Informating Framework – Director’s Cut

THE VALUE CHAIN AND LIFECYCLE OF INFORMATION

The Informating Value Chain brings together a number of concepts and models into one that is more unified.  Eight years on, I have not used it as much as I thought I would and I have included some self-criticisms at the end of this document about why this is so.  I have also included some additional tools on how the model can be used.  As always, please leave your thoughts….

Many Thanks to… Porter, Cisco, Strong and Zuboff

Michael Porter – Value Chain

First, a discussion on the origins of the Informating Framework with credit where credit is due.  And the first credit goes to Michael Porter and his concept of the Value Chain.  Anyone who has taken a business course since the early 1990’s would have seen this model.  Its revolution was to apply in a single model format both the sequence of Value Addition activities and the importance of Support Activities.  By using the model, organizations can categorize (at least loosely) activities and ask the fundamental question: how does this activity support or add value to the customer?

Cisco, Strong and Information/Records/Content Management

Porter was of course referring to products or services and his model does not quite fit when applied to information.  To overcome this, Susan Cisco and Karen Strong proposed The Value Added Information Chain.  The model is composed of the following elements:

  1. Capture: data and document based information and other “knowledge” is created and/or acquired
  2. Transform: the information captured is filtered, structured, indexed, and organized
  3. Store: the “information base” or “knowledge base” is maintained through a series of repositories and/or linkages
  4. Transfer: the dissemination and/ or presentation of the information or its final disposal or destruction per retention standards of the organization. 
  5. Apply: the information is used to support organizational decisions and actions

A search of the record, content or information management literature yields numerous similar models that are kissing cousin’s to what Cisco and Strong have proposed.  The only adjustment that I would make to their model is the addition of the concept of ‘disposal’ (in italics) for their fourth step Transfer.

The final kudos goes to Shoshana Zuboff for her Book, “In the Age of the Smart Machine” (1988).  Informating is defined as:

It is the process that translates descriptions and measurements of activities, events and objects into information. By doing so, these activities become visible to the organization.

Informating has both an empowering and oppressing influence. On the one hand, as information processes become more powerful, the access to information is pushed to ever lower levels of the organization. Conversely, information processes can be used to monitor what Zuboff calls human agency.

To the first point, humans are now the beneficiaries of an unprecedented amount of information (which in turn leads to the concept of Big Data).  Thus a bar code scanner in a supermarket does more than just tally up the customer’s bill, it also updates inventory systems and cross references purchases to a customer’s loyalty rewards number.  The second part of Zuboff’s definition is about the impact of the machine on the human.  Thus receiving coupons in the mail to encourage the purchase of competing products from your local supermarket is one thing – increasing the price of the products on the day of the week/month when most of the products are purchased is perhaps another.

Informating is more than just information management.  It is how that information is used by or affects the behaviour of the people who interact with the information.

Informating Framework – Putting it All Together

The Informating Framework therefore is an amalgamation of the Porter Value Chain, Cisco and Strong’s Information Chain held together conceptually by the concept of Informating.  These elements are presented in a pentagon shape for which there are three support activities (grey in colour), five primary activities (green in colour) mapped to three value states (blue): Value Creation, Value Protection and Value Addition.

Informating Framework

Informating Framework

 Inner – Support Activities

The Support Activities are in an order of importance from the inside out.  A more detailed explanation for each element is as follows:

  • OWNERSHIP: information processes are often seen as communal property but in reality they are more like electrical or water utilities. They are typically heavily regulated to protect the common good and there must be accountability. This support activity considers the difficult questions of who can make decisions about an information process, who has a veto, who can lobby and who are the affected but disenfranchised.
  • TECHNOLOGY: What is the current and optimal technology to complete the information cycle?  The question this activity asks is closely tied to the next two outer pentagons of Procurement and Infrastructure.  Ownership is placed within Technology because Technology must be implemented to achieve an underlying business purpose and someone must own that decision (for better or worse).  New technology development can be applied to any primary or support activity. The last word on Technology is that it is simply one part of the larger framework.  This is often lost on organizations who are seeking that quick fix.  As a result, technology can range from being a silver-bullet-esque productivity enabler – to a large sink-hole into which organizational resources are continually poured.
  • PROCUREMENT: Is about both systems and data.  Thus Procurement may or may not use a new technology to achieve the resulting change.  For example, adding a new data field may not need new systems, simply a change of configuration to an existing system.  Procurement and technical development must be in response to an ownership directive with clear value-addition, cost-improvement or external obligation (such as regulatory compliance) being achieved.  Procurement includes all of the traditional Project Management functions.
  • INFRASTRUCTURE: Data needs an infrastructure to transform it into information. Infrastructure refers not only to the physical plant aspects of the Informating processes (servers, databases, etc.) but also the ‘filtering, structuring, indexing and organizing’ of data, information standards, business rules and reporting requirements. Think of the traditions of accountants with Infrastructure as the authors of accounting standards and the keepers of charts of accounts, fiscal periods and reporting hierarchies.
  • TRAINING AND ADVICE: This support activity can be thought of as the interface between the machine (both its physical and digital elements) and the human.  The best technology procured with clear standards will stand idle without the knowledgeable person to apply it.  Ownership is once again key to this set of activities in determining who needs to be trained, by whom, to what standard and with what preferred medium.  A last word to Zuboff, she asserts that in order for organizations to benefit from ‘Informating’ they need a better-educated and highly skilled workforce to understand and act on the information base of the organization.

