The role of information in the modern enterprise architecture programme

Every organisation considers effective use of information to be essential for success. However, the modern paradox is that although information is easier and less expensive than ever to find and use, it poses new risks and uncertainties. At the...

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Every organisation considers effective use of information to be essential for success. However, the modern paradox is that although information is easier and less expensive than ever to find and use, it poses new risks and uncertainties.

At the same time, enterprise architects face significant challenges in trying to understand information-sharing trends such as "big data," open data, advanced analytics and context-aware computing, and to use this understanding to drive effective enterprise change.

Information strategy and information architecture have never been a priority for enterprise architects — if they had been, most organisations would not have as many data silos as they do. Nevertheless, an enterprise architect's job has always has been to find and remedy silos — technical silos — a task in which they are skilled. Now their challenge is also to solve the data silo problem.

Results from Gartner's recent global enterprise architecture (EA) survey provide useful insights into the strategic role of information in enterprises, especially in light of "enterprise information architecture" (EIA). Essentially, EIA is the process of determining which information should be treated as enterprise information (information that must be shared consistently across the enterprise) and then designing outcomes that strengthen the network effects of sharing that information inside and outside the organisation. Judging from Gartner's survey, organisations around the world use EIA to align business and IT strategies, and to deliver strategic business and IT value.

Further, by correlating selected survey results, Gartner has found positive relationships between EIA and efforts to strengthen EA programs and increase program maturity. Generally, more mature EA programs take a balanced approach to each viewpoint: business architecture, technical architecture, information architecture and solution architecture. Unfortunately, many practitioners focus EA efforts exclusively on technical architecture at the expense of other viewpoints.

Given the pace of business change, EA programs that focus on technology architecture will compromise their impact and value. As everyone can see, technologies once deemed differentiators are now commodities, thanks to Moore's Law, the Web and other advances. Therefore, in this new age of big data, successful organisations are those that use information strategically to gain a competitive advantage.

They are able to harness and combine different types of data for analysis more efficiently; they spot patterns of change more dynamically, and they tap into customer sentiment more rapidly. By focusing on information as a strategic asset, organisations turn an information advantage into a competitive advantage, and satisfy their goals for growth, innovation and differentiation.

However, a strategic focus on information is not simply about big data. Practitioners must also address other information-sharing trends: such as open data, linked data and social data. These trends are disrupting prior notions of EIA by shifting the focus from data warehousing (data storage and compression) to data pooling (data flows, links and "shareability"). To address the ever-increasing sources of internal and external data, enterprise architects might like to memorise a catchphrase: "While big data will make an organisation smarter and more productive, open data and linked data will make it richer."

As more organisations publish open data on the Web and Web-enable more devices, new revenue-generating opportunities will appear. At present, most open-data efforts are undertaken by government entities to support transparency mandates (such as data.gov.uk), but leading companies are also publishing more open data on the Web using public APIs as new delivery channels. Whereas big data is capturing everyone's attention, the bigger story is about the strategic use of information and an emerging data economy.

To achieve positive business outcomes from big data and related data-sharing trends, it is important to align data and technology solutions in a way that achieves information-sharing network effects, rather than fine-tune data for specific applications and single-unit business processes. Essentially, by liberating information from silos (for example, by following data-centric rather than application-centric design principles), the value of data to an organisation increases and data can be reused for a wider range of business-focused outcomes.

I will discuss these issues in more detail at the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit 2012, taking place on 15 May 2012 in London. Information from the event will be shared on Twitter using the hashtag #GartnerEA. I hope to see you there.

Posted by David Newman, research vice president, Gartner

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