29 December 2011

Information management and my demand-supply fetish

For quite a while I've been looking for a decent definition of Information Management. One that positions it on the demand side of the Great Business IT Divide and addresses the relationship with the more technical, supply-based responsibilities, which I like to view as a separate and to a strong degree subservient domain. I've finally come across a number of components that can be combined to address my points.

"Information management is the means by which an organization efficiently plans, collects, organizes, uses, controls, disseminates and disposes of its information, and through which it ensures that the value of that information is identified and exploited to the fullest extent." Is the definition that the Queensland Government (2009) uses. This positions IM on the demand side because it refers to "an organization" and "its information". From "its information" you could infer information ownership but I believe it also refers to use of another party's information.

Part of the AIIM definition reinforces the demand-side responsibility: "Information management is a corporate responsibility that needs to be addressed and followed from the most senior levels of management to the front line worker. Organizations must be held and must hold their employees accountable to capture, manage, store, share, preserve and deliver information appropriately and responsibly."

"Capture, manage, store, share, preserve and deliver" differ from the first definition's "plans, collects, organizes, uses, controls, disseminates and disposes" and I prefer the latter. "Disposes" is nice and green but it's the "uses" part that I think is crucial. Will return to that later on.

Seeing as I couldn't find a definition that explicitly addresses the relationship with the supply-based responsibilities, I've added my own two cents: "From an IT services demand-supply perspective – in which 'demand' represents the owner or primary user of the information and 'supply' represents the party that provides IT services that fulfill (part of) the information requirements – information management is the major stakeholder's or stakeholders' demand responsibility, where the responsibility for supply of IT services has been delegated by the stakeholder to an IT department and/or externally contracted to a service provider."

The reason why I'm keen on this demand supply demarcation (some people accuse me of having a demand supply fetish) lies in my conviction that organizations can get substantially more return out of their information (technology) investment by developing business (demand-based) capabilities. What are typical problems? Grumpy clients and therefore damaged reputation due to poor client data quality. Inefficient operations due to functionality not supporting business processes effectively. Lower cash flow due to product launch being delayed by having to correct wrong initial specifications. High IT costs due to unnecessarily high service levels. Let alone missed opportunities to develop new business models that use IT innovatively.

The why question interests me the most. Why is this happening? Is the business reticent to take on the responsibility because they don't feel equipped to do manage information and manage IT services from a demand perspective? Do they prefer to blame the IT department? Are the IT guys happy to wallow in the victim role? "Stupid users. Never know what they want." Is information management and the demand side off the CIO's radar? Afraid so. More often than you'd think.

Let's zoom in on the CIO role. As I mentioned before, I'm convinced that organizations can get more out of their investments in IT by improving their IT service consumption capabilities as well as IT service provision (the traditional IT Department). So I'm an advocate for CIO's with bifocal spectacles: IT Supply and Information Consumption. And commensurate KPI's ;-)

But how to approach this? It's up to the business to invest in information management. It's their money. It's the CIO's responsibility to explain how this investment solves short term problems. Forget the longer term, the business manager's probably not going to be in the same position for that long. But can the CIO address their business and personal agendas of the decision makers? Great little story I heard at a conference. About a racing division of a large car manufacturer where a new CIO has been appointed. After a couple of months he presents his ideas to the management team. Stuff like virtualization, SaaS and SOA. They listen patiently to him and then the director of the racing division says the immortal words "So how does this make the car go faster?" Says it all. Business relevance.

Assuming that the CIO doesn't suffer from chronic business irrelevance, I conclude my rant with some practical advice to CIO's and others who are concerned with helping the business discover the key to unlocking more business value out of IT. Start off with generating awareness for the demand-side responsibilities. Depending on their role, people in business departments should be able to answer these questions affirmatively:

• How much do our information systems cost and is that normal?

• What do the users want?

• What do the users think about the information systems

• Can I answer most of the users questions?

• What does the business want, today, tomorrow and next year?

• How much budget is available?

• Am I paying a competitive price?

• Do I act as (or on behalf of) the system owner?

• Do we have clear agreements with the IT department and other parties?

These people could be formally appointed key users or business analysts but as often as not, they're just regular employees who have taken on an explicit or implicit responsibility to ensure that the production factor 'information' is planned, collected, organized, used, controlled, disseminated and disposed of efficiently and effectively. Like the colleague on the next table who know how your department uses an application. And the administrator who's made a nice little cheat sheet for that system that only gets used a couple of times a year. Or the nit-picker who's good at testing whether the new release works as it's supposed to. good And the manager who negotiates a service level agreement with the IT department.

If answering these questions brings on a cold sweat, they might like to take a look at the BiSL framework that addresses information management responsibilities and decide who's responsible for what.

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