"An extraordinary thinker and strategist" "Great knowledge and a wealth of experience" "Informative and entertaining as always" "Captivating!" "Very relevant information" "10 out of 7 actually!" "In my over 20 years in the Analytics and Information Management space I believe Alan is the best and most complete practitioner I have worked with" "Surprisingly entertaining..." "Extremely eloquent, knowledgeable and great at joining the topics and themes between presentations" "Informative, dynamic and engaging" "I'd work with Alan even if I didn't enjoy it so much." "The quintessential information and data management practitioner – passionate, evangelistic, experienced, intelligent, and knowledgeable" "The best knowledgeable, enthusiastic and committed problem solver I have ever worked with" "His passion and depth of knowledge in Information Management Strategy and Governance is infectious" "Feed him your most critical strategic challenges. They are his breakfast." "A rare gem - a pleasure to work with."

Monday, 30 July 2012

Event Notification 23/24 August: "Revolutionising the Data Warehouse & Business Analytics", hosted by Ark Group

I am delighted to be chairing the forthcoming Ark Group conference "Revolutionising the Data Warehouse & Business Analytics", to take place in Melbourne on 23rd & 24th August.

The conference agenda will explore the following challenges:

  • Demonstrating the tangible benefits and ROI of data warehousing
  • Effectively managing Big Data
  • Overcoming the barriers of to move to agile data ware house
  • Maturing organisation’s data quality capability
  • Bringing IT costs into control by effectively using Cloud
  • New technologies and trends in business analytics

For more details, conference brochure and registration, please click here: http://www.arkgroupaustralia.com.au/Events-E024datarev.htm

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Information as a Service, Part 2: what do I do about it?

In an earlier post, I defined the concept of “Information as a Service”, and covered off why successful Information Management requires a change of mindset that emphasises the wider context of why information is required, and for whom. I’d like to now like to turn attention to the impact that Information as a Service can have and some hints-and-tips on how to achieve better outcomes.

IT departments have traditionally struggled to engage with an information-aligned business agenda. The rigours and constraints of IT delivery are focussed on managing the technology infrastructure and applications that store and distribute data (containers and connectors), rather than having linkage to the relevance of the contents used in context. This focus typically requires an approach that is oriented towards policing of controls, process compliance and gatekeeping of expenditure.

In contrast to a technology-centric mindset, an information-oriented approach requires a different and complementary set of skills. Most importantly, it requires a fundamental change of mindset for the information team (whether for data warehousing, business intelligence, analytics or Documents & Records Management). To be able to encapsulate the information content within its business context, the team needs to articulate the relevance and impact that the organisation’s information has on business performance and process effectiveness. This in turn creates a clear line-of-sight from business value, through analytic information services to the underlying data warehousing of information assets focuses the people, processes, and technology towards the optimal management of information.

It becomes clear that without a critical mass of these competencies, organisations will struggle to balance investment in information with the information requirements of the organisation. Having a data warehouse and analytic environment that is fully aligned to the business view of the organisation ensures that management of the Information competency is fully congruent with the required business capability.

Data Warehousing and Analytics programs can deliver value to organisations at any strategic pain-point.  However, each initiative must be matched to the performance management strategies appropriate to your organisation’s business model. This process will drive the right investment in the data warehouse and associated analytic outputs.

A “top 10” of actions that help to develop better engagement and alignment with the “Information As a Service” mindset might include:

