Institution-Wide Information Strategies (IWIS)
A CNI Initiative
Draft version 1.1 (March 9, 1997)
“Information technology investments create no more advantage or productivity, by themselves, than do investments in new machine tools. It is not technology but technology-in-use that creates value. The value of information technology depends on information and the role of information in organizations.” [James McGee and Laurence Prusak. Managing Information Strategically.
New York; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1993]
This article continues a program of work begun by the late Paul Evan Peters, founding Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information. The text draws on Paul’s thoughts, ideas, and early writings in the area of enterprise wide information strategies, and on the input of an informal group of advisors that Paul had assembled from the archives, library, technology, and information resources professions.
The Coalition for Networked Information is undertaking a new initiative to understand, describe and promote institution-wide strategies for networked information resource and service development across five major dimensions: a) technology platforms, b) financial resources, c) organizational and human resources, d) policies and practices, and e) strategic alignment.
This paper is a preliminary sketch of the purposes, methods, and proposed outcomes of this new initiative, and is meant as a guide to prospective participants. The paper identifies two major forces at work in the education and research institutions: the network as an information and technology platform, and the network as an organizational structure. A number of challenges are outlined, and a preliminary plan of work is described. The specifics presented here will be revised, transformed, and improved upon in the course of this initiative.
The Institution-Wide Information Strategies initiative is designed to address the questions: How does an institution (college or university, agency, professional association, scholarly society, commercial firm, etc.) use information? And, how does an institution coordinate its activities and allocate its resources so that its use of information has a positive effect? Positive effects might be in such areas as quality of service, user satisfaction, intellectual productivity and discovery, innovation, organizational efficiency, or others.
This initiative seeks to identify institutions who are thinking strategically about the management and use of information on an institution-wide scale, and especially those who are actively engaged in applying their ideas to the information needs of their institutions. Because the potential range of information issues is so great, this initiative will seek a variety of such institutions, some of whom may be taking differing strategic approaches to the same set of information issues, or others who may be working on entirely different manifestations of institutional information needs.
It is the intent of the initiative to bring these institutions into communication with one another so they can share their experiences while their work is still in progress and, in so doing, learn from one another, gain new perspectives on difficult aspects of their own work, and improve or expand upon efforts at their own institutions.
It is also the intent of this initiative to create a vehicle for broadly sharing the experiences and insights of the participants. A substantive outcome of the initiative will be analytic case studies of information strategies at participating institutions. The collection of these case studies, which will be published and widely distributed among Task Force members and others, will represent a compendium of current best practices in strategies that address a range of institution-wide information management challenges. It is expected that these already- exemplary practices will be improved upon as they are discussed and critiqued by colleagues, and as their practitioners examine them in the context of other like efforts during the course of this initiative.
Finally, this initiative seeks to forge productive working relationships among a variety of information professionals in research and educational institutions and organizations. Among the information professions who might be expected to participate are: technologists, librarians, archivists and records managers, scholars and other “content specialists”, information system and information resource managers, institutional researchers, marketers, and others who depend upon the exchange and use of information in the course of their work.
The Network Platform and the Network Organization
This initiative is at the intersection of two powerful forces at work in the education and research enterprise: the rapidly changing network platform, which includes telecommunication networks, network-centric computing, and networked information resources; and the emerging network organization, which is providing a flexible and responsive alternative to hierarchies and bureaucracies.
The network platform has become a dominant theme in our culture and a catalyst of change in our institutions. Networking and telecommunication technologies deliver increasingly high-bandwidth, high-speed interconnections that enable communication and information sharing among people and places that are geographically, organizationally and socially distant from one another.
Network-centric computing — an emerging alternative to PC-based, mainframe-based, or even client-server information system designs — assembles diverse, interchangeable, and ever-changing software components into systems for the storage, transmission and manipulation of information. Interoperability and communication standards have allowed rapid and diffuse innovation of both network capabilities and network-centric applications, often independently of major commercial concerns.
Networked information resources represent dramatic increases in the speed, reach and range of information distribution, and in the volume of available digital information. New information media (interactive, hyper- linked, and multi-media) are becoming commonplace, and new conceptual forms of information (e.g., the active document or the visible, virtual information-space) are emerging. The intrinsically distributed capabilities of networked information resources have the potential to place everyone on equal footing as provider, consumer, broker, or value- added processor of information.
The network platform has introduced institutions to a rapid pace of change, a high level of expectation, and a high degree of uncertainty. The network organization is emerging as an organizational form adapted to rapid change and uncertainty. The network organization can (re-) assemble itself and align its resources quickly, unhindered by traditional roles and boundaries.
