Islands of Information
Most organizations use specialized IT systems called applications to run their operations. Each application supports a particular aspect of the business, either for the whole organization or a group within it. There may be applications for order taking, for billing, for distribution of goods, for management of employee data, and many more.
An application will store the information it is processing in a persistent store for later reference. This information store is often a private resource for the application. Over time, this store contains important details about the people with whom the organization is interacting, what assets they use, how, when, and why.
A healthy organization will develop and grow—and this change drives changes into its applications, affecting their function and scope. It can also lead to duplication of function:
- When two organizations merge, they can end up with at least two applications for each function.
- When a new product line or channel to market is introduced, an organization may choose to introduce a new application to support it, to avoid the possibility of disrupting the established business or to implement it faster.
- Multinational organizations find they need separate applications for different countries, or trading regions, to handle local customs and regulations.
Careful management and constant rationalization may reduce the number of applications so there is little or no overlap in function. However, an application is a complex mix of software and hardware. It takes considerable engineering effort to develop it, and so once the investment is made, an application is expected to have a long life (5–15 years). Ripping it out and replacing it can be expensive and difficult and so an organization may choose to maintain multiple applications for the same function.
When there are two applications covering the same function, information about that function is split between the two applications and is typically stored in a different format. Even when all applications support unique functions, there is still an overlap in the information that they hold. This is the information that describes the core interests of the organization, such as customers, suppliers, products, contracts, payments, assets, employees, and many more.
Over time, the private information stores of an organization’s applications become islands of duplicated and inconsistent information. This affects the efficiency of an organization and its ability to operate in a cost-effective, flexible, and coherent unit.
This book seeks to address the challenge of effective information management. How does an organization improve its management of information, working with the applications it already operates, to ensure it knows what its assets are, what it is working on, what commitments it has agreed to, how well it is performing, and how it can improve its operation?