Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why A Survival Guide


Information Management is the discipline of designing the tools, processes, and organizational structures that allow individuals and organizations to consume, analyze, transform, manipulate, and share data to satisfy informational need. An informational need could be as simple as checking the internet for tomorrow’s weather forecast. An informational need could be as complex as creating an event based workflow that systematically analyzes a continuous stream of stock prices, detects anomalies in market behavior based on statistically driven pattern detection, and automatically acts (buys or sells) specific stocks. This discipline is performed formally and informally by executives, managers, cashiers, consultants, developers, project managers, software architects, the guy who painted my kitchen, you get the point.   

Our world has been transforming into an informational world, i.e. a world driven by information based decisions and automation. As the world continues to evolve into an informational world, creates more data and grows it’s appetite for information, the discipline of Information Management, and those that can master it, will increasingly be in demand. The value proposition for gaining and maintaining an Information Architecture skill set is almost limitless.

The purpose of this blog is help guide people who are, or have, embarked on the journey to gain and maintain the skills necessary to master Information Management. This blog is targeted at individuals who want to know the best methods of leveraging data to succeed in an informational world. This blog is technical in nature, but is not solely target at technical professionals. Anyone who has a vested interest in building, funding, or using an information solution should use this blog.

Why a Survival Guide

Wilderness survival guides are excellent because they provide quick references to the things that one will encounter while surviving in the wilderness. They teach you the skills needed to survive in any situation. They provide pictures to help people recognize plants that will cure and those that will kill.  They provide a method to detect weather patterns, to determine which way is north, and teach you how to tie knots to secure shelter in extreme weather conditions. Survival guides contain little nuggets of wisdom, typically referred to as Survival Tips, which ensure people come out of an experience alive no matter the circumstances.

This blog’s goal mimics that of a wilderness survival guide; to ensure people’s survival in an informational world no matter the circumstances. The only difference between the Information Management Survival Guide and a wilderness survival guide is that this blog will never recommend that one drinks their own urine for survival!

This blog will help ensure survival in an informational world, no matter the circumstances.  It provides a quick and comprehensive reference to the skills needed to survive when one encounters the different situations in the informational world, i.e. information systems. This survival guide presents skills by informational world situations. Each posting will be laid out in a clear and concise manner and, like a wilderness survival guide, contains definitions, taxonomy, and key characteristics to help people recognize and understand each informational world situation. Each posting will introduce the unique skills required to survive in each informational world situation. Most importantly, real world based Survival Tips are provided throughout this survival guide to help keep people out of trouble and ensure survival no matter the circumstances.

Let’s touch on what is meant by survival in this blog. Survival looks like a long and successful career in a field that you enjoy, working with technologies that you love, and being rewarded for it all.  Survival is ensured by being able to apply solutions that always work, that always meet or exceed what’s required, and that never end up as shelf ware, or worse cause harm.

You make think this blog is a bit of a joke. You may be thinking, who needs a survival guide when working with data and information? Just ask the person(s) responsible for the slew of mega data breaches over the past few years. Or the person(s) responsible for making the fatal design decisions that led to the launch and immediate death of a real time Point of Sale "PoS" integrated system at one of the largest U.S. retailers. I am sure all people responsible for these catastrophes lived through these events but they didn’t “survive” in the informational world.

Informational World Situations

Informational world situations are analogous to wilderness situations in which one needs to survive.  An example of a wilderness situation is a situation where one gets lost in the woods on a day hike and has to survive for multiple days without the proper supplies, food, matches, etc. An example of an informational world situation is fixing a data warehousing system that isn’t supplying the business with adequate information.

Here are a few examples of information world situations that will be covered in this guide include:
·         Analytical Data Warehouses and Marts
·         Operational Data Stores
·         “Big Data” Systems
·         Operational and Analytical Reporting
·         Visualization
·         Dashboards and Scorecards
·         Business Intelligence and Performance Management
·         Analytics
·         Data-Centric Architecture
·         Complex Event Processing Systems
·         Real Time Decision Systems
·         Content Management
·         Master Data Management and Governance
·         Metadata Management
·         Integration

Process and organizational oriented information world situations will also be discussed in this blog.

