It's all about information

Last month I wrote about Harvard Business School professor Nicholas Carr's article, "IT Doesn't Matter." My bottom line was to agree with a key point, that new information technology investments are justified only when they make strategic improvements in performance.

But even with its provocative title, Carr's article misses the real point. The reason IT doesn't matter is not because it is a ubiquitous commodity. IT doesn't matter because it is information that matters.

The "information economy," or "knowledge economy," generated much hype as it became popular in the 1990s. Hype aside, the economic importance of information is a reality.

However, most current articles and analyses continue to direct their focus to IT and not to information.

Even the Australian government, whose global thought leadership in this area is symbolized by a National Office for the Information Economy (www. noie.gov.au), focuses more on the economic impact of the tools for moving and protecting information than on the information itself.

In some ways, this tendency is understandable. It is easier to analyze things that can be counted and valued, such as bits and bandwidth, and harder to analyze the intangible value of better information. In the federal government, the enterprise architecture is the first comprehensive attempt to get a handle on how government actually uses the information it collects or generates. The business reference model starts at the top, describing agency missions and organizations on a functional basis. It is at this level that all the resources, including information that the government uses to perform its functions, should be catalogued and examined for cost-effectiveness.

At present, only a lower layer of the federal enterprise architecture deals with information — the data and information reference model. Worse yet, the data and information reference model is the lowest priority of the enterprise architecture, with no scheduled release date.

The good news is that industry leaders recognize the importance of the data and information reference model. The Industry Advisory Council is pushing the Office of Management and Budget to move forward more quickly on this piece of the architecture.

IAC's May white paper, "Business Integration Driven by Business Lines," advances a "federated data model," which establishes a direct link between information and business lines. Although this product would support information sharing and integration, it is not designed to support a high-level analysis of the information's value.

The problem with the federal enterprise architecture and the data reference model is that they remain the products of the IT community. Information has become too important for that.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www.mcconnellinternational.com).

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