Information Management Engineering - IES - TIS
November 09, 1998
Also see the presentation Adding Information Management to the Corporate Infrastructure (info-arch.ppt)
Hewlett-Packard has a successful data infrastructure; the time has come to consider expanding the scope of the corporate infrastructure to include information management. In the course of developing this paper, reading the literature and talking to many who are working on information or knowledge management, it became clear that successful information management is necessary for HP's survival. Adding information management to the corporate infrastructure should increase the value of our individual information management efforts and significantly improve the value of the efforts of groups who are developing advanced information and knowledge management projects.
We live in the information age, cliche but true. The business trends that have emerged in the 90s, as reported in several books The Digital Economy , Virtual Corporations , relationship marketing-1to1, numerous articles and by our business managers, fuel and are fueled by an increasingly knowledge driven economy. Walter Lee of Grasp, Inc. describes business trends in his white paper:
" Business firms operate in an environment in which markets are becoming globalized and competition within those markets is becoming ever more intense. In this environment, value creation¾and, indeed, the very viability of the firm¾depends on a firm's possessing one or more of the following capabilities:
- the capability to produce and deliver a given product or service better, faster, and more cheaply ("quality and efficiency");
- the capability to produce economically variants of products and services that are tailored to the potentially unique requirements of each customer ("mass customization");
- the capability to conceive, develop, produce, and market new and different products and services ("innovation.") .
" These three capabilities are often interrelated. A better product or service may be one that is customized to the requirements of an individual customer, and the cumulative improvement of a given product, or the gradual selection and adaptation over time over a large array of product variants, may (by analogy to species bifurcation) result in a product or service that is qualitatively different from its predecessors.
" Taken together, these three capabilities manifest a firm's capacity to create value ¾ the skills, know-how, and factual knowledge that constitute its intellectual capital. Value creation is a function of the firm's capacity to deploy technology and organize work relationships and tasks in a way that actualizes or fulfills one or more of the three capabilities (quality and efficiency, mass customization, and innovation) outlined above." [Lee]
In order for HP to establish a competitive advantage we must improve these three capabilities (quality and efficiency, mass customization, and innovation) in an environment:
If information has this much value to a company, it should then follow that the value that a business delivers is proportional to the value that can be extracted from its information infrastructure. Traditionally, the information infrastructure was just a part of a company's underlying foundation. It facilitated organizational communication (e.g. postal, telegraph, or telephone services) and implemented support functions (e.g. accounting ledgers or personnel records). "Real work" was done with limited technological assistance. In this role, the information infrastructure had an indirect effect on business results¾the information infrastructure represented a limited value, an expense to be minimized.
Today, businesses increasing rely on their information infrastructure for solutions to manage and enhance their intellectual capital. Continuing innovation and increasing market demand have produced an infrastructure that has never been more powerful or more pervasive in its influence on business success¾modern information infrastructure expenditures have become investments in the business itself.
How should the value of information influence corporate IT infrastructure developments? As discussed below, information infrastructure can directly impact the value of a company's intellectual capital by supporting the activities necessary to develop new technologies, or to improve and adapt old technologies and the capability to improve work processes or to invent entirely new ways of organizing work. Consider the potential value of the information infrastructure in the context of CIO Peter Strassmann realization "one cannot prove the value of technology using the size of the IT budget or any other technical metric. Only business measurements--tied right to shareholder value--can prove IT's worth" [Strassmann]. When these assertions are combined they establish an imperative for corporate information infrastructure programs to do no less than to extend our competitive advantage.
In order to assure that our information infrastructure directly impact business results our architectural framework must sit on the foundation stones of intellectual capital: data, information, knowledge and process. Unfortunately, throughout the literature definitions of the key terms differ and are ultimately subjective and fuzzy [Ernst & Young]. Also unfortunately, the development of a technological framework requires precise and measurable definitions. For example, Ernst & Young define knowledge as "A body of information resident within an individual organized by judgement, experience and rules". While this definition appears correct, Susan Sowers' [Sowers] "Knowledge is information that can be used to make a decision or take an action." provides direct, tangible results to support, examine and measure.
Here are the definitions of the terms used within this paper:
Data: a recording of a transaction or specific facts in a conversation.
Information: a document or message intended to inform; also used as a generic term for data, information or knowledge.
Knowledge: information that can be used to make a decision or take an action
Context is information about the environment that adds meaning to another piece of information.
Processes utilize a representation of knowledge designed to support the action required to meet a recognized goal. This is related to what Ernst & Young call expertise: "knowledge applied to a bounded subject" and what Drucker refers to as knowledge-in-application. This definition goes beyond these by adding the requirement that the action be measured against a shared, recognized goal.