  1. Managing business performance through visible measurement: this requires explicit investments in executive decision-making via executive dashboards which report directly from operational and management information systems. A strong link is created between reporting processes and actual business performance, setting the foundation for analytics-driven performance optimisation. 
  2. Using the information that is currently available to drive new information capture: focusing data warehousing initiatives on making decisions with the best existing information focuses attention on understanding what additional information is required information but is currently not available. This supports proactive management of decision risks through highlighting the gaps to drive prioritisation of new data sources for data warehousing initiatives.
  3. Driving commonality of analytic solutions and services: optimising the information delivery process by consolidating and standardising the inventory of common management and operational reports. A coherent approach that co-ordinates across all system enhancement, performance improvement, and transformation initiatives means building an integrated suite of reports that delivers repeatable elements common to overall business performance. Resources can then be re-focussed towards specific value-adding tasks, rather than maintaining multiple, duplicated copies of basic reporting services. 
  4. Completeness of data integration: managing a continuous, prioritised pipeline of data integration for all organisational data to ensure the data warehouse suite supports both current and future demands. Data integration requirements should be driven from strategic drivers, proactively acquiring data for future analytic initiatives to enhance responsiveness.
  5. Explicit management of ad hoc reporting and analysis: Implementing a Centre of Excellence / Competency centre that is formally accountable for managing a tiered community of users from information consumers, information integrators, statistical analysts, to decision makers
  6. Metadata Driven Governance and Delivery: driving scope management, governance and delivery through a co-ordinated approach to metadata management. This ensures the requirements quickly find their way into working solutions and are validated by the business early in the project lifecycle. Using a Business Glossary and metadata-centric Agile delivery methods shifts the focus to the organisation information needs instead of the technology used to deliver the information.
  7. “Steel thread” to manage data warehouse delivery risk: When developing business analytic solutions, the focus of planning and management effort should be on business requirements and objectives.  However, there is also a hidden risk in all projects - the unbounded effort in the development work stream caused by detailed technical unknowns. The concept of a “steel thread” maps the end-to-end linkages and dependencies from deploying the underlying warehouse technical platform, through data and analytics application development and on to the final business outcome, based on a tightly bounded sub-set of the overall business requirements. Potential issues in the technical environment, in the use of new technologies, or in the understanding of business logic are identified, tested and mitigated early in the delivery cycle, so that the overall solution implementation is de-risked.
  8. Proactive Data Quality Management: assessing overall Data Quality for data sources and implementing appropriate controls and remedial actions to ensure Data Quality is managed in a proactive manner, both during programme execution and beyond into business-as-usual operations. Measurement and profiling, root-cause diagnosis, remedial action and continuous improvement are all necessary elements of a proactive approach to Data Quality. (The linkages between data and its usage in context are explicitly identified, as data quality is only ever quantified as a function of its usage).
  9. Formal Data Governance: The people and functions who produce and use information are the people who know its value, understand what they need to save and should know how long a given set of data is going to be useful.  And while business people may know these things, it is often difficult – or even impossible – to get them to articulate their own information needs. Additionally, many departments only give consideration to their own information needs and opportunities for re-use, combination and added value are often missed. A robust and sustainable Data Governance regime provides a common foundation of “Rules of Engagement” and identifies explicit decision rights and accountability for the analytic business mandate. 
  10. Delivering analytic solutions that are fun to use: people are more likely to make use of tools and services that are not only easy to use but are also attractive and engaging. Application of user experience (UX) disciplines and data visualisation techniques ensures that information is presented pleasingly and effectively for the intended decision making process.

Aligning data warehouse and analytic services with business outcomes requires a conscious focus and effort, either as an initiative in its own right or as part a holistic approach to implementing Information Governance within an information-enabled business transformation.  Once the overall scope and context of the implementation has been established (e.g. as part of defining the organisation’s Information Management Strategy and Roadmap), the aim is to stand up the new analytic competency as quickly as possible, so that your organisation can begin to realise the benefits of the transformed data warehouse capability.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Event notice - lunchtime seminar 19/07/12 in Melbourne: "Information as a Service"

Following on from last week's blog post on the topic of "Information as a Service,"  I will be hosting a lunchtime seminar on Thursday 19th July from 12-2pm, to take place at SMS's Melbourne offices at Level 41, 140 William Street. This interactive discussion will cover themes including:

  • How the concept of “Information as a Service” drives better business outcomes and value
  • Why “Information as a Service” requires the implementation of an Information Management Competency Centre (IMCC)
  • The key steps necessary to develop the IMCC
  • How to effectively embed an IMCC into your enterprise operations
  • How to achieve an end-to-end view of your information assets via an IMCC
  • How the IMCC integrates and supports wider business initiatives for Information Governance

For further details and to register to attend, please click here: http://www.smsmt.com/About-SMS/Events-Calendar/VIC---Information-as-a-Service.aspx;# 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

“Information as a Service” – what is it, and why is it important?

In recent discussions with some of my clients, I've encountered increasing interest in the concept of "Information as a Service." A couple of themes are consistently arising:
  • the topic seems to mean different things to different people, and;
  • For those that have a point of view, they don't really seem able to articulate what "Information as a Service" really means anyway!
In giving further thought to this, I've identified a number of underlying issues that most clients are trying to address. Consider the following trends and challenges faced by organisations competing in an information-rich environment:
  • Growing volume and complexity of data from social media platforms, smart devices, text mining steams, and data available to purchase – all potential sources of competitive advantage.
  • Emergence of new technologies which enable the information to be delivered in ever more meaningful ways.
  • Business continuity & sustainability are increasingly dependent on the reliability of information management processes and continuous innovation in the management of information.
  • Challenges in managing to information policies, aspirations, and obligations for compliance, transparency, and privacy when operating in complex partner ecosystems with outsourced delivery models
  • Being able to predict new scenarios and meet rapidly changing business demands, often before they are formally identified by the user community.
  • Increasingly there are information components to product offerings - this puts pressure on the timeliness and accuracy of information that was once internal, but is now presented externally to customers.

The feedback I'm getting is that a successful approach to managing all the above complexity requires a fundamental change of mindset for the Information Management community. Many Information Management practitioners will concentrate on the themes of what information needs to be delivered and how it will be delivered. Unfortunately, these critical questions do not engage well with a business audience, who are typically motivated by understanding the wider context of why information is required, and for whom.

