Integrate data for business gain

Staff spend too long tracking relevant data, says Chris Harding

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Staff spend too long tracking relevant data, says Chris Harding




As firms are coming under more and more pressure to improve productivity, efficiency and business performance, they look for new ways to achieve their objectives. The spotlight has turned to optimal use of information and knowledge as a key differentiator and a source of competitive advantage.

This brings a whole new set of challenges and questions. What is the correct knowledge and in-formation to generate and distribute, how can its quality and safety be assured and how can the right people access it? How can people filter and prioritise information to avoid overload? How can an integrated information flow be created, connecting all the separate islands that exist in the organisation? And how can different business lines, geographies and time zones co-operate efficiently?

Although information management is not a new concept, the products often result in stovepipe solutions. As a consequence, employees spend too much time searching for and recreating the information, which can become inaccurate, stale, not available or hard to integrate. This dramatically affects productivity and therefore the bottom line.

With continuous pressure on producing results, leading organisations are looking to take a holistically approach to address the lifecycle of information and knowledge management - from creation to sharing and reuse to impact on business results.

Firms are looking to integrate information from multiple sources and transform and transfer it as needed. All the components need to be connected - from metadata and taxonomies to portals, collaboration software, content management and enterprise resource planning software. The right information needs to be available to the right person at the right time in the right format.

Companies from a number of sectors are calling for a holistic product. Oil companies with complex operations spanning the globe need just-in-time information to maximise the use of their equipment and resources.

Auto manufacturers need to manage complex relationships with their supply chains. Retailers have to continuously optimise their inventory moving proc-esses. E-commerce companies need to integrate products in different formats with images, product information catalogues and lead metrics to enable one-stop comparison shopping. Global financial institutions need to provide straight-through transaction processing. Insurance companies require fresh and accurate information to assess the level of risk.

The need to access integrated information applies not only to firms, but also to governments and other organisations. Physicians need to stay on top of thousands of diseases, tests and drugs and an automated check against a database and a comparison with patient records could minimise errors and save lives. Law enforcement agencies want just-in-time access to the right information, in the right context and across departments to more effectively fight crime or ward off terrorist attack. Researchers need access to the latest information to cut down the time needed to bring new products to market.

As many organisations are experiencing frustration with the lack of an all-encompassing product and end-to-end integration, what can they expect from suppliers? Although there are a number of offerings in the space, these are still based on creating islands of automation and a truly integrated product remains elusive.

This is not because suppliers do not recognise the problem, but because it is a complex task. This is where a neutral organisation can play a vital role, facilitating a dialogue and leading a joint effort for a standards-based, user-centric product.

According to Peter Drucker, the next information revolution will be in concepts. It will not be focused on IT or on data, but instead will ask, "What is the meaning of information, and what is its purpose?" For adaptive organisations, this revolution has already begun.

Chris Harding is forum director at the Open Group

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