Different survival skills are required for different wilderness survival situations. The same holds true for informational world situations. Each situation specific posting in this survival guide will cover the necessary skills required to survive in the situation.  

Design Concepts

The Information System Situations contained in this survival guide require unique definitions for a common set of descriptive categories called design concepts. Design concepts are the key topics that should be addressed within an informational system. They are the defining characteristics of the system unto which all functionality is built. Simply stated, design concepts are a system’s DNA.

Almost everything in a system can be repaired, except for a fundamental bad design.
Design concepts should be used to drive the designs of a system as it is being built. They should also be leveraged when reviewing and assessing prebuilt tools or systems. The application of design concepts is different for each informational system situation but the categories of design concepts are shared across all informational systems.  

The following table provides a list of the design concepts that will be included in each information system situation posting in this survival blog.
Design Concept
End User Access Points
Describes how the End Users will physically interact with the system. Specific topics include:  device mix (mobile, web, PC, etc), data entry, information retrieval, etc.  For Information Architects, this design concept can be thought of as a specialized Integration Point topic that is so important it should receive dedicated design attention.
Integration Points
Describes how, what, and when data is physically exchanged between external systems and internal subsystems. This design concept is one half of an information flow strategy, along with the Information Persistence design concept.  Information granularity, i.e. Grain, is a very important topic within this design concept.
Information Persistence
Describes how, what, and when data is physically stored within the system. This design concept is one half of an information flow strategy, along with the Integration Points design concept. Like the Integration Points design concept, information granularity, i.e. Grain, is a very important topic within this design concept.
Business Logic
Describes what the system should do. Business logic is an abstraction of the physical workings of the system. The business logic design concept will drive a lot of the other design concepts in a system.
Describes how desired and undesired End Users will access the information within the system. Specific topics include:  authentication, authorization, encryption, and defensive strategies to safeguard data from the undesired End Users who may want to access the system.
Disaster and Recovery
Describes how to protect the system from known and unknown damaging events. This design concept also describes how to return the system to its production state if an event occurs.
Describes the level of visibility into the inner workings and operational state of the system. Specific topics include:  logs, dashboards, audit and lineage, etc.
Describes how the system can and will grow overtime. Typical Scalability strategies include:
·         Vertical Scalability:  add resources to an existing “box”
·         Horizontal Scalability:  add more physical “boxes”
Describes how much data, information flow, etc the system can physically process. This design concept will act as an input to the scalability design concept. 
Describes the expected rate of return for an event in the system. Be sure to incorporate any known SLAs into your system through the Performance design concept.
Maintenance, Bugs, and Upgrades
Describes how, what, and when the system will be maintained. Topics included in this design concept include, maintenance windows, configuration points, upgrade strategies, etc.


Survival Tips

Survival tips in wilderness guides are great. They can be as simple as: if a bear is chasing you, run faster. They can be as complex as:  if it’s raining and you have no tent, here’s how to build a shelter out of shoestrings, duct tape (duct tape is essential for survival), and aluminum foil. Survival tips highlight unique, editorial concepts based on the survival guide’s author’s experience. Survival Tips present practical applications of conceptual topics.

The wilderness world concept of survival tips translates nicely into the informational world. In fact, one of the impetuses of this blog was to provide survival tips after engaging with a particular client, they needed a lot of survival tips to simply make it through the day.

One of the last advantages of survival tips is that since they are typically editorial in nature, they provide the author literary (we use that term loosely) leeway when conveying the message. We hope you find this guide’s Survival Tips informative as well as entertaining. Survival tips are a fun way to share knowledge.

Starting the Journey

It’s now time to conclude this blog's introductory posting and move into the true contents of this blog.  The next blog post will introduce a key concept in understanding Information Management. That concept is Analytical and Operational System Types. Almost all informational world situations are built to satisfy one of these two rudimentary system types. Most of the remaining information system situations are simply variations on one of these two system types.

We hope you enjoy this blog. Future posts will cover the topics introduced in this introductory post, i.e. the information world situations. Good luck on your journey, and remember if a bear is chasing you, run faster!