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The Imperative for a New Approach to Information Architecture

This chapter sets a business and “how-to” context for what is primarily a technical manuscript to both introduce and reinforce the message that an organization’s Enterprise Information Architecture and associated strategy and objectives must be centered around the business value that enterprise information can deliver.
This chapter is from the book

The scenarios in Table 1.1 illustrate how intelligence, information, and technology will radically change how business is done in the future. In each of these scenarios, new sources and uses of enterprise data are brought together and analyzed in new ways to shake the foundation of how companies will operate in this “smarter” world.

Table 1.1 New Business Scenarios





Imagine getting good stock picks from... Facebook.

Imagine a financial advisor who can understand investor decisions not only from precise monitoring of each and every stock transaction, but from mining every broker e-communication, and every company’s annual report in the same instant.


Imagine a... talking oil rig.

Imagine an oil rig that constantly “speaks” to its production supervisors by being connected to their control room, and that control room is connected to their supply chain planning systems, which is connected to the oil markets. The oil markets are connected to the pump. Each change in the actual petroleum supply can inform the entire value chain.


Imagine if car insurance policies used... cars.

Imagine a car insurer measuring policy risk not only by tracking claim data, but by putting that together with the collective Global Positioning System (GPS) record of where accidents take place, police records, places of repair, and even the internal vehicle diagnostics of an automobile’s internal computer.


Imagine if every employee had... a thousand mentors.

Imagine students and young employees using social networks to find experts and insight as they grow into their chosen career, enabling them to have a thousand virtual mentors.


Imagine an ocean shipping lane that was... always sunny.

Imagine orchestrating a global logistics and international trade operation that was impervious to changes in the weather because of an uncanny capability to predict how global weather patterns affect shipping routes.


Imagine if repairmen learned how to fix things... while they fixed things.

Imagine a new breed of super repairmen who service thousands of different complex power grid devices. The intelligent grid senses its own breakdowns and inefficiencies through sensors in the network and intelligent metering. The repairmen are deployed automatically based on their location and availability. Upon arriving to do the repair, they are fed every metric they need, the troubleshooting history of the equipment they are repairing, and likely solutions. Schematics are “beamed” to screens within their goggles, overlaying repair instructions over the physical machine. Their own actions, interpretations, and the associated data patterns are stored in the collective repair history of the entire grid.


Imagine energy consumers... able to predict their energy consumption.

Imagine a portal based consumer interface that allows energy consumption to be predicted on a customer-specific basis over a defined period of time. Furthermore, allowing individual energy consumers to choose from a set of available services and pricing options that best match their energy consumption patterns, which leverages predictive analytics to provide advanced consumer insight.

Unfortunately, most businesses struggle with even the most basic applications of information. Many companies have difficulty getting timely, meaningful, and accurate views of their past results and activities, much less creating platforms for innovative and predictive transformation and differentiation.

Executives are increasingly frustrated with their inability to quickly access the information needed to make better decisions and to optimize their business. More than one third of business leaders say they have significant challenges extracting relevant information, using it to quantify risk, as well as predict possible outcomes. Today’s volatile economy exacerbates this frustration. Good economies can mask bad decisions (even missed opportunities), but a volatile economy puts a premium on effective decision making at all levels of the enterprise. Information, insight, and intelligence must be fully leveraged to support these decisions.

This concept is shown in Figure 1.1 where you can see the results of a recent IBM survey.1 While executives rely on dubious and incomplete information for decisions, they simultaneously struggle with the complexity and costs of the larger and oftentimes redundant information environments that have evolved over time. The inefficiencies and high costs associated with maintaining numerous, redundant information environments significantly hinder an organization’s capability to meet strategic goals, anticipate and respond to changes in the global economy, and use information for sustained competitive advantage. The redundant environments might also provide inconsistent information and results which increases executives’ apprehension about the quality and reliability of the underlying data.

A new way forward is required. That 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.”

1.1 External Forces: A New World of Volume, Variety, and Velocity

Our modern information environment is unlike any preceding it. The volume of information is growing exponentially, its velocity is increasing at unprecedented rates, and its formats are widely varied. This combination of quantity, speed, and diversity provides tremendous opportunities, but makes using information an increasingly daunting task.

1.1.1 An Increasing Volume of Information

Even in the “primitive” times of the information age, where most data was generated through transactional systems, data stores were massive and broad enough to create processing and analytical challenges. Today, the volume is exploding well beyond the realm of these transaction applications. Transistors are now produced at a rate of one billion transistors for every individual on Earth every year.2 In capturing information from both people and objects, these transistor-based “instruments” are able to provide unprecedented levels of insight—for those organizations that can successfully analyze the data. For example, individuals can now be identified by GPS position and genotype. In the world of intelligent objects, it’s not only containers and pallets that are tagged for traceability, but also banalities such as medicine bottles, poultry, melons and wine bottles that are adding deeper levels of detail to the information ecosystem. How is it possible for organizations to make sense of this virtually unlimited data?

1.1.2 An Increasing Variety of Information

Data is no longer constrained to neat rows and columns. It comes from within and from outside of the enterprise. It comes structured from a universe of systems and applications located in stores, branches, terminals, workers’ cubes, infrastructure, data providers, kiosks, automated processes and sensor-equipped objects in the field, plants, mines, facilities, or other assets. It comes from unstructured sources, too, including: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, GPS logs, blogs, social media, images, e-mails, videos, podcasts, and tweets.

1.1.3 An Increasing Velocity of Information

The speed at which new data and new varieties of data are generated is also increasing.3 In the past, data was delivered in batches, and decision makers were forced to deal with historical and often out-dated post-mortems that provided snapshots of the past but did little to inform them of today or tomorrow. Today, data flows in real time. This has resulted in a world of real time decision making. Therefore, business leaders must be able to access and interpret relevant information instantaneously and they must act upon it quickly to compete in today’s changing and more dynamic world.

Other external business drivers contribute to the increasing complexity of information. Globalization, business model innovation, competition, changing and emerging markets, and increasing customer demands add to the pressures on business decision makers. Business leaders are also now looking beyond commercial challenges to see how their enterprises contribute to and interact with societies, including how they impact the environment, use energy, interact with governments and populations, and how they conduct their business with fairness and ethics.

In the context of this changing external environment, information becomes an important differentiator between those who can’t or won’t cope with this information challenge and those ready to ride the wave into the future.

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