As an alternative to hierarchy, the network organization makes different assumptions about information and places different demands on an institution. In a hierarchy, information is concentrated in management positions which function as decision and control points for the organization. Information in a hierarchy flows upward, where it is increasingly aggregated and synthesized, and decisions flow downward. In a network, decisions can be made anywhere and the placement of decision- making can move in response to external events or internal initiatives. The information flow in a network organization can be up, down, or horizontally across traditional boundaries; most important is that information is made accessible where it’s needed and that this flow must be capable of change. (Another view of the network organization is that decision-making will relocate and aggregate around those who have information, not vice versa.) Network organizations also place high demands on coordinating information quality throughout the institution.
All organizations are networks to some degree, and many research and education organizations have a long tradition of distributed authority and some characteristics of a network structure. Differences, though, between a network organization and a federation of independent agencies include: the degree of communication among organizational units, the flexibility of resource assignment and the allocation of decision-rights, and the accompanying flow of information needed to support these flexible and changing institutional arrangements.
Networks can also describe the relation of an institution to others in its external environment: suppliers, customers, regulators, competitors, and so forth. The analysis of these relations as a network for the creation and exchange of value leads institutions toward partnerships, collaborations and strategic alliances. Here, too, information plays a vital role; shared knowledge is seen as one of the key determinants of a successful partnership.
Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, information is at the heart of higher education’s mission. The creation, distribution and exchange of knowledge are its primary product. The network platform and the network organization are powerful forces, whose value lies in their ability to promote this knowledge enterprise. The Institution-Wide Information Strategies initiative will seek to identify and advance the best institutional practices in this important area.
Issues in Institution-Wide Information Strategies
Until relatively recently only a small number of individuals and departments in any institution were experimenting with or implementing networked information resources and services, and typically these resources and services were relatively localized, supporting a small number of functions or users. This “proof of concept” period has now been followed by a new focus on “best practices,” identifying how networks can leverage the success experienced by these early adopters to the success of the overall institution or organization. Now that a thousand flowers have sprouted in the networked environment, institutions are turning attention to institution-wide strategies that cultivate the strongest strains of these, and that create conditions for further growth and diversification. They are seeking strategies that promote the integration of these diverse resources and services, especially from the viewpoint of a user population that is increasing in size, sophistication, and level of service expectations. These institutions and organizations are looking for ways to make networked resources and services developed in one location available to others. And, they are trying to forge institutional and organizational processes, practices, and policies that promote the sharing of information and the rapid and sure development of networked resources and services that fit this profile.
Briefing sessions at recent Coalition Task Force meetings, and followup discussions and e-mail exchanges, have identified a number of challenges facing institutions in the area of institution-wide information strategies. Among the issues that have been raised are the following:
Architectures vs. Ecologies: An architectural approach to information management is typically global, is built from the top down, and selects technologies and information practices according to a rational design. An ecological approach allows for random variation, is built from the bottom up, and selects technologies and information practices according to their utility or “fitness.” One is ordered, the other is “messy.” Which approach does an institution take in establishing institution-wide information strategies? Or how are the best of these two approaches brought together in a single strategy?
Balanced Strategies: Institutions have many dimensions and many types of resources — technologies, finances, human resources, organizational structures, rules, policies and practices — each with its own capabilities for the management and use of information. How does an institution establish a balance in relative importance among these resources, and reasonable expectations of each, in the development of institution-wide information strategies?
Center/Periphery Relationships: Some departmental systems operate as “shadows” of central systems, maintaining parallel but distinct information about the institution and its activities. How does the institution determine which is authoritative? How does the institution establish linkages and consistency among these systems? How does the central system enable the elimination of redundant or shadow systems?
Checks and Controls: How does the institution establish responsibility for the accuracy and timeliness of data? Can the assignment of responsibility serve in lieu of time-consuming checks and quality controls?
Cross-domain Information Flows: Requirements, practices, and technologies may differ significantly from one organizational unit to another (e.g, from the Dean’s office, to the faculty desktop, to the Registrar’s office, to the student computer in the dorm). How does the institution enable, manage, or encourage the flow of information among these units?
Converging Information Professions: User service is a driving force for convergence among technologists, librarians, archivists, information systems managers, and others. How will the institution manage networked information resources so that the appearance of an integrated world of information is achieved? How will these information professionals deliver the reality of integrated information services to their diverse users?
Culture Shift: Collaborations and partnerships can advance the mission of an institution and create the opportunity for innovation and improvement. How can the institution reward collaboration and assure that “protecting one’s turf” pays off much less than producing successful resources and services for the entire institution?
