Information/Knowledge Management is at the core of every business, occupation and task we perform on a daily basis whether we realize it or not. The easier it is to find the information we are looking for the more time we can spend on supporting our customers, enhancing our business and completing the task at hand.
In order to be successful as an IA or any role for that matter you must understand and know who your customer(s) is/are and what their needs are today and will be going forward. This is especially true as an IA since we are literally the bridge that connects all architecture disciplines together. Add to that fact the weight that we are also customer facing and may carry customer impact both directly or indirectly and our shoulders could become tired quickly. The good news is we are not in this alone! Since we do create bridges to various departments and our customers we get help carrying this heavy burden. We don’t have to have all of the answers. What we have to have is the knowledge and expertise to act as the librarians for sorting, storing and helping our partners to find the questions and answers that arise past, present and future. The most successful IA is a modern day librarian who has the ability to not only create a customized Dewey decimal system across their digital landscape but help their users leverage it to find what they need where and when they need it with no effort on the visitors part.
How information is used
In today’s high pressure world of do more with less data aggregation into an easily consumed form by humans is a paramount dilemma. If the information does not solve the problem or question at hand quickly stakeholders walk away from the information assuming it has no value. We are becoming an ADD information overloaded society and patience is waning as we all want instantaneous answers not long drawn out explanations. In steps the computer…
Depending on your role and domain of expertise it may come as no surprise that the information you foster is not only consumed by humans but also by machines. When architecting solutions we can no longer focus on just humans or just machines as our customers. The electronic world we live in has grayed the lines between the two. Everything we do has to take both into account in order to not paint ourselves into a proverbial corner that prevents future avenues of information usage from being undertaken. How do we go about this? There is not a short or simple answer for as you know as architects the question is not what is the answer, the answer is how many ways would like me to solve the problem and within what constraints. In my opinion we are best served as architects by breaking the problem down into smaller bite size pieces. Look at the problem from each side and ensure there is an interface/abstraction layer that ensures both sides are ultimately satisfied.
When information is used
Now that we are all clear that information is used in more ways than we sometimes realize. Let’s keep our eyes open on HOW information is used as we work through this and future lessons and projects. Next up is a closer look at WHEN information is used. Information is used all of the time in our daily lives. Most of us probably don’t even realize we are doing it because our subconscious takes care of those internal processes for us. Information is used continuously as input through our various senses to: make decisions, support and validate facts/assumptions/processes and assist with analysis that arises from our curiosity through research and development. If extrapolated out beyond the basics such as deciding what to wear in the morning and if we should put that doughnut that smells good into our mouth we see that the when information is used applies in the exact same way to our businesses and the solutions we architect for them.
The WHEN information is used question is one of the few things we can definitely answer as architects… always. Our role as the Information Architect is to ensure that we have captured, stored, cataloged and ensured the information is available to different sources when they need it. Also our job done correctly is to enlighten and teach our consumers that information is available that helps them to make more educated decisions, support their initiatives and expedite their R&D by reducing duplicate efforts and removing the perception of the unknown.
Where information is used
We’re half way there… we should all be watching more closely HOW information is used. Especially since we know that information is always in use around us. Hence why we need to be more cognizant of capturing and sharing information intelligently. The question on all of your minds should be WHERE are we going to use all of this information that we have stock piled in a multitude of forms and made available in even a larger number of ways. Am I correct? As Information Architects control and are responsible for building bridges across all of the architecture domains, in addition we are also responsible to build bridges across all aspects of the business. These bridges span departments, business units and sometimes even land masses or different companies. The WHERE of our information is used is limited only by the creativity of the implementer. Think of information as the paint ready to be applied to a blank canvas by the artist that wields it. Some artists will use the information to design a database.
The information we provide ensures the DB is structured in a way that makes the data normalized, allows growth in both depth and breadth as well as breaking the data into sub-components that enable consumers of the DB to get at what they need quickly and rationally.
Others may use our information to build documents. These documents come in infinite forms just as everything else we feed does. Documents may be spreadsheets for financial analysis. They could be of the legal form in which case the information we provide protects our assets, patents, copyright, trademarks or even support a binding contract with partners or potential customers. At the other end of the spectrum the information may simply be to help document an employee by the Human Resources department.
Depending on your role as an IA you may more commonly think of information as the core source for architecting web based sites and/or software applications. Building out navigation for the aforementioned to ensure human interaction is simple, enjoyable and well thought out. Making interfaces that are not clunky or aesthetically appalling.
Why information is used
At this point we should have a more comprehensive idea of how, when and where information is used. Why though? WHY is information so important that we use it? Some of the more common reasons we use information is market validation, usability implementation, knowledge/content/document sharing/management and as we recently discussed business process management.
Market validation is one of the many reasons you build bridges to the Business and Enterprise Architecture groups. The information you provide to them allows them to present business cases to do or not do many things. Acquire a company, build vs. buy products/solutions, adjust the mission of the company, embark on new revenue streams, update or discontinue existing features or product lines. These are only a few of many decisions that the information you provide to others may be used for in regards to validating market based strategies, decisions and more.
Usability can be split into two separate paths although both are very reliant on the other. If you do one or both will obviously depend on the size and complexity of your team and company. On one side are the UX experts in terms of design and implementation. On the other side are the usability study experts who not only formulate the how, what, where, when and why of performing usability studies but also aggregate results and ensure unbiased meaning can be gleaned from the experiments performed. In the end these two groups together create the foundation of Information Architecture as it pertains to users having an enjoyable and successful experience using the products we provide both internally and externally. Both of these topics are a complete course unto themselves.
One of the obvious but sometimes hardest to orchestrate responsibilities and one of the biggest WHY information is used as an IA is knowledge/content/document management. The purpose is simple, to reduce the duplicate efforts and creation of information while reducing the cost of finding the information and maximizing the return on this information. Simple right? Well, no. This is more often than not a case of too many cooks in the kitchen each with their own concept of what spice to add to the soup to make it test just right. Strict governance and management buy in is the only hope we have as IA in this area of our job. Sales reps want to have their contact silos, HR does not want to share in fear of confidential information being leaked, Software Engineers don’t want to document how or why and of course there is the standard and typical mindset of, “if no one knows how I do it then my job is secure!” mentality. Unfortunately this is far from true and more often than not prevents promotion or career advancement since the employee is the only one that can do that specific task due to no knowledge documentation or sharing. This is such an important topic we are going to have a use case scenario on it later today to give you ideas of how you may work on this issue more effectively as an Information Architect if you are given the chance or opportunity to do so.
Business Process Management is the last example of WHY information is used that we will cover. Obviously and hopefully we have planted enough seeds throughout the curriculum thus far that you have already thought of other reasons WHY information is or could be used. Using information to create, review, enhance and optimize business processes ensures you are making decisions based on facts not gut feeling. Using information rather than knee jerk reactions ensures that your business processes are the best they can be based on reality rather than hiccups that may occur from time to time. Ideally, if a feedback loop is used in supplying information back into the processes that have hiccups the hiccups will be accounted for and even these exceptions will no longer exist to cause negative impact to you or your customers.