Outer – Primary Activities

The Primary Activities are shown as being sequential, starting with Capture and ending with Apply.  Each of the activities is mapped to a its value proposition: Value Creation, Protection or Addition.  Of note, the Informating Framework only recognizes that value has been added when information has been used.

  • CAPTURE: Data and document based information and other knowledge is created and/or acquired.  Increasingly data or information is ‘born-digital‘ rather than being created in the analog state and then digitized.
  • TRANSFORM: The information captured is filtered, structured, indexed, and organized.  Transformation is critical to support not only the future retrieval but also to contextualize the information.  Thus the application of metadata is an important part of this process.
  • TRANSFER/STORE: The dissemination and/or presentation of the information (Transfer).  The “information base” or “knowledge base” is maintained through a series of repositories and/or linkages (Store).  Cisco and Strong identified these as two distinct activities that are sequential.  Within the model, I maintain this perspective but increasingly I see these two blurring into a single activity.  In particularly, when one considers cloud computing the presentation and the save-point may in fact be the same.  Increasingly then, the Transformation process becomes more important to aid in retrieval.
  • APPLY: The information is used to support organizational decisions and actions.  In the end, this is the only thing that matters.  The support activities, the cost to implement and maintain the technology; the effort to capture, transform, transfer and store is all wasted – without the application of the information to a result.  If this is the case then some obvious questions spring to mind which are beyond the scope of this document:
    • Are all applications of information the same?  Do some applications provide greater organizational value than others?
    • How do you measure the quantity and quality of applications?  How do you improve upon this record?
    • What is the cost of applying the wrong or incorrect information to an organizational decision or action?
    • How do you measure the potential value of unapplied information to an organization?
    • How do you re-use and re-purpose the same information repeatedly so that the underlying costs are spread across as many decisions as possible?

Very Nice… And So What?

There is nothing more practical than a good theory’ wrote Kurt Lewin (1890-1947, considered the father of modern social psychology).  Nevertheless, the following are some criticisms of Informating Framework identified by both myself and others.

  • What Good is the Model, What Does It Do: Ultimately the model is a way to look at an organization’s information processes and use a relatively simple checklist to evaluate the information management and technology processes.  For each application or significant data or information stream, use the framework to ask questions such as the following:
    • Ownership: Who owns this application/master-data/data source/etc.?  In this context, are we compliant with privacy legislation and moral imperatives?  Can we monetize the application or information contained within?
    • Technology: Is the application using reasonably current technology?  What are the risks of vendor de-support to our hardware, commercial or bespoke applications or operating systems?  What is the cost/benefit/risk of newer technology versus our current status?
    • Apply: Why do we have this application, what is the value it provides and can this be achieved through other means?  What are the business continuity risks associated with not having the information or application results?  How can we cut the cost or the time required to obtain the value from the application or information?
  • Automation of Evaluation, Quality Improvement & Controls: I believe that the framework can provide a method to evaluate past information investments or where best to invest the next dollar.
  • Support Enterprise Architecture Analysis: Enterprise Architecture (EA) is an important way to look at the organization’s business processes and the information assets that support them.  The Informating Framework can be used as an evaluation tool to check whether your EA analysis is as comprehensive as possible.
  • April 2013 Stop!: To be Phrank (and I always am, dear reader), I am going to stop here and will pick this up next fall.  Unfortunately blogging and writing interfers with more important things – like cycling!  Look for more on this next

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