Information management is a broad-brush term that spans the entire gap between raw data and "Information at Work," which is the mantra (and subtitle) of BI Review magazine. As much as we've seen the newer notion of "Information management" wielded in marketing spin and product hyperbole, we are getting closer to understanding the ways in which companies are approaching the term and what it means to them. Though we are clearly on the front side of the curve, Ventana Research's newest bit of research, "Information Management: Actions, Intentions, Perceptions and Trends in Information," should help many executives get their feet on the ground when it comes to what businesses are doing in the real world. The study plumbs a deep sample of more than 700 qualified respondents, many or most of them readers of DM Review and BI Review. In a sense, our two magazines represent the bookends of the chasm. Again, it's the leap from information to information management that is being studied. As Ventana notes, information is data in context: data with some meaning to someone. "Information management is the acquisition, management, organization, dissemination and use of information by organizations to create and enhance business value." Today, there are a variety of complementary paths to information management. If the older notion of information management was confined largely to business intelligence and data warehousing, than the newer approach addresses a broader landscape that sees companies funding a variety of projects and feeling capable of success.

"What we explicitly found in the research are clear priorities and initiatives underway in companies diversifying their technology portfolio," says Mark Smith, CEO and EVP of research at Ventana. "There's a large classification of technologies and processes that support information management and go well beyond the status quo of business intelligence/data warehousing." In absolute percentages BI/DW dominates activities, but the net growth of other areas such as data quality, data integration, master data management and information security shows there is a diverse agenda as it applies to information management."

The report contains far too much material to grapple with in a few paragraphs, but here are a few highlights. Two-thirds of companies are still in the early stages of information management maturity. A little more than 10 percent of respondents were considered "advanced." Helpfully, the report measures the four levels of maturity (tactical, advanced, strategic, innovative) separately across "people," "process," "information" and "technology" as well as overall. As you'd expect, "people" maturity lags somewhat behind "overall" maturity, but the non-technical measures seem to be keeping up with technical maturity issues better than one might expect.

"It is interesting to see that it wasn't just plumbing or platforms," Smith says. "Search and BI were pretty high priorities, and I'd say a lot of people still look at BI as their information management view of record. There's a little blurring of what is BI and what is information management, but I would say that the majority of companies out there are seeing that things need to be tightly glued together." For the record, the status quo of centralized information architectures finds areas such as HR and finance still very distinct and separate. And certainly executives have separate high priorities for enterprise search, even if they don't see it as a central part of information management architecture. Not surprisingly, customer data is the most important category of data assets. That result is the outcome of an increasing emphasis in businesses on customer relationship management, complemented by issues of data quality, enterprise information integration and master data management. Overall, 95 percent of the respondents included customer data as one of their top three information assets priorities. In second place is financial information, driven in large measure by the emphasis in recent years on financial accountability and transparency. Key takeaways include starting with business drivers and taking a good look at cost/benefit ratios. While ROI is important, Ventana has always leaned toward examining business benefits to be considered alongside IT cost-cutting. "Everybody has to justify investment, the question is whether or not they've really looked at the total lifecycle cost and have a good understanding of the benefits," Smith says. "ROI numbers can be tweaked, and companies are often not doing enough follow through to see if they've been achieved and [people] are held accountable."

Other suggestions are to optimize information architecture and leverage current investments (small optimizations can yield large improvements); utilize business intelligence as the key component of information management (the front end to investments in data warehouses, data marts, content management and legacy systems, a binding point for data integration, master data, metadata management and enterprise search); and utilize third-party data to increase the value of information. These are brief takeaways from a much larger picture. As Smith says, success does not rest on a single technology; information management is an architectural blueprint, a journey and a continuous process. "Once people realize how these things fit together, that's part of the education that still needs to be done."

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