What's A Black Belt In Information Architectures Worth Today?

Jan van Vonno

An organization’s information architecture is one of the most important but also most frustrating areas of responsibility for a CIO. While many CIOs have earned a hard-won “black belt” in managing its complexity – accommodating changes, providing consistency, and improving agility – many would no doubt prefer to throw the towel into the ring and opt for a quieter life when confronted with the mesh of systems and infrastructure that spans the entire organization.

Yet getting information architectures right is at the heart of positioning an organization for digital transformation (DX) – after all, that is what “digital” is about: information. IDC’s model for guiding the CIO’s information transformation agenda is shown in the figure below. An organization’s ability to survive and thrive in the digital world is therefore predicated on employees, partners, and customers getting the right information, in the right place, at the right time. The demand for information and analytics is skyrocketing within the enterprise as business users seek actionable insight.

Although IT outsourcing has provided some relief for many, the complexity created by evolving needs, from mainframe IT through to today’s 3rd Platform-based approaches (driven by cloud, mobile, Big Data, and social), has given rise to many new challenges and solutions, as newer systems need to be connected with legacy systems to meet business needs. As we evolve our workloads onto these 3rd Platform technologies, the architecture needs to evolve too – not the fundamental principles, but the areas of focus that need the most attention.

Cloud solutions allow businesses to move out some IT infrastructure. However, moves to hybrid architectures can complicate integrations and create redundancy, especially when the move to cloud is driven by line-of-business functions and changes are not IT-controlled. It is becoming nearly impossible for IT to provide, manage, move, understand, or validate data unless a solid information architecture is in place.

Business-driven initiatives affecting the demands on central IT can range from landmark projects, such as the first consumer mobile app, to businesses moving revenue streams online, or providing new digital/social consulting services. These lead to “islands of innovation” that create a de facto digital platform – or at least part of it – in a way and a timescale driven by business considerations, and not the way the IT function would ideally choose.

To meet these challenges, CIOs need to direct their architecture teams toward providing a new framework that encompasses security, data, and information integration, with service-driven approaches to enable business agility, and innovation and support for improved decision making.

In short, new thinking is required if IT is to help raise revenue and profit while managing risk: leveraging corporate data through an agile, flexible system architecture, linked to ways to measure, optimize, and secure the customer experience. This requires changes in IT governance, performance measurement, and development methodologies.

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IDC believes that information architecture is at the heart of an organization’s ability to execute digital transformation. It underpins the four subdimensions of information transformation (Knowledge/Collaboration, Data Discovery, Value Development, and Value Realization) to create a platform for the four other dimensions of digital transformation (Leadership, Omni-Experience, WorkSource, and Operating Model). To understand the maturity of the organization as it relates to digital transformation, we recommend that CIOs leverage IDC’s MaturityScape Snapshot to help identify the key areas to focus on.

To put this into reality, IDC believes that CIOs need to abandon their two-dimensional thinking that treats the management of innovation and operations as separate, unlinked, and unique practices. IT leadership will be required, as never before, to oversee a continuous change process fueled by the digital transformation of enterprises that links business and IT innovation to operations through a consistent and well-governed information management strategy. This should be the basis to help the CIO drive digital transformation initiatives across three key dimensions:

  1. Innovate within a cross-functional partnership to create digital innovation
  2. Integrate new technology platforms into stable business services
  3. Incorporate new skills, techniques, and culture into the fabric of the IT organization

We believe the successful CIO of the future will be judged by his or her ability to manage all three of these connected disciplines on a continuous basis with a “black belt” information architecture that supports organizations’ digital transformation needs.

Tighten your black belt with IDC’s MaturityScape Snapshot.


Jan van Vonno

About Jan van Vonno

Based in Amsterdam, Jan van Vonno is a senior research analyst for IDC's European Software Research Team. He specializes in collaboration and customer experience research, and leads IDC's European Digital Transformation Strategies Practice, coordinating over 20 analysts with various technology and industry backgrounds. He is regularly quoted by the BBC, Forbes, and Business Insider.