied by various transactional systems. In a CIF, the data warehouse or operational data store supplies data to data marts, which are designed using dimensional modeling to provide rapid extraction and the functionality to address information consumers' requirements. The information repository is the heart of an information enterprise.
The need for information is not just limited to captured data or structured data, but also includes unstructured data. Integrating structured and unstructured data will be one of the next great challenges for every information enterprise.
The value of meta data often remains unrecognized because it is difficult to quantify or directly demonstrate. While most information technology (IT) professionals have an understanding of the value of meta data, they struggle to convince their business clients of it. Business professionals, if they have at least a remote understanding of meta data, often consider it an IT requirement, not a business necessity. In reality, meta data is a business necessity and an important element of the information enterprise. In addition to providing data definitions and lineage information to users, meta data facilitates comparative reporting and analysis, and efficiencies in developing new information products. In order to create and sustain an information enterprise, meta data must be addressed as an integral part of the information architecture.
Creating an Information Enterprise
Advancements in technology and the standardization of business processes have facilitated the ability of individuals to create robust information solutions for their organizations. While proven development standards, methodologies and approaches have become widely publicized, their application and impact varies widely. The focus of this column will be to address topics and issues that business and information technology professionals must consider as they attempt to create an information enterprise. I welcome your comments and suggestions.
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