Fifty years ago, more or less, organizations began adopting information technologies. The goal was to automate, to error-correct, to standardize.
For most of those fifty years, the business of IT groups has been what I call “little i, big T”. We cared a lot about technology, and not so much about information.
Tools, methods, languages, packages, platforms, middleware … these were our stock in trade. Information just sort of fell out of systems.
How does the cloud actually enter most organizations? If you said “via the business” you’d probably be right in most cases.
I know a CIO who decided to break his company’s policies about using software-as-a-service (“no data shall be exposed”) a few years ago, and insisted his IT group use Socialtext to gather and comment on ideas for improvement. He did this because the business was already doing it to link itself to its external sales partners.
More and more, the business just “goes ahead” and tries an idea. Cloud-based vendors make that easier than ever before.
At the same time, when was the last time you saw anyone come to the Chief “Information” Officer for information? CFO for numbers, yes; head of sales for projections, sure; but IT?
That’s what’s changing as the cloud unfolds in our lives. It’s actually a signal of the rise of IT as information first, technology second.
Integrating the scattered pieces — building bridges — organizing, cataloguing, shaping, curating, searching — “out of many sources, one enterprise”.
This is a world that moves far beyond technologies — “we have a shared drive; we have a search tool; we have a content manager; we have a document manager” — and into how information is made available, made useful, turned into value.
In the early days, that’ll mean more emphasis on practices drawn from information management, records management and digital curation, coupled with some thinking drawn from knowledge management and librarianship — the kinds of skills an Information Studies program produces.
But only in the early days: those programs focus on unstructured data. They don’t tend to teach data in the sense IT is used to it: database-stored, query-processed. They treat everything as “final”, whereas we understand intermediate steps — work-in-progress. Big data, in turn, is an emergent point of cross-over between the computer science/business management view of IT, and the information studies view of turning data into information into knowledge.
Information studies folk also look at architecture differently: very much focused on devices, presentation, how you flow through elements when engaging with it. We tend to look with a process eye when designing and building solutions.
Bringing these two disciplines together, and weaving a single new one of “big I, little t” Information technology is the great challenge and opportunity of our time. It has the potential to turn the CIO’s organization into the premier source in the enterprise — and thus the place you come to create value.
The cloud is shouting “get on with it”. So are your clients. Are you listening?