Why IT ignores the information agenda

When I arrived at the St. Regis Hotel in New York earlier this week, there was no information package waiting in my room from IBM about its Information on Demand strategy. There wasn’t anything in the lobby that suggested a special event that would be taking place the next morning. Only a driver at the airport holding a sign that said “Welcome Rob Ashe,” assured me that the former Cognos president and I were in the right place. This is one of the few times Big Blue has left me, or anyone else, so uninformed.

At the press conference discussing IBM’s integration of the Cognos business intelligence (BI) product line, the company’s general manager of information management software, Ambuj Goyal, tried to explain why the company was taking this path. “We ask companies about their application agenda, and they tell us all about their ERP, their CRM, and so on,” he said. “When we ask them about their information agenda, we don’t get a consistent answer.”

Maybe because IT managers don’t really own the information.

Goyal gave a good example of how complicated this issue is. A company might want to examine profitability at one of its call centres. By getting a better sense of who has spent what on your products and services, you can start optimizing your staff to prioritize their calls, or to get trained on the most common kinds of problems. At least, you can for about 10 minutes.

“You could do it, but it would be a project,” said Goyal, and the word “project” was pronounced with the kind of weariness we associate with submitting our expense forms. “If new data comes in” – if the company goes through a merger or acquisition, for instance – “you’d have to do it all over again.” The essence of IBM’s strategy is to use its hardware, systems software and now analytical tools from Cognos to create an architecture for managing information as it not only grows but mutates within the organization.

This approach would probably work, but it requires enterprise to overcome a particularly difficult IT-business disconnect. IBM isn’t hearing a lot about information agendas because its traditional customer base isn’t really that focused on information. They are focused on applications because the ones they originally bought have never worked properly, or are so old that they’re being held together by sheer good fortune. Or they aren’t really immersed in, say, the financial data of the CFO’s team. They may understand the goals of the finance department, but that’s not the same thing as being a part of that information agenda. It’s hard to have one when the information in question is something of only peripheral interest.

IBM is hoping through Cognos to get closer to the people with the information agenda, but that’s only one step. The second step – which other vendors in this space will need to follow – is to help map those agendas to the application agendas of the IT department. You can’t engineer information on demand unless all parties involved can agree on what is being demanded. That’s the senior management agenda. Or at least it should be.

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