The purpose of business information is to answer business questions. Large numbers of business questions are asked all across the enterprise, and large amounts of business information are created all across the enterprise to answer these questions. Naturally, the types of business questions being asked within the enterprise vary widely based on department function, job function and level within the organization. Even so, these wide-ranging business questions can be easily grouped into four predominant categories:

  1. What has happened? (Hindsight),
  2. Why did it happen? (Insight),
  3. What will happen? (Foresight), and
  4. What is happening? (Current sight).

Information Assets

The accumulation of answers to these four groups of business questions comprises the collection of business information within the organization. And can be considered the business information assets of the organization. Just as the business questions can be grouped, these business information assets can also be grouped into corresponding categories: Hindsight, Insight, Foresight and Current sight.

The business information assets in each of these categories are produced with specialized technologies, people, processes, models, architectures and data. Typically, Hindsight is the result of basic reporting; Insight is the result of more sophisticated investigative analytics; Foresight is the result of specialized predictive analytics and planning; and Current sight is the result of timely operational reporting.

This implies that a certain level of investment has been made within the organization to build the infrastructure necessary to support the creation of each category of information assets. This also implies that the capability and maturity of each category of information assets may vary in quality, timeliness, accessibility and usefulness. For example, an organization may have a strong basic reporting capability and well-distributed Hindsight information assets, yet have limited predictive analytical capability and meager Foresight information assets.

Information Asset Portfolio

So the question begs for any organization, "What information assets does my organization have?" In other words, what is the distribution of Hindsight, Insight, Foresight and Current sight information assets within the organization?

The collection of information assets within an organization can be thought of as the information asset portfolio of the organization. Following this line of thought a bit further, the distribution of these information assets among the four categories can be considered as the information asset portfolio mix of the organization. For example, the organization may have a distribution (mix) of information assets in its portfolio of Hindsight 50 percent, Insight 25 percent, Foresight 10 percent and Current sight 15 percent.

Any quantitative criteria can be used to measure the "amount" of information being produced in each of these four categories; moreover, precision is not all that important. The point is to gain a relative understanding of the proportional mix of information assets within the organization. For example, a given organization may determine that the portfolio mix of information assets is Hindsight (70 percent), Insight (15 percent), Foresight (3 percent) and Current sight (12 percent); this type of organization would likely be very reactive in nature but without much ability to determine root causes for problems and take corrective action in a timely manner. Whereas, an organization with a more balanced portfolio mix of Hindsight (35 percent), Insight (35 percent), Foresight (15 percent), and Current sight (25 percent) would likely be much more proactive, with a much greater ability to diagnose problems and take corrective action quickly (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Proportional Mix of information Assets

The first step to gauge the information asset portfolio mix within the organization begins with an assessment of the information being produced by the organization. Be sure to investigate all channels of information delivery. Some information assets are produced through formal IT means and channels; however, the remainder of information assets is produced more informally on desktops or through non-IT "shadow" means and channels. It is always astonishing to discover just how much information within any organization is not produced as it should be using structure and rigor, but through much more casual means (e.g., spreadsheets and desktop databases).

Strategy Alignment and Appropriate Mix

It is very important to keep information delivery in line with the dynamic business information needs of the organization. This is accomplished by aligning BI strategy with overall enterprise business strategy. Too easily, information delivery through formal channels lags behind business demand, and as a result, information delivery becomes scattered throughout the organization in a disparate fashion - created informally and in a less cohesive distributed fashion on desktops. Ideally, the information assets of the organization are well organized and managed in a cohesive, architected program, such as through a business intelligence competency center (BICC).

An independent analysis of the information asset portfolio mix of both formal and informal information channels will reveal the information delivery gaps that IT is not fulfilling - and perhaps should be. Sometimes these gaps may exist because IT is not agile or robust enough to meet the information delivery needs of the business community. Other times, these gaps may exist because IT is only interested in data delivery, not information delivery, thus relegating information delivery to the business community. For example, an assessment of the formal IT information delivery channels that reveals an information asset portfolio mix of Hindsight (85 percent), Insight (5 percent), Foresight (0 percent) and Current sight (10 percent) - indicates that IT is delivering just basic reporting to the business community. However, an accompanying assessment of the informal non-IT information delivery channels that reveals an information asset portfolio mix of Hindsight (10 percent), Insight (40 percent), Foresight (30 percent) and Current sight (20 percent) indicates that the business community has significant investigative and predictive analytical needs that IT is not formally addressing. In this example, the organization as a whole needs to address whether this is a sustainable and desirable practice for the enterprise.

The key to making the information asset portfolio mix a useful tool is to use it as a gauge for improving the ability of the organization to answer important business questions and to better align and synchronize the delivery of information. That is to say, are the types of business questions being asked by the business community proportionate with the same types of information assets within the organization? If there is a significant variance, it is likely that groups of business questions are not being adequately answered, and there is an opportunity to improve the enterprise information asset portfolio to more closely align with enterprise business needs.

As BI strategy and business strategy converge, the business community is enabled through better information delivery, and the information asset portfolio mix will shift as a result. For example, organizations that are embracing performance dashboards to monitor operational areas of the business (e.g., sales or supply chain) would likely see a shift in emphasis of their information asset portfolio mix toward Current sight. Likewise, organizations implementing self-service BI would likely see a shift in emphasis toward Insight.

It is also very interesting and useful to interview managers and executives at all levels and simply ask them about their own perceived ideal information asset portfolio mix. Different job functions and different levels within the organization demand different mixes of information to answer pertinent business questions. For example, operational managers may be more interested in a heavy Current sight mix; midlevel functional executives may favor a heavy Insight mix; while C-level executives may favor a heavy Foresight mix.

Information asset portfolio mix is an important marker for keeping the information delivery infrastructure in line with the dynamic business information needs of the organization. Maintaining the proper mix of information assets within an organization is essential to keeping information delivery focused and tightly coupled to the dynamic needs of the business community. Information asset portfolio mix is a valuable tool that helps align BI strategy with overall business strategy by identifying information delivery gaps and determining focused gap-closure opportunities.

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