NB R&D centre to develop information architecture

A subsidiary of Bell Aliant will be expanding its presence on the east coast next year with a research and development facility that will showcase information architecture prototypes and allow customers to test-drive IT products and services.

Innovatia, based in Saint John, N.B., said it will employ about 30 to 50 full time staff when it opens the R&D centre by the end of next month. Innovatia’s customers include Nortel Networks, for whom it provides technical training programs. The company was formed in May of 2000 to concentrate Aliant’s expertise in knowledge management and strategy of next-generation technology.

Blair Morgan, Innovatia’s director of R&D, said the lab will feature equipment for demonstrating new techniques in documentation and e-learning, as well as testing stations for new technologies used in technical authoring and information sharing. The lab will also feature production facilities for podcasts and Webinars, he said.

“Our strategy is not the strategy that some research projects would have, which would be start with a hypothesis, do a lot of research, spend three years investigating technologies or solutions and then spend the final third prototyping,” he said.

Instead, Innovatia will take existing technologies and develop approaches to using them more strategically, Morgan said. It has developed, for example, what he described as an information audit process that could help IT departments and other lines of business understand where information is being shared and stored in order to achieve greater consistency and comply with regulations.

“It’s an architecture in its purest sense – how you should design something to make it most effective for the end users. The approach is very user-centric,” Morgan said. “Rather than looking at an organization and having its leaders tell us what they want to tell their customer, we find out what the customers want to see.”

Pricing for such an information architecture would vary depending on the scope of its use, Morgan said, but he said it would be particularly useful for enterprises undergoing dramatic changes or one that has acquired a number of smaller companies.

“CIOs and organizations in general are creating a centralized information architecture. IT’s where all their information gets consolidated and developed centrally,” he said. “There may be commonality across that information, but it’s being created or changed three or four times by different people.”

Morgan gave the example of a professional services firm, who he wouldn’t name, which applied some of Innovatia’s processes, specifically in how sales engineers developed proposals. The result was that the firm hired a team that focused on that task.

“They’ve pushed that admin role away from those sales engineers and put them in the hands of people who were better at writing.”

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While recruiting entry-level positions has gone well, Innovatia has had to create its own training program to develop the kinds of employees it needs.

“In the area of information architecture and technical architecture it’s been a challenge. Most of the senior positions are very tough to fill,” Morgan said.

Business New Brunswick, a local agency, can’t do a lot to help companies like Innovatia, according to spokesman Ryan Donaghy, but a government organization known as Population Growth Secretariat has been doing some work in matching people with companies and repatriating or sourcing skilled immigrants.

“We certainly try to adapt our education system to fit the needs and requirements into the future. In the immediate term, we do have some training programs available through post-secondary educational institutions,” he said.

Although he admits New Brunswick is “out there” in terms of geography, Morgan said he hoped the area might one day draw comparisons to U.S. technology hotbeds such as Santa Clara, Calif. “When they started, it was largely an agricultural area,” he pointed out. “Though partnerships with educational institutions there and the desire to make something work from a worldwide Internet perspective, they were able to build an enormous industry.”

Earlier this year, Innovatia announced a $4.4 million initiative with the Faculty of Computer Science at UNB Fredericton to develop a tool that will allow companies to capture relevant information once, configure it for all required uses and deliver it to any desired output format.

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