Both Gartner and Forrester have recently put a spotlight on information architecture. In a prediction for most important IT-roles for 2010, Gartner selected Enterprise Information Architecture as one of them. Two weeks ago, Forrester published a topic overview on information architecture.
With the ever growing amount of structured and unstructured data, increasing emphasis on information architecture is relevant and right. While cloud computing, appliances and SaaS-solutions to name a few, address the technical challenges in handling all this data, information architecture focusses on determining what information is there in the first place, what information is required in the future, how all information assets relate to each other, and how they connect to both business processes, functions and goals and applications and technology. Recall the basic framework for enterprise architecture and one can easily plot the four architecture layers on the above description (business, information, application and technology architecture). Information architecture, in the definition used by Forrester, aligns with this basic framework.
Both identify structured and unstructured data in scope of information architecture. Although conceptually not necessary – IA deals with information in a general sense, regardless of its structure – it’s good to point to both types of data, as unstructered data in the BI-space is still often left out of scope.
Interestingly, as Gartner points out, people fulfilling the role of information architect will increasingly originate from outside IT, bringing in more business experience. I think this would be a welcome development and enhances an organization’s ability to truly focus on the added value of information, regardless of the technology used.
Yet, despite its increasing role and importance, IA is still in an early stage according to Forrester, mainly because of the horizontal approach (which crosses vertical boundaries) IA requires, the pre-requisite of business – IT-alignment and the wealth of corporate data and information that needs to be ‘architected’. To face these challenges, a new breed of information architect is required, one with strong skills and savvyness, as Gartner points out.
One word of caution though. As with nearly any concept within IT, there’s a tendency to include the whole world and make any new concept THE new thing to do. Forrester’s account of IA touches upon adjacent concepts like information management, data governance and MDM. Let’s be vigilant about this kind of scope creep and clear about the primary of (information) architecture which is design. Architecture is “the art and discipline of creating an actual, or inferring an implied or apparent plan of any complex object or system” as Capgemini’s IAF manual puts it. The primary focus of such a plan is on structure and relationships with reference to a set of governing principles that provide guidance and support for direction and decisions. Other disciplines, like information management and governance processes use architecture artifacts to make these decisions and provide this direction.