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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.

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