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In the dim and distant past most organisations struggled along with what they euphemistically referred to as Information Systems.

They were Information Systems with no overall design, no elements of management and no architecture.

Information Systems were built to show how the company had been performing in the immediate past, and that was it.

For a business person, especially one having to deal with a pressing operational or strategic issues, Mr Ford wasn’t quite accurate, in that some history can be worse than bunk.

In those times there was typically no rigorous questioning of the future and no provision of the essentials required by business managers and executives in deciding what was right for the future.

We can summarise the shortcomings of most existing information systems of the time by identifying four failures of business management.

Management had failed to proclaim that it was the only legitimate customer for management information and knowledge.

But management was also becoming increasingly aware of the need for timely, appropriate and adequate information and knowledge.

However, there was scant appreciation of the fact that information and knowledge, like many other resources, are acquired and paid for in terms of time, effort and money.

Until recent times, managers channelled funds to Information Technologies and every conceivable associated service.

What happened?

The more IT changed, the more the levels of actionable information and knowledge remained the same.

Simply stated it was loads of money in and with no tangible return.

It was like as if IT departments all over the world were pissing the money up against the wall.

Management had been bad at asking the right questions and at steering information and knowledge suppliers towards the right catchment areas.

Management understood that it had a need for information and knowledge.

However, in common with a lot of markets they are generally reticent to go about proactively defining what that need was and how it should be satisfied. People are conditioned to behave like markets of consumers, and markets don’t generally go about proactively seeking new products and services from suppliers.In addition, the distribution of information, knowledge and skill between different groups was influenced by political and ideological factors. Which also hampered the healthy flow of information. Because each organisation group had an almost in-built incentive to defend and enhance its control over the information and knowledge relevant to their function. In some specific cases, it was feared that losing control of this key facet would mean that the group’s strategic power would be undermined in any subsequent technological or organisational shift.

Management had failed to insist that the supply of information and knowledge is a multi-disciplinary function, since few management decisions can rely on a single-source of data and information.

Here we entered the awareness of the need and a justifiable ignorance on the part of management, combined with requirement for a comprehensive understanding of the intricate details of how those information and knowledge needs would be met.

Management had failed to put its information function under management concomitant with its importance as a business asset.We can illustrate this point by looking at two organisational functions.

One function is highly focused on the timely, adequate and appropriate delivery of information. The other is focused on operational, technology, performance, security and recovery aspects of databases and data usage.

Sperry Univac had a great mainframe based reporting and analysis tool called Mapper, it could also be used to easily and rapidly develop all types of operational applications. It was extremely popular with customers, and especially with the business users with those customers.

In these worlds there was a management function known as the Mapper Co-ordinator. In the late 1970s this function was identified by Sperry Univac as being critical to the success of any large scale end-user oriented management information system – they were for simplicities sake what we used to refer to as Information Centres and what we now refer to as Data Warehouses.

That role basically covered a rich eclectic mix of disciplines and skills, and would typically be:

  • Assigned to a senior business manager, with a good understanding of the relevant business issues.
  • Someone with the confidence, support and empowerment of the management board.
  • With the personal qualities to be able to communicate effectively at all levels of the organisation.
  • Someone who could be an architect, guide, asset manager, designer, custodian, curator, controller and sales-person of an organisations management and business information resources.

Conversely there is the much more common role of Database Administrator. Within many database environments there is a need for administrators. This function has been typically identified to meet the need for the management of the Database Information Technology resource. This person will be normally concerned with:

  • Availability
  • Security
  • Backup and recovery
  • Performance
  • Design assistance

The functions above are characterised by the sharp contrasts in the emphasis on open and democratic co-ordination on the one hand and feral command and control on the other – Providing timely, adequate and appropriate knowledge, information and data as and when required, or on a perceived and limited need to know basis.

The difference between both approaches is quite significant and quite revealing.

On the technical administration side we recognise that the data and information might have value, so we will ensure that it is protected as an asset.

On the other hand, the business coordination approach also recognises the value of data and information, but then says, “Okay, let’s maximise leverage off this valuable data and information to add significant value to business process and decision making”.

It’s a widely recognised fact that information is an asset worthy of being treated as such.

Unfortunately much of the time information isn’t rightly valued, and the biggest perpetrators of that wilful under-valuation are typically to be found in the IT function.

But seriously, is that any way to construct and run an information and knowledge management strategy?

File under: Good Strat, Good Strategy, Martyn Richard Jones, Martyn Jones, Cambriano Energy, Iniciativa Consulting, Iniciativa para Data Warehouse, Tiki Taka Pro