Another helpful concept for designing an information architecture is the concept of the information continuum. The continuum represents data, information and knowledge as a logical progression; as you move to the right, organized data becomes information; information that is used in business processes becomes knowledge. As you move to the right the business value of the information increases as does the complexity of the processes necessary to develop and manage the information. These processes progress from simply capturing the data to organizing, evaluating and finally synthesizing new knowledge.
The following simple example will is intended to illustrate these concepts. The example is followed by a discussion of how to apply these concepts to the design of a information infrastructure that has direct impact on real world businesses.
Data becomes information when the contextual information is provided. When the information is available in the context of when I need to decide whether or not to wear a coat it becomes knowledge. The impact of knowledge can be directly observed because we have defined knowledge in terms of decisions and action. It is also easy to see how to make information infrastructure improvements, e.g. put the thermometer next to the coat closet.
However, even though we can observe and measure the impact of this change, we still do not know the direct business impact of this result. What is missing is the connection between the action or decision and the means to achieve a complex set of goals. Using our definitions, what is missing is the process.
In this example the improvements would still fall short of the ultimate goal. My goal in this parental business process is to minimize the amount of school my kids miss due to illness. The last step is to integrate knowledge into my daily business processes to design a task that will meet my recognized goal:
In this example, the contextual knowledge (it is cold today, kids should wear a coat on cold days, kids will forget to wear a coat if I don't remind them) task knowledge (find coats, typically on the floor) and the task (hand to them) combine to form the process.[Duff et al.] Without a goal, there would be no need for action, and so the process would not be needed. Without sufficient knowledge, effective action is impossible, and so a process that meets the goal would not be possible.
While this example may help illustrate some concepts, the problem is so simplistic that a human can easily manage the information chain and there is no need for an information architecture. In the real business environment all aspects of generating intellectual capital are much more complex. Huge amounts of data must be transformed into information and the quantities of information are so vast that the term "information overload" has become common place. Today's business problems require teams of knowledge workers. These teams must have an understanding of the problem that is much deeper than what or how, they have to know why, that is they require the shared development of mental conceptual models. [Lee] Finally, the most difficult information management problem is caused by the a continually changing environment in which our businesses exist.
At HP, we have a world class infrastructure which has grown and expanded in response to the volume of data. However, to have the maximum influence on the generation of intellectual capital, the information architecture must expand to have a direct impact across the entire information continuum. Knowledge work is by its nature the collaboration of specialists from varying fields. [Drucker] A successful information architecture must support the ongoing and collaborative, conversation necessary to synthesize the new knowledge-in-action that creates business value. And, most significantly, the architecture must support the collaborative actions necessary to develop and recognize and shared, complex goals.
Why must we must consider an information infrastructure to meet the goal generating intellectual capital? In order to suggest why, this section will examine problems caused by our current information technology which has not been deployed as a coherent infrastructure.
The role of infrastructure is to provide services that exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:
Data infrastructures clearly meet three criterion. At HP, successful programs are in place to sustain the world class status of our data level infrastructure components: networks, desktop computers, servers and operating systems. These programs are designed to transport and store data in a pervasive and secure network connected to readily accessible servers and desktop computers. Because the network was designed using open standards, data can flow from a HPUX system to a Microsoft Windows client through a network of integrated components from various vendors.
Traditionally, IS or MIS departments have developed information systems designed for accounting applications or information tools developed for businesses to meet their specific needs. These systems use proprietary technologies augmented by custom designed tools and are often database driven. Databases are critical to effectively managing data and can be expected to play a crucial role in any information architecture that address the data end of the continuum. However, when used for knowledge work these systems in effect short-circuit the learning and knowledge creation process.
Today's databases are, from a knowledge perspective, random collections of facts. In order to use them effectively, you have to have a fairly clear understanding of the data model underlying the database as well as which database contains the most relevant facts. To run a query against the database you must know beforehand exactly what you are looking for. A negative response merely tells you what isn't there-- it gives no indication of what else is, or might be there. The only alternative is to submit another previously prepared query and hope for the best.[Lee] Much of the current database technology development, object orientation, data mining, distributed objects, and CORBA are targeted at improving their ability to meet modern knowledge worker's needs.
However, even when fully deployed these systems are not designed to promote ongoing conversation about goals or the development of new knowledge. In a conversation with Tom Davenport, [Davenport] Peter Drucker observed:
Davenport: .... In my work with companies on their business processes, I have yet to find a major operational process that hasn't been transformed by the use of information technology. But how about management? Has that been affected as much?
Drucker: No. I [never met] the senior manager who knew what information was available for decisions. Very few senior executives have asked the question, "What information do I need to do my job?" In part because they've all been brought up with the accounting information that they understand. But the other type of information system, they don't understand.