Turning this around requires information practitioners to develop a different approach so that all activities in the information value-chain are presented through a business-oriented lens that gives consideration first and foremost to the questions of business context and business outcomes to be derived from making the right information available, at the right time, to the right people. Based on the above, we arrive at a definition for this concept of the managing information value-chain as delivering information as a service:

Critical to the concept of Information as a Service is the ability to encapsulate the information content within its business context, articulating the relevance and impact that the organisation’s information has on business performance and process effectiveness. For example:
  • For telecommunications operators, having the ability to reconcile unbilled calls against the total volume of calls carried translates to an understanding of revenue leakage;
  • For insurance businesses, ability to accurately correlate total premiums paid per customer against total claims enables additional control on unsubstantiated refunds;
  • For government care agencies, correlating the history of different benefit payments to a specific household provides insight to identify possible opportunities for earlier and more effective care interventions.
  • For healthcare organisations, performing text-mining analysis across all patient records can enable hidden causes of an infectious outbreak to be identified. 
In other spheres of operation (business process management, for example), the potential benefits of service-based management are well understood. However, this service-based approach is rarely applied effectively to the way in which information is delivered within the organisation. An information management (IM) capability that delivers information as a service has the potential to transform your organisation.

When information is viewed as an asset, establishing the competencies to exploit value from information becomes a business imperative rather than a technical one. This implies the intention to create a clear line-of-sight from business value, through information services to the underlying information assets focuses your people, processes, and technology towards the optimal management of information:
  • Creating an integrated view of core shared data critical to your organisation;
  • Creating a culture that makes use of the best available information in all decision-making;
  • Effectively managing the end-to-end lifecycles of information to maximize value across multiple business capabilities, processes, or information systems;
  • Integrating performance management processes (organisational and HR) at executive, management, and operational levels to ensure strategic goals are reinforced throughout the organisation;
  • Creating a vision for an information-enabled organisation that drives investment priorities and highlights gaps in capability;
  • Ensuring the right people, processes, technology, and roadmaps are in place to support that vision;
  • Providing clear line of sight from investment to benefits.
In my follow-on post Information as a Service Part 2: What to do about it?, I explore some ideas on to the impact that Information as a Service can have and some hints-and-tips on how to achieve better outcomes.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Want a successful Information Architecture? Ignore your consultant's advice!

As part of the Information Strategy toolkit within our Information Management consulting practice, we have built up a range of governance, architecture and process frameworks that facilitate rapid client engagement, enable repeatable solutions and maximize the opportunity to get "sticky" with clients (not as unpleasant as it sounds). As well as as being useful tools "in the field" for paid consulting work, I also use these templates as base content when preparing to present at conference sessions, seminars and tutorials. For many situations, our clients will simply run with our template solution frameworks, perhaps with some minor adaptions of the model approach. Assess, configure, adopt. It's a genuine "win/win" - great for the client (simplifies the solution approach, reduces risk, enhances time-to-value) and great for our consulting business (market differentiation, genuine re-usability, and enables us to charge a justifiable premium on standard resource-augmentation day-rates).

A recent engagement with a major Australian Bank required my team to deliver some methodology templates for governing the bank's Information Architecture process. The engagement delivery process started off with a fairly standard discovery phase, where we did a quick-scan of the client's circumstances, using our Information Governance Frameworks as the baseline for the assessment. However, soon after we started tailoring the templates from our "magpie's nest" of shiny re-usable collateral, the client effectively ignored all of the pre-defined content that we'd tabled with them and started writing their own content instead. Pretty quickly, the outputs of the engagement were unrecognisable in comparison with the model content that we'd brought to the party. Indeed, it got to the point where our contribution to creating the final project deliverables was almost peripheral. Yet the client was still delighted to pay our consulting fees in full (to the point where they paid us the full T&M budget, even though we'd not consumed all the days allocated to the project). How could that be?

Where we got to was that the client got lots of value from the analysis process, stimulated by our template materials. By examining our best-practice frameworks, the client's Information Architecture team were able to assess their requirements in a way that they had not been able to do before. Picking apart our templates and models acted as an excellent stimulus to have the internal debate and achieve a consensus that had been missing. So, even though thto framework material didn't meet their needs, it served its purpose in the context of delivering value to the architectural aspects of Information Governance approach.  Having started out with the expectation that the client wanted my team to just "provide answers to their problems", we ended up in a position where they discovered what they really needed was someone to come in and prompt them to ask the right (or at least, different) questions.

Go to market, hire some expensive experts to give you their best advice, and then ignore it. Perfect!

Overall an interesting exercise, and one which has also helped me re-evaluate my personal perceptions of what it means to be called upon as a "Subject Matter Expert". Hopefully, I'll be a better consultant as a result....

(Footnote: as a by-product, my team also got the benefit of stress-testing our template frameworks and we gained some valuable insight which is helping us to further iterate and enhance our Information Governance approach. A happy client and a happy consulting team. Win/Win).