Turning Information Chaos Into a Business Asset
By John Mancini
The whole process of information and how we manage its workflow is being turned on its head. According to Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president, research, at market analyst Gartner: “Every budget is an IT budget. Every company is an IT company. Every business leader is becoming a digital leader. Every person is becoming a technology company. We are entering the era of the digital industrial economy."
This so-called ”digital industrial economy” brings with it new business opportunities. But it isn’t all a land of milk and honey. Despite the advantages, organizations still feel they are sinking in a quicksand of content and information.
Server farms are multiplying by the day, making it increasingly difficult for organizations to keep tabs on data. Additionally, data is pouring in from a host of diverse devices in ever-changing formats. And if that weren’t enough, we also have information popping up via software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that don’t fall into the framework of conventional data governance.
In the face of this enormous surge of changes, IT leaders often feel as if they are fighting to keep control of the floodgates.
This has created a conundrum. On the one hand, in the digital industrial economy, information is the world’s new currency. On the other, we see information chaos reigning supreme.
Information Chaos: the Three Disruptors
Look closely and you will see three key disruptors changing the way we view information:
1. Consumerization has changed user expectations of applications.
2. Mobile and cloud offer the promise of 24/7 anywhere access to data.
3. The changing face of work is pushing organizations to adopt a flat, agile ethos and abandon the slow, hierarchical approach.
The business challenge of the next decade is undoubtedly the need to manage the volume and variety of data that is rapidly being created by these disruptors. Let’s take a closer look at each of the disruptors and see how we can better manage the data being created.
Consumerization: We are in an age of massive decentralization of technology resources, coupled with a huge increase in talent to utilize these resources.
In Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, James McQuivey of Forrester looks at the four major factors necessary for massive disruption: a computer, an Internet connection, a programming language and software development kit (SDK), and a friction-free platform for making and distributing money.
What this means is that how we look at applications in the enterprise, how we buy enterprise technology, and how we deploy enterprise systems are all changing at the same time. Innovation is everywhere, and the time when organizations could depend on their internal IT resources for a competitive edge is gone.
The downside is that many businesspeople now assume that solutions can be delivered as seamlessly and simply in an organization as when they are consumers in a store or on a Website. But, in reality, it’s not that simple, and trying to do so actually increases the potential for information chaos.
Mobile and Cloud: These two ideas have become key to our expectations of where we can work, when we can work, with whom we can work and on what devices we can work.
We have also seen a revolution in the platforms used to host content and processes. Market research company ABI Research predicted in March 2013 that 56 billion smartphone apps would be downloaded that year. By operating system, 58 percent will be Google Android; 33 percent Apple iOS; 4 percent Microsoft Windows Phone; and 3 percent BlackBerry.
This can’t help but influence how we think about enterprise applications. Gartner predicted in April 2013 that by 2017, 25 percent of enterprises would have an enterprise app store.
Ian Finley, Gartner’s research vice president, also noted at that time that "Apps downloaded from public app stores for mobile devices disrupt IT security, application and procurement strategies. Bring your own application (BYOA) has become as important as bring your own device (BYOD) in the development of a comprehensive mobile strategy.”
Cloud technologies work with mobile technologies to disrupt the way we have been taught to think about information management. The challenge is that together they increase the volume and variety of data, which leads to growing information chaos in the short term.
The Changing Face of Work: Organizations need to change the way they view the business structure. The way forward involves flattening hierarchies and eliminating middle management, and bringing top management in contact with frontline employees.
While social technologies by themselves will not disrupt rigid organizational hierarchies, they can be a boon to organizations committed to working in a flatter, more agile way. However, when traditional, rigid information workflows are disrupted without a clear strategy on how to replace them, that can also increase the levels of information chaos.
Turning Chaos Into a Business Asset
Of course, managing the volume and variety of data churned out by these disrupters can be both costly and risky, but it can also be a valuable business asset. By combining content and processes in innovative ways, organizations can actually mitigate risk, reduce costs and better engage their ecosystem.
The intersection of content and process in the world we are moving into is best summarized by this new continuum: Capture -> Analyze -> Engage -> Automate -> Govern.
Organizations must look at their existing policies and align electronic record practices with those used for physical records. Do not hold off putting an e-discovery process in place. If you wait until you need it, it will be too late. Ensure that you have an information governance policy in place across your entire enterprise and that all staff members are trained in compliance.
Shatter the illusion that paperless is a dangerous move. Highlight the role paper-free processes can play in business-improvement initiatives. The more content you can collect into a single, searchable, mobile-accessible system, the easier it will be to tap into your data.
Look at social channels and assess how relevant they are to your organization, both internally and externally, as a means of communication. Don’t just make social channels the domain of your marketing and communication department. Put guidelines in place for using social channels, and make sure you include your HR department in the loop.
Finally, get value out of the data you are collecting. Is the data useful and clean, and can it transform the business? Use the data to your advantage and don’t let it pile up in a silo without playing a part in the organization’s business plan.
Finding opportunities among information chaos is not easy. But if you take the time to work out the best way of collecting and analyzing your data, the business benefits can be enormous.
John Mancini is president of AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management), a global community of information professionals. (www.aiim.org)