Peter Drucker explained in his seminal lecture, Knowledge Work and the Knowledge Society, knowledge work, "requires that people learn and preferably early how to assimilate into their own work specialized knowledges from other areas and other disciplines. ... This is particularly important as innovation in any one knowledge area tends to originate outside the area itself." Systems that support knowledge work must recognize that new knowledge creation or learning is inherently an open-ended, non-linear process that is impossible to specify completely beforehand. They must provide a information rich environment in which serendipitous discoveries are maximized.
Information systems have been deployed specifically to support the activities of knowledge workers. PC-COE has made a common set of information creation tools available to the majority of our knowledge workers and we have deployed Lotus Notes/Domino. The most notable example is the web. The web has changed from being an emerging to an submerging technology is an incredibly short five years. In 1992, it was barely known while in the summer of 1997 we are seeing most of the computing industry integrate the web into its product strategy. "The Internet, for example, will become the communication pipe for everything. The Web will become embedded in daily life, as central to everyday communication and commerce as the telephone, and all kinds of devices will connect to it." Eckhard Pfeiffer president and chief executive officer of Compaq Computer Corp [Pfeiffer].
Portions of the population have become so involved with web it has been called the 90's equivalent of the New Deal's WPA--it is where Generation X does business. However, for most of us, the world wide web has not fully delivered on its promise. It is a difficult place to find information and even more difficult to store information. Our HP intranet is even more difficult to use to find information than the Internet because we do not have a variety of access tools such as Alta-Vista, Infoseek and Yahoo. In addition, most of us do not create information for the web. If our information reaches the web, it is through an arcane, site specific publishing process.
Combined, these systems have resulted in an increase in size and complexity of our corporate memory making the management of these elements a significant strategic and competitive issue. Yet, they also present a fragmented information space in which breakdowns in conversational context occur all too frequently: "Why on earth did the search engine say this page was relevant?" or "Where are Lew Platt's speeches that discuss our medical business goals?". Without a full-featured intranet search tool it difficult to locate where information resides. When using server specific search, it is difficult to know if you have found the most current and relevant information. The fragmentation of the information space minimizes the probability of serendipitous encounters.
It is intriguing to note that the deployment of these technologies has expanded an information access problem described over 50 years ago:
"The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present-day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships."
As We May Think; by Vannevar Bush; July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly
The technology we use to create and examine the record has changed significantly since this was published. Yet, whether examining published manuscripts or web sites, the means by which we examine the record remain individual with little assistance from the information infrastructure. Our technology brings the record to us quickly but provides little support in finding where to look and how we utilize the information. There is no direct support for the business process that sent us to the record.
An information infrastructure could be designed with the goal to unify the information space. This architecture would provide the common context and methods necessary to assure knowledge workers have access to the specific information necessary to create detailed, specific knowledge-in-action. In order to be effective, such an infrastructure would have to be developed centrally to avoid the perils of a fragmented information space. In addition, there should be significant opportunity to reduce costs and improve reliability because the infrastructure would be leveraged broadly across all of our businesses and the knowledge workers.
Intellectual capital is an essential asset in today's successful enterprise. It is the basis for the quality and efficiency, mass customization, and innovation--the three capabilities necessary for value creation. Expenditures modern information infrastructure have become investments in the business itself. Yet our current information technology efforts are fragmented which causes significant difficulty in putting knowledge into action. Knowledge workers are required to use a wide variety of tools and techniques to access information relative to their current task, and even then, they are not assured of having the most current or relevant information.
To sustain competitive advantage, enterprises must invest in an information infrastructure with the following attributes:
With information added to the infrastructure it will be possible to build systems that use feedback from our first foray to provide us with clues about the organizational interrelationships of concepts, facts, and perspectives, and guide the form and content of our second foray, and so on down the line. The probability of serendipitous encounters will be maximized. It is reasonable to expect the web to to have a significant role in the evolving infrastructure. As the web and the computing industry evolve, the web will become the ubiquitous access point to the information infrastructure-- the end users interface to the information infrastructure.
IT has a central role in the effort to develop an infrastructure that unifies access to information. Indeed, if we consider and project the trend in IT's role, only infrastructure will remain.
Yet, we must remember that even the best information infrastructure can not ensure business success. Information infrastructures can not create knowledge-in-action; information infrastructures can only create an environment that encourages knowledge creation by making information management more affordable and easy. To be truly successful, business must deploy the infrastructure directly in their business processes as part of their ongoing process maturity effort.
Davenport: Do you believe that American companies, maybe American society in general, is too technology-oriented?
Drucker: The time has come for us to shift from the "T" in IT to the "I." It's time to learn the balance if there's to be information focus.