Information Management – three sides or three mountains?

Yesterday I had a rather interesting conversation with Dale about how perspectives on information management can vary according to the provenance of the people involved. At the highest, most visionary level Information Management can be defined (and indeed, is, by IBM) as getting the right information to the right people at the right time. That’s simple enough to have people nodding sagely or shaking their heads in a “well, yes of course” kind of way.

While the “what” might be simple, the “how” can very quite considerably. Essentially there are 3 camps:

– the Business Intelligence (BI) crowd – with a structured data background, these people discuss normalisation, cubes and master data.

– the Content Management (CM) crowd – historically working with documents, they talk in terms of taxonomies, workflow and rights management

– the collaboration crowd – coming up from file-based environments and delving into Intranets, for these it’s all about desktop access, email and office integration

While each group of people may be highly computer literate, each will tend to talk to its own using a certain language, philosophy and (dare I say it) psychology. I know this to be so, based on experiences talking to groups of each type. I could waffle on about that for a while but hold that thought – what’s perhaps more interesting is how this impacts specific vendors, again, based on their provenance.

The obvious examples are:

– IBM, with its DB2 heritage, still very much in the BI camp despite having acquired FileNet

– EMC, having purchased Documentum 4 years ago and falling rather naturally into the CM camp

– Microsoft, its Windows-as-the-platform heritage yielding a firm position in the collaboration camp, with its Sharepoint “flagship”

Savvy, companies marketing execs in these companies will be able to pitch at the visionary level. For the rest however, its not so much that they don’t get the existence of the other areas, more that they don’t see the point of dwelling on them. They’d be right to surmise that there’s so much going on in their own areas, they’re kept too busy to step across into the other areas. The end result however is that we end up with three communities, not one, the behaviours of each dictated by their own technological heritage. For a stark example of this, consider what part Lotus has to play in IBM’s Information On Demand vision (here’s a clue: not much).

Does it really matter? I believe it does, not least because of the inefficiencies of reinvention and the requirements for integration across the piece. Perhaps it matters most of all because our research tells it so – organisations really do want an integral view of their data assets, of all kinds, and they are frustrated by the inability of vendors to serve it up. I do understand how hard it is to build a scalable repository, but that doesn’t mean we need to stick with models and architectures that are some 20 years old. Neither am I sure we can afford the luxury of preaching to the converted within our own comfort zones. 

P.S. I’ll leave the decision about where Oracle fits, as an exercise for the reader 🙂

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Information Management – three sides or three mountains?

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