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Beyond the Data Warehouse:
Do You Need an Enterprise Information Architecture? Part 1

online columnist John Ladley     Column published in DMReview.com
June 17, 2004
  By John Ladley

This series of articles focuses on defining, planning and rolling out the appropriate plans, policies and structures to manage information, i.e., information architectures. Part 1 explains the drivers and how they shape the EIA.

The May column established the definition (at least, my definition) of information architecture. This definition goes well beyond the prominent definitions in place. Most definition of enterprise information architecture (EIA) focus on the data warehouse frameworks. Just for review, here is the definition we are using:

Information architecture is the collection of components used to manage 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.

The development of the EIA begins with fully acknowledging the need for one at an executive level. This needs to be made clear - the EIA project must come from the business. This is not an IT project. It is an enterprise project. Development of the EIA from within the CIO office will result in an overemphasis on technology and, in general, will miss the mark on alignment. Why is this?

The answer has to do with how information is perceived by the business's culture. If a particular enterprise or organization views information as a lubricant, i.e., it helps people accomplish their tasks more effectively, then the EIA will become a plumbing project - determining how to pump oil to the right parts. In effect, IT will promote the "disintegration" of business information.

Twenty-first century organizations need to realize that information (and knowledge) must become more than lubricants or process enablers. Information is business fuel. Therefore, the drivers and inspiration for IM must come from the business. The ultimate result of this thinking is the need for much more information integration than most companies currently have. Integration is an enterprise issue by definition.

Do all companies need total integration? No. Can companies exist without it? Yes. Can companies grow, flourish and be more competitive? No. Let's look (again) at what really constitutes information integration from an enterprise scale. There are several broad drivers an enterprise can use to justify and develop an effective, high value IM plan.

The Drivers

Enterprise information management is really content management. The business uses all kinds of information, in structured and unstructured forms, as well as formal and informal mechanism. There are varying degrees of control, structure, velocity, latency and subject matter.

However, one thing is common and that is business tends to use information and knowledge across a multidimensional spectrum.

The enterprise, through the creation and use of information, creates process flows that act as a value chain. That is, information becomes more or less valuable to the enterprise as it is used and altered. Within this value chain, specific supply chains are created to fulfill different types of needs. This complex interaction create the enterprise content triangle - where an overall strategy governs ALL content in terms of its usefulness, value and return on investment.

Figure 1: Content Triangle

Note: there are no distinctions, to the business between structured and unstructured data here. Information and knowledge are used to business performance measurement (BPM) as well as more complex applications that are called knowledge management. In this sense, information architectures must be integrated.

Another driver, beside the sheer nature of information, is occurring external to companies and other kinds of organizations. This can be categorized as risk management. This is the category one would place the much ballyhooed Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) requirement. However, SOX is becoming the Y2K-hype factor for all that is information. While this certainly is an influence, SOX should not be the focal point for IM. It is but one area where the enterprise incurs risk from how it manages information. Remember SOX is for public companies. There are numerous non-public, private and government organization with equal or greater risk in mismanaging information, e.g., fraud, privacy violations, lawsuits, and other regulatory mandates. SOX applies to financial information, which frankly, is at the end of the information value chain. Most of the problems with IM happen way upstream. There is much more risk than just SOX compliance However, integration of data reduces exposure to risk by orders of magnitude.

Figure 2

The final driver for integration is the need for overall efficiency in cost of ownership (TCO) of the IT infrastructure. CIOs can no longer get away with adding disk space. "Disk is cheap" is a mantra that has been used to cover up a multitude of information management sins. Yes, a megabyte of disk is at its lowest price ever, but this metric misses the point. Companies usually have to buy their megabytes in six-figure chunks as add-ons to storage area networks (SANs). This is NOT cheap. Redundant data is costly. Efficiency is becoming a crucial driver for integration.

Three broad drivers create the need to do EIA:

  1. The nature of information itself - It is easier to mange "information as fuel" if it is integrated.
  2. Risk management - Organizations can reduce risks from regulations, criminals, and a litigious society much better if data is integrated.
  3. Efficiency - Maintaining a cost-effective IT infrastructure is becoming crucial. Many IT shops are confronted with storage and data handling expenses that are out of proportion to the value the information is delivering to CIO

The next step is to use these drivers to create solid, fiscally sound business cases. That is the topic for the next column.

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...
DW Basics and Enterprise Information Integration (EII).

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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