The Four Pillars of a Sound Information Strategy

By Majid Abai

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In my last article, I focused on information strategy and why it is important for any organization. In this article, I’d like to focus on the four pillars of a sound information strategy.

Pillar No.1: Manage the Information Asset

The first pillar in building a sound information strategy for an organization is the recognition that information is an organizational asset and, therefore, should be managed as one.

Managing the information asset starts with creation of an information management department within the organization. The department will supervise all the information architecture for the enterprise. It will partner with the enterprise architecture team to guarantee that system interconnectivity and standardization are enforced and all information duplication and application redundancies are minimized.

The other component in managing the information asset is the need to create an enterprise information model that will inventory all types of information as they are created, accessed, transferred (or copied) across the enterprise. Without it, we will not be able to identify information duplication and redundancies and, as such, cannot minimize their occurrence.

For example, all the current discussions and efforts about master data management (MDM) would be moot, if an organization could not identify and document the creation and duplication points of such master data.

After identifying all information sources, the need for documentation of each piece of information becomes important. Creation of an enterprise-wide metadata repository that includes the metadata for all pieces of information allows organizations to again identify redundancies but this time at the atomic level of information.

In this effort, we are able to capture and document misinformation including descriptions, domains, ranges, values, etc., to correct the information and, ultimately, provide users of this information more accurate reports and documents.

The next step in creation of this metadata repository is to include internal and external taxonomies and ontology associated with the enterprise. Such documentation and analysis allows for faster incorporation of unstructured data within the unified information strategy for the organization.

Pillar No.2: Set Information Governance Policies

The second pillar in a sound information governance strategy is the setting of policies that protect information from unauthorized access and removal.

How many times within the past few years have you heard of a company losing some information? Or stories about unauthorized hacking of an organization’s computers and exposure of data?

In my opinion, the main reason for such problems is lack of information governance strategies from top management. You have to constantly assume that if there is a way, there is a will and, as such, somebody will access the information given the chance.

Our job, as information managers, is to remove that chance. This can only be achieved by setting the methods and policies that will govern data from any and all dangers.

Pillar No. 3: Identify Human Resources

There are a lot of roles that are needed to manage the information within the organization. Obviously, depending on the size of the organization, these roles are filled by one or more people. However, identification and documentation of the needed roles is an important aspect of the sound information strategy.What follows are the roles I deem important for the organization and that are most often missing:

Information strategist: This person provides the strategic direction of the enterprise for the information asset. They work with CIO and other high-level business execs in understanding the information goals of the enterprise and will create strategies and the subsequent techniques for achieving those goals. He or she would be my equivalent of "Information Czar" within the organization.

Information steward: This person is the enterprise’s information specialist from the standpoint of a vertical such as finance, product, customer, or vendor. He or she not only knows the vertical very well (including ways of doing business, processes, and non-technical methodologies), but also knows the systems and the associated atomic information within the systems. An information steward will be a liaison between IT and business in all areas related to information needs of a specific vertical.

Information architect: This person is tasked with maintaining the enterprise model. They constantly work with application-level DBAs in design of a new/modified application and ensures that redundancies in information are minimized and that information flows within the organization smoothly. Their charter is to encourage the information-on-demand approach and to minimize the copying of the information.

Metadata specialist: This person is responsible for capturing, maintaining, and distributing enterprise level Meta models. He or she is in constant dialogue with application-level DBAs and information stewards in capturing new and changed metadata. Often this role ventures out into identifying internal and external taxonomy and ontology associated with the organization’s applications.

Information quality specialist: This person provides best practices, pitfalls, and direction for the information quality at the enterprise. She or he works closely with information stewards to capture each vertical’s information quality needs and creates checkpoints and routines to constantly monitor the quality level of the information across the enterprise.

Please note that this person is not software quality assurance specialist. Their specialty is information management; focusing on information quality—an action that is missing across most organizations.

Information security specialist: This person creates and provides best-practices, pitfalls, and direction for information governance and security. They are a member of both information management and IT security teams and work with the CIO and the business units to translate their governance and security requirements into actionable tasks.

Pillar No.4: Identify Focus Areas

The last, but certainly not the least, pillar in this strategy is to identify the areas the organization needs to focus on from the standpoint of information management.

The strategy should include these areas, their business priority, and the plan of approach for each. The focus areas should include master data management (MDM), data integration, information quality, business intelligence (BI), enterprise content management (ECM), knowledge management (KM), and competitive intelligence (CI) [Please see my January article on this topic.]

As you noticed, I consider the above to be enterprise-level efforts focused on delivery of maximum benefits to the organization by reducing costs and redundancies. Each of the above focus areas sit at a level higher than the typical stove-pipe application and will allow the creation of systems that would benefit various applications and business units.

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that, like any other strategy, an information strategy is a living document. It needs to be reviewed quarterly, measured against, and modified if necessary. Otherwise, it will be a good document on your shelf gathering dust.

Majid Abai is president and CEO of Seena Technologies, an enterprise information management and architecture consulting firm. Majid co-authored Data Strategy (Addison-Wesley, 2005) and teaches classes in Business Intelligence and Enterprise Data Architecture at UCLA.