Customer Service (and Dis-intermediation): What strategies are institutions taking so that customers are provided with the information, access to technology, and redefined processes needed so they may directly access services, without requiring an intermediary service representative?
Information Efficiency: How are institutions implementing strategies of distributed authority to assure that information is created, managed, maintained and accessed efficiently — at the right level and in the right location within the organization?
Information Politics: If information and knowledge are power, such power may not be freely shared or given away within an institution. What policies, practices or other institutional strategies work to promote communication and information-sharing? How can the political process of an institution be used to promote institution-wide goals and values?
Life-cycles: Information resources and services are continually adapted to new uses and purposes. How can the institution effectively anticipate future uses of resources and services, throughout the entire course of their development, operation, maintenance, modification, and retirement?
Managing Risk and Preserving Evidence: Electronic information systems are increasingly the sole source of evidence for many of an institution’s official acts and transactions; absence of such evidence can represent a significant institutional risk. By what strategies is the institution assuring that evidence of its actions will be accessible, and that a record of its most basic activities will be preserved for future administrative, regulatory, legal and historical needs?
Results, Not Performance: The number of hours a service is available is not as important as the difference that service makes in the lives of its users. What strategies are institutions adopting to manage service levels from an outcome perspective?
User-Centered Design and Usability: Successful information designs and information delivery systems depend on matching content and technology to a user’s real-life work tasks and information needs. How are institutions incorporating the methods of user-centered design and usability studies into their information management practices?
The preceding is by no means an exhaustive list, but the challenges mentioned are suggestive of issues that may be addressed by institutions participating in this initiative.
The initiative will be launched with a “Call for Statements of Interest and Experience,” by which institutions will be invited to participate in and make a contribution to the project. Concurrent with issue of the Call will be publication of the present “white paper” (this document).
Selection of institutions to participate will be based on a variety of factors, most especially an expressed commitment of time and resource to work on the project. Selection will also favor diversity of institution- types, teams that represent collaborative efforts within their institutions, and institutions with work-in-progress which may be advanced by participation in this initiative. Inter-institutional or multi- organizational proposals would be welcome.
Preliminary plans are to hold an invitational conference at which the institutions selected will present project overviews, engage in discussion on common themes and alternate approaches, and develop their plan of work for the initiative. The conference will be followed by electronic publication of institutional project overviews and other meeting materials.
Following the plan of work established at this conference, participating teams will further develop or enhance their own institutional projects and will develop written analyses of their work in the form of “best practice” case studies. Using a common format and structure, each case study will address the five dimensions of:
- Technology Platforms: institution-wide hardware and software infrastructures.
- Financial Resources: institution-wide budgets, cost models, price structures, and financial plans.
- Organization and Human Resources: the staff, skills and organizational structures of the institution.
- Policies and Practices: the institutional rules and agreements.
- Strategic Alignment: the relation of information strategy to the mission and business strategy of the institution.
The completed case studies will be published by CNI and distributed electronically to Task Force members and others. Depending upon the plan of work established for the initiative, a second conference, either invitational or open, may be held to present and discuss these case studies.
The Institution-Wide Information Strategies initiative has four major objectives:
- To examine and describe the issues of information use and management on an institution-wide basis, and to promote understanding of the issues.
- To focus this examination on networked information resources and services, with special attention to collaborative, institution-wide strategies and network organizations.
- To identify institutions who are developing best practices in this field, and to advance their individual work through collaboration with like colleagues from other institutions.
- To document and communicate these best practices to a wide audience, and so to promote improvements in the use of networked information resources and services.
Through its “Call for Statements of Interest and Experience” the Coalition for Networked Information invites institutions to express their interest in participating in this initiative, and to describe their current work in this area and their plans for advancing this work through participation in the initiative.
It’s hoped that this “white paper” communicates the interest and enthusiasm that many of the Coalition Task Force have expressed about the IWIS initiative, and that it provides the reader with an additional motivation to participate in this effort.
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Thomas H. Davenport, “Saving IT’s Soul: Human-Centered Information Management,” Harvard Business Review, March-April 1994.
Thomas Davenport, Robert Eccles, and Laurence Prusak. “Information Politics,” Sloan Management Review, Fall 1992.
Vijay Gurbaxani and Seungin Whang. “The Impact of Information Systems on Organizations and Markets,” Communications of the ACM, January 1991.
John C. Henderson. “Plugging into Strategic Partnerships: The Critical IS Connection,” Sloan Management Review, Spring 1990.
James McGee and Laurence Prusak. Managing Information Strategically. (New York; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1993).
Marc H. Meyer and Michael H. Zack. “The Design and Development of Information Products,” Sloan Management Review, Spring 1996.
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