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From the author of Moving to a Smarter Planet

Moving to a Smarter Planet

Information and analytics help to change the way the world works—making our planet not just "smaller" and "flatter," but smarter. IBM has coined the term "Smarter Planet" to describe this information-driven world. A central tenet of Smarter Planet is "New Intelligence," a concept that focuses on using information and analytics to drive new levels of insight into our businesses and societies. The future will be far more instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent through the collection and better use of information.

A new way forward is required. This new way must revolve around an Enterprise Information Architecture, and it must apply advanced analytics to enable a company to begin operating as an "intelligent enterprise." These advances in information management and business intelligence will drive the transformation necessary to improve the performance of businesses and their people.

For the information-enabled enterprise, the new reality is this: Personal experience and insight are no longer sufficient. New analytic capabilities are needed to make better decisions. Over time, these predictive models will inform and hone our instinctual "gut" responses, forever changing the way we make decisions. From choosing a suitable restaurant for dinner this evening to identifying which global markets are most likely to embrace a company's newest product, consumers and executives around the world will use information in new and innovative ways.

The information explosion has permanently changed the way we experience the world: Everyone—and everything—creates real-time data with each interaction. As a result, the future information environment will have unprecedented volumes and types of data, creating a new, global playing field, where enterprises that leverage this information will gain a significant competitive advantage over those that don't.

Building the Intelligent Enterprise

What does the information-enabled enterprise look like? What new capabilities set it apart from and above the information powerbrokers of today? Looking forward, we can envision new characteristics for an information-enabled enterprise that empower it to combine vast amounts of structured and unstructured information in new ways, integrate it, analyze it, and deliver it to decision-makers in powerful new formats and timeframes that give the organization a line of sight to predict future events and anticipate change. We think of this as an evolution from traditional reporting to advanced analytics and optimization.

Recognizing this evolution, chief information officers (CIOs) and business leaders are starting to take a careful look at their own Enterprise Information environments, and the results are not encouraging:

  • Accurate, timely information is not available to support decision-making.
  • No central Enterprise Information vision or infrastructure is in place, or the infrastructure exists but is not commonly accepted.
  • The information environment was built from the bottom up without central planning. Data repositories number in the hundreds, with no way to count or track systems.
  • Total cost of ownership (TCO) is very high, and growing.

These issues and others seriously impede the organization's ability to embrace other sources of information (such as social media) and analytics.

The current complex, redundant, and costly environments don't provide sufficient business value and aren't sustainable over the long term. The proclivity for building standalone applications and data repositories over the years has created too much complexity, and we've reached a point where enterprise oversight and governance must be applied.

By embracing an enterprise approach, information-enabled companies optimize three interdependent business dimensions:

  • Intelligent profitable growth. Provides more opportunities for identifying and attracting new customers, improving relationships, identifying new markets, and developing new products and services.
  • Cost reduction and efficiency. Optimizes the allocation and deployment of resources and capital to improve productivity, create more efficiency, and manage costs in a way that aligns with business strategies and objectives.
  • Proactive risk management. Reduces vulnerability and creates greater certainty in outcomes as a result of an enhanced ability to predict and identify risk events, coupled with an improved ability to prepare and respond to financial, market, and operational risks.

Developing an Information Agenda

Becoming an information-enabled enterprise through the implementation of an enterprise information environment that is efficient, optimized, and extensible does not happen by accident. This is why companies need to have an Information Agenda—a comprehensive, enterprise-wide approach for information strategy and planning. The Information Agenda is an approach for transforming information into a trusted source that can be leveraged across applications and processes to support better decisions for sustained competitive advantage. It allows organizations to achieve greater information agility by accelerating the pace at which companies can begin leveraging information across the enterprise.

As when building a physical bridge, the architects and engineers of the Information Agenda must start by showing what this information "bridge" will do and how it will look, and then carefully plot each component and system so that individual project teams can implement new or enhanced systems that are consistent with the long-term vision. Unlike a bridge, of course, an enterprise continually changes. Therefore, the plan must be adaptable to accommodate changing business priorities and new technologies (for instance, cloud computing).

Unlike past planning approaches that typically were suited for single applications or business functions, the Information Agenda must take a pervasive view of the information required to enable the entire value chain. It must incorporate new technologies, an ever-growing portfolio of business needs, and the impact of new channels (for example, social networks or blogs). The Information Agenda must also take into account the significant investments and value associated with existing systems. The challenge becomes how to combine the existing information environment with new and evolving technology and processes to create a flexible foundation for the future.

Developing the right Information Agenda ultimately enables us to understand the business value for advanced analytics. Our book The Art of Enterprise Information Architecture: A Systems-Based Approach for Unlocking Business Insight takes the output of an Information Agenda and provides a technical manuscript for delivering this business value. But the Information Agenda, along with the resultant Enterprise Information Architecture, must be driven by the strategy of the business:

  • At the strategic level, IT professionals must partner with business managers in devising, approving, funding, and enabling new capabilities that deliver true business value.
  • At the tactical level, good business knowledge helps the technology professional to better understand his or her own priorities and frame of reference as he or she creates technical solutions, by continuing to ask questions: "What value is this creating for the organization or our customers? How will this solution best drive innovation, create revenue, or increase efficiency?"

These types of inquiries can keep the Enterprise Information Architecture discussion firmly planted within the reality of the larger context—and, more importantly, powerfully targeted to a more productive and profitable future.

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