Wanted: Information Architects!

Improving the Findability of Enterprise Information

June 26, 2003

Every company today is drowning in a sea of disorganized and dysfunctional information. We are in desperate need of information architects and other information professionals who can make sense of the mess of information we've created and is now exposed to our customers, our partners, and the world!

Imagine that it's five years in the future. The people in your company are gone. There's nothing left but a pile of information--electronic and printed artifacts of what your business once was and what it did. A visitor arrives from outer space and wants to sort through these artifacts to understand what kind of business this was: What services and products did this organization provide? To whom, where, and to what benefit? The researcher also wants to get a picture of all of the issues the people in your organization dealt with, what they cared about, and what actions they took and were planning to take. This mythical task is no joke. It actually describes the task confronting most organizations today as they prepare to become more transparent to customers, regulators, and internal and external stakeholders. Much of the activity that we see in "content management" projects today centers around "information findability." How do we make it easier for the people within our organization and outside our organization to find the most relevant, current, accurate information they need to carry out the functions they're trying to accomplish? The term that we've heard frustrated end-users, employees, and customers use over and over again is "google." Why can't I just 'google' our Intranet and get the answers I need? It works on the World-Wide Web, why doesn't it work within our organization? And when I do search and find stuff, there's too much of it, I can't tell which is the right piece of information for my needs. It takes me too long to sort through it. I have to pick up the phone and call people until I get the answers I need. This information findability problem isn't going to magically go away by slapping Google or any other search engine across our company Intranets. Nor will a search engine really solve your information classification, organization, and refinement problem.

Every organization in the world is now in need of information architects who can survey our littered electronic landscapes and make sense of what we do, how we do it, and help us organize, classify, archive, and refine the vast amounts of information--both structured and unstructured--that is now much more visible than ever before. Certainly, search and discovery and pattern-sensing technologies will certainly help alleviate the problem of having too much disorganized information at our fingertips. Presumably, our mythical visitors from outer space would be able to use electronic probes to turn all the information artifacts into patterns of conversations grouped into topics. From that discovery process, they'd be able to begin to analyze and to classify the services and products we offered, the benefits and costs associated with those products, and the issues we faced and dealt with. They'd be able to spot who our customers were, who our suppliers were, and what relationships existed among all the various stakeholders. They would also discover and/or create a classification structure that would describe our organization and its offerings. They'd find lots of redundancies, duplicates and near duplicates, but they'd be able to cluster these together and eliminate the noise so that only the salient and more important facts would remain. They would uncover the most authoritative sources of information within the organization and surface the core classification schemes that turned this chaos into order. They'd be able to index and abstract all of the most critical documents so that they could quickly digest the salient points that were made in any spreadsheet, document, email, memo, or report. In short, they'd make the workings of our firm visible, comprehensible, and orderly.

I've just described the job of information architects, librarians, information professionals: to analyze a body of information; to detect patterns; to classify those patterns into groupings that make sense; to establish authority files for core information (official product names, accurate customer records, current prices, etc.); to develop thesauri to map variants against the elements in the authoritative sources so that variants can be easily grouped together and understood as the same, or very similar entities); to index and abstract the salient points from every important communication.

Every company is in desperate need of these information architects and other information professionals. We all need professionals who can make sense of the mess of information we've created and is now exposed. We need professionals who can establish classification schemes, taxonomies, authority files, thesauri, and other tools that will enable our organizations to create and distribute information that is easier to quickly understand and to assimilate. Luckily, these professionals are available. You can find them in your research libraries, in your publishing groups, in your database design and data management groups, and in your content management teams. It's time to elevate the importance of this role within your organization. Begin now, before your company drowns in a sea of disorganized and dysfunctional information.

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