Your Organization Needs an Information Strategy

By Majid Abai

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Often, in meeting with technical and business executives of the organization, I get asked if they really need to put together an information strategy for the organization. My answer is always a firm “Yes!” followed by "If you’d like to be able to find any piece of information later.”

As it stands, within the past few years, a number of organizations have started to implement an organizational information strategy. These companies recognize that information is an organizational asset and should be maintained as such. They also recognize the lack of a central strategy has created major problems across the organization.

One of these problems is the inability of the people in the organization to find accurate and qualified information. IDC estimates that 15-to-30 percent of a knowledge-worker's time is spent seeking specific information and that fruitless information searches cost the Fortune 500 alone as much as $8.5 billion a year in lost productivity. Such major losses could be rectified by making the needed information available as needed.

What Is Information Strategy

I define information strategy as an organization’s unified blueprint for capturing, integrating, processing, delivery, and presentation of information in a clean, consistent, and timely manner. All information in an organization should meet a certain standard for quality.

It should be delivered consistently across the organization, i.e., asking for the same information in different divisions should yield the same result, and users and applications shouldn’t have to wait long to get their requested information.

As an analogy, one could compare information in an organization to water in a typical metropolis. In the old days, as people built a house, they’d also dig a well in their backyard to reach water needed for drinking, cooking or cleaning. This water was hardly shared and was not necessarily clean.

If the building next door needed water and did not have a well people had to grab a bucket, go next door, take water from the well, and carry it to their own building.

As people matured in the art of city planning, we learned to think of water as a common utility and to integrate, clean, and distribute it from a central organization in the metropolis. You might say that we, as the residents of a metropolis, have an unsigned contract with our metropolitan water department to provide us with clean, consistent, and timely water.

Basically, regardless of where you are in the metropolis, you can trust that the water is consistent, has met certain level of quality, and if you open the faucet, it will flow.

The same applies to information in the organization. By implementing the same principles as our city planners, we’d be able to capture, integrate, and cleanse the information in a central repository, and to deliver it to our internal and external users in a clean, consistent, and timely manner.

It's Importance

There are several reasons for establishing a information strategy for any organization. First and foremost, information is an asset and should be treated as such. As with any other asset, it has value. The value of information is in it accessibility and accuracy. Information that is not accessible on demand, and/or is not accurate is not an asset.

Like most assets, information depreciates overtime, needs to be governed, and must be maintained. An information strategy allows an organization to manage, govern, and provide access to this asset.

The second reason for having an information strategy in the organization is the fact that, today, there is just way too much information in an organization to manage it loosely. We truly need a plan, a blueprint, a strategy on how to capture, store, govern, and deliver all information to internal and external users of this information.

The next major reason for having such a strategy is the business mandate for it. Business groups have become very savvy in accessing, manipulating, and utilizing this information and they demand it to be available, complete, and accurate.

In fact, with the new Web 2.0 technologies, they not only demand internal information, but also external information available in various websites such as myspace.com. Information available in such community sites could be used to analyze and gauge customer views, likes, and dislikes, in order to improve an organization’s products, services, image, and/or marketing campaigns and, as such, is very important to an organization.

For example, one of our client organizations, right before going public, monitored the chatter on blogs, chat-rooms, and other community sites as well as other conventional channels to gauge the right IPO price for their stock.

In addition, organizations have been forced to provide accurate information due to governmental compliance laws. Failure to provide accurate and timely information could cost organizations millions of dollars.

In the next article, I will focus on the pillars and components of a sound information strategy.

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.