Enterprise information management is one of those things that sits quite comfortably as a concept within your brain. We know it has to do with managing data and information. We know certain things are expected to happen in EIM.

My definition of EIM will start simply; data/information is an asset and must be treated as such. Creating an organization that operates with that mind-set is not easy, for the devil is in the details. When you understand the specifics of asset treatment, you can broaden your definition of EIM.

Across the many definitions of EIM, a thread emerges that unifies EIM as a legitimate discipline. It takes the concept of information as an asset and attempts to make it real. IT can turn the asset management philosophy into a program that adds significant value to an enterprise or organization through improved ability to analyze and exploit all types of data assets and, ultimately, leads to increased business success.

Let's take a look at what it means to be successful with EIM, examine the market forces that make EIM a serious item on corporate agendas and describe what an EIM-centric philosophy in an organization might look like. You will see little (if any) technical talk about tools or software here, and the reason is simple - EIM is a business program. It is not a program in the realm of the CIO/CTO. The CIO may be accountable for execution, but the CIO is not the right function to drive EIM.

An EIM Vision of Success

When an organization is tasked to "do" EIM, three things can happen. And, like the wise football coach's comment on possible outcomes of a pass, "two of 'em are bad."

1. Nothing happens. EIM is viewed as a project (it is not), the EIM project - whatever it was defined as - ends, and the business or organization is no better.

2. The enterprise is worse off than before it started the EIM effort. Market share, revenue and cost metrics can all head the wrong way as problems buried within data and information grow larger.

3. The EIM effort is defined properly and held in the proper light. The business accomplishes its goals partially or wholly through the effective use and management of information.

The third outcome is surely preferred, that the program results in increased business success through coordinated (even choreographed) application of the many subdisciplines that make up EIM. It is not to say that you must have EIM to survive as a business. Many organizations have a culture where IT is an order taker, and requests for application, reports and downloadable files whiz over the transom, resulting in new wires, boxes and screens that provide a more efficient interface to a process or customer. This is all well and good. You probably can get by without EIM - most Fortune 300 companies do not have programs underway. They do parts of EIM by deploying subdisciplines like MDM, CRM and content management, and they surely reap benefits. So to not do EIM is not necessarily horrible.

Yet there are drawbacks to not applying a comprehensive approach to data and information:

  • A higher cost of ownership of the information portfolio. (Not a few dollars more - we are talking orders of magnitude in some industries.)
  • A higher risk from the data buried in numerous untracked files. (How did all those Social Security numbers get on that laptop?)
  • An enormous amount of knowledge buried in documents that cannot be tapped. (Where did the user manuals go for the warehouse system?)
  • Data gets in the way. (One company I worked with observed 50 percent of the financial analysts spent 12 work days a month building files.)

Mission-critical spreadsheets. (Executives sign off on financial statements cobbled together by the aforementioned financial analysts only to say, "We had no idea the derivative portfolio carried so much risk.")
Without fail, organizations embarking on EIM desire for various reasons to correct these issues though, frankly, inherent risk within data is the main driver.

Treating data/information as an asset means that the following happens:

  • The cost of managing information is tracked and managed to an expected percentage of sales, earnings or other metrics. This means that the CIO moves from being an order taker and takes on a partner or governance role.
  • The culture of the organization embraces data and information with the same fervor it brings to products and services. This means that "shadow IT" starts to shrink.
  • The value of your data and content portfolio, while not reported on a balance sheet (yet), is tracked, and investments in information and content are measured by the value added to the enterprise versus the risk incurred. This means that the CFO takes an active role in information portfolio management.
  • The business understands, in terms of market, reputation and financial exposure, the risk buried in content, reports and hardware. This means that corporate legal staff and compliance are also involved with the healthy use of data and content.

Getting your organization to exploit its data vis-ˆ-vis technology is part of the vision of a firm deploying EIM. The other parts of the vision are uniform metrics, agreement on a single source of the truth, a healthy respect for the usefulness of all content and consistency across major content and subject areas (such as MDM and content management). Select organizations can even approach modification to workflow and collaboration as part of EIM.
Finally, a firm that has embraced EIM understands that all the investments in technology are naught if the data, information, intellectual property and content are not used to achieve the goals of the organization.

Market Forces

As this article was being written, the credit worries in the U.S. economy "hit the fan." One of the overwhelming themes in the cascading banking crisis is a total ignorance of how risky exposures were and how the entire banking system was sitting on a pyramid scheme of overleveraged securities.

I was tempted to stop writing at that point - if you need a reason for EIM, this is it. However, not everyone is in the banking business, so we need to consider other market forces and business drivers. In fact, we need to make sure that the economic drivers do not overshadow other drivers.

Regulatory drivers are well known as shapers of information and data policy, but many organizations still treat regulations as an afterthought. The benefit of EIM in terms of compliance comes from:

  • Being compliant at a reasonable cost.
  • Being flexible in the event that a regulator knocks on the door demanding full data lineage of your financial reports (which most companies cannot produce).
  • Focusing on business affairs instead of regulatory matters.
Other examples of drivers that support EIM are:
  • The need for closed loop-type responses to markets and customers reduces data latencies. This means that the traditional approach to data movement, i.e., write yet another interface file, is tossed out and a reasoned, engineered architecture for data movement is in place.
  • Global markets and diverse constituents mean that unstructured data plays as much of a part in analysis as structured data. Therefore, the enterprise develops the necessary framework to manage content of reduced structure and integrate its meaning with traditional data sources.
  • Multimillion-dollar enterprise resource planning applications are still not providing the integrated benefits they promised. Usually, additional governance and data management is required to make sure the delicate balance of flexibility and data discipline are maintained.

A Day in the Life

An organization that has an EIM program will exhibit an understanding of data as the fuel of the enterprise. Whereas other organizations might view data as a lubricant, making local processes better or targeting specific business targets, the EIM enterprise makes sure that the data asset is recognized as a key component for success.

Asset treatment of information also means that the evaluation of risk in data will become very evident. Massive data downloads and mission-critical spreadsheets will be prohibited or closely governed.

The lineage of a particular chunk of content or data will be tracked from its entry into the enterprise to its ultimate retirement and destruction. From a compliance standpoint, it will be simple to see who has looked at data and how it has been used. The same technology that allows for data lineage will allow companies to build a value model for data and be able to adjust investment in IT accordingly.

Our vision of EIM started with a simple definition - that of treating data as a balance sheet-type asset. Our vision will provide the viewpoint that results in the ability to track, manage, govern and efficiently exploit enterprise content and data.

It is obvious that a more detailed definition of EIM requires a series of building blocks necessary to implement this vision. It is also obvious that EIM must coordinate a great many initiatives.

In future articles for Information Management, I will delve into the details of the EIM programs, the various challenges, pitfalls, success factors and central storage facilities, and I will conclude with an overview of the mandatory concrete functions that absolutely must happen to deploy the philosophy of EIM.

Next time, we'll evolve our view of EIM and explore component parts and how they interact. We'll also need to explain what "practical" EIM is. An enterprise initiative is something that must be funded, have a financial return and be able to be managed. At that point, you will learn how to define the enterprise in light of EIM.  

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