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Beyond the Data Warehouse:
What is a Data/Information Architecture Strategy?

online columnist John Ladley     Column published in DMReview.com
May 20, 2004
  By John Ladley

This ais an introductory column that defines an information architecture strategy. In the following months I will present a series of columns on "Starting the EIA" that focuses on defining, planning and rolling out the appropriate plans, policies and structures to manage information (information architectures).

"We need an enterprise data/information architecture/strategy." This is a fairly common statement in the halls of large organizations these days. Countless articles have been written on the drivers for this. Regulations such as Graham-Leach and Sarbanes-Oxley, business initiatives requiring loads of information such as CRM and desperate needs for more efficient and integrated data access to stem the proliferation of MS Access data bases and/or other types of data marts.

Unfortunately, those of us who remember the Cold War will remember we laughed when the U.S.S.R. announced "another five-year plan, comrades," every year. Yet that is what happens when upper management hears a request for another strategic IT plan. The IT staff that embarks on the development of the enterprise information architecture often finds itself stumped as to how to present the value proposition for this type of project. Typically, the non-technical side of the business believes they "just want the data." They don't really, but more on that later. This type of project is hard to sell for two reasons.

Historically, IT shops really stink at aligning business needs to technology. The architectures tend to be statements of technical direction. When the need for the business case arrives, the resulting deliverable is a spreadsheet full of assumptions of faster queries or more efficient impact analysis.

Second and, more important, - the entire perspective and content of these efforts tend to be downright wrong. The word "architecture" has lost the ability to clarify the intended deliverable. Therefore, before this new series of articles starts delving into the "how," we need to define the "what."

Information architecture is the frameworks, processes, projects, policies and procedures to manage and use valuable enterprise information assets. This includes plans, policies, principles, models, standards, frameworks, technologies, organization and processes that will ensures that integrated data delivers business value, and aligns business priorities and technology.

This column has stressed information value since the first article. This will be the foundation for our definition of "architecture" for all subsequent articles. Note, architecture will not mean just the data warehouse (DW) architecture or the data strategy. It will mean a more encompassing, enterprise-wide view or managing a crucial asset. Information is an asset, but this is lip service unless the concepts of assets and asset management are applied. Remember, information does not have intrinsic value. Value is subjective and tied to gain and usage through a process


Webster defines architecture as:

1. The art or science of building; specifically: the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones
2a. Formation or construction as or as if as the result of conscious act (the architecture of the garden) b. A unifying or coherent form or structure (the novel lacks architecture)
3. Architectural1 product or work
4. A method or style of building
5. The manner in which the components of a computer or computer system are organized and integrated

Note the fifth definition. Beside the fact that this definition was not there 10 years ago, what else sticks out? Two words stick out - "integrated" and "components." The components of whatever type of computer system are integrated. Therefore, according to the dictionary, information architecture is a depiction of how all the components in information are integrated. The key question to answer is, "What are the components." It is, in my opinion, not just the hardware/software. It is not just the combination of data marts and/or granular data warehouses. Information architecture is all the components of the enterprise that are required to manage information. For these articles, the "official" definition is:

Components of IA (Information Architecture)

Understanding what is entailed in the architecture means examining each of the components listed.

  • Plans - The initial part of the IA is a decomposition of business plans. Not technology plans. This includes business drivers, goals and objectives
  • Policies - The highest level of the organization makes statements that set the tone, direction, and most important, mandates for the management and use of information.
  • Principles - Information principles are one of the key core components - these express the beliefs and philosophies of the organization in terms of how it will view and treat information.
  • Models - A variety of models act as the architects means to present the abstractions that make up the IA - typically data models, process models, metrics/measures models and occasionally object-based models.
  • Standards - The list of what goes where, what means what, and who is allowed to do what is to be done.
  • Frameworks - Rather than debate semantics of warehouse buses and Corporate Information Factories (CIFs) which overlook managing operational systems, this author uses the term framework to explain the schematic of how information flows and is stored.
  • Technologies - The list of necessary technology, expressed by classes of tools, hardware and software.
  • Organization - Often overlooked is that the IA cannot exist without a sustaining organization. Therefore the organization chart of the business, along with roles, responsibilities and reporting lines is required.
  • Processes - The originations accountable for information must execute policy and principles. The discreet process required for the day-to-day and strategic functions are also described and detailed.

As happens, we have a tendency to overuse a term as it fits into a variety of conditions. Such is the circumstance with the word architecture. We have enterprise data architecture, DW architecture, information architecture, etc., and sometimes they mean the same, sometimes not. The key is to establish the components necessary for your organization to manage information that improves the business. Whatever is required in that light, is part of your information architecture

The contents of this article are Copyright 2003 by DM Review and KI Solutions. Any use, quotation, repurpose, duplication or replication of the diagrams, concepts or content without permission of DM Review and the author is prohibited.



For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence, Data Management and DW Administration, Mgmt., Performance.

When John is not writing poetry as a hobby, he is a director for Navigant Consulting, which recently acquired KI Solutions, a management consulting firm specializing in knowledge and information asset management and strategic business intelligence planning and delivery. Ladley is an internationally recognized speaker and, more importantly, hands-on practitioner, of information and knowledge management solutions. He can be reached at jladley@navigantconsulting.com. Comments, ideas, questions and corroborating or contradictory examples are welcomed.

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