I Am an Information Strategist

This new role draws on multiple business and IT disciplines to help organizations make the most of their data

Chairman, Data Governance Council, IBM

I am an information strategist. My job title is new, but my challenge is ancient: I have to get the right information to the right people at the right time. If the information is in the wrong format or if it is hard to read, confusing, or conflicting, with sloppy interfaces, then I have failed. Endless lists and search results without relationships, connections, and meaning are not what my customers demand. They want clarity. And they expect interfaces to match the ease of use they are accustomed to on their tablets and smartphones. This is the twenty-first century, and my job is to deliver information that is enlightening and entertaining.

My customers—both internal and external—need insight, so by definition I have to know more about their business than they do. That means I spend a lot of time sitting in business meetings, listening and asking questions to understand the structure and context of what customers are doing. I join sales reps on customer calls, participate in industry conferences, and use my extended network to understand emerging trends and ideas in very diverse forums.

Information strategists combine data management, information governance, and data science techniques to deliver refined, fit-for-purpose, high-value information products and services across the entire information supply chain. This role is an organic evolution of many information-centric roles that have been established over the past two decades to engineer data into silos, govern its uses, and ensure application access. However, information needs today extend far beyond data engineering and industrial automation. Most enterprises are filled with people who are information connoisseurs in their private lives—and these people are frustrated that enterprise information systems produce industrial interfaces. They want at work what they get at home: intuitive interfaces and information that is updated often and is fun to use.

The line between how people use data at home and at work is blurring in other ways, too. My customers use their own devices, and they work in coffee shops, hotels, airports—sometimes even at my office. They expect seamless access to information on every device. I encourage them to share what they learn in the field with their peers so we can transform the snippets of information they find into patterns of knowledge. I link their experiences, documents, photos, and conversations into richly visualized reports that their colleagues can comment on and enhance.

I report to the business and work with both operations and IT. My job is fluid, and my organization’s information needs change every day. Transparency and sharing blurs the lines above and below me, and everyone can be an information provider and consumer. Today, every employee is also a journalist, correspondent, chat partner, visual artist, author, and critic.

As an information strategist, I have to be a jack-of-all-trades. I work with diverse groups to collect source data and produce advanced information products and services that drive value for all of my internal and external customers. I can roll up my sleeves and talk ETL with a data warehouse team in India; work with regulators and audit on governance, risk, and compliance issues in Canada; dive into my social network to discuss best practices in data science and ontological research; discuss business results, sales, and marketing strategy in German; and conceptualize with product managers to build tantalizing interfaces that provide customers with the information they think they want, as well as the information they don’t yet know they need.

My source data comes from public and private databases, document repositories, PDFs, websites, spreadsheets, and information services. I use open data from raw, semi-finished, and even finished sources. My data management teams have automated and bespoke data supply chains for collecting, collating, extracting, transforming, and cleansing these data sources into information repositories. I use metadata files to track where the data came from, who owns it, how it came to use, how I process it, who touches it, and so on.

I have robust information governance programs on many levels, working with compliance, legal, privacy and security, data quality, and audit. These data governance processes help ensure that the use of internal and external data sources meets all regulatory requirements, protects customers’ privacy, and safeguards our firm against risks from bad data quality. I monitor a team of database administrators and transform our application data when testing our code abroad. I use maturity models, best practices, systems theory, and policy simulations. I develop new methods and models on the fly using my extended social networks for guidance and insight. And I hold regular maturity assessments, using advanced simulation tools to understand the impact of process and policy changes on our governance program.

The data scientists on my team monitor social media feeds to understand emerging trends and use our crowdsourcing networks like human botnets to solve critical problems and divine new innovations. We work together to develop new analytical tools that make our Hadoop cluster more efficient, linking our big data results to our governance program through metadata tagging and business glossary lookups. And we index the insights we discover by using semantic search technology that lets us federate our vast information resources.

I work with freelance product designers in my GitHub ecosystem who use open APIs and an open data model to develop new kinds of information products and services. Because no one has a monopoly on good ideas, I keep our systems open and dynamic—which lets customers define the structure of the information delivery they require. I am measured by the success of the markets I create through the information products and services that customers purchase. All of these factors make my job fast and furious, dynamic and exciting.

Information strategists like me exist in many organizations. They are often unsung leaders who work with metadata, information architecture, data quality, records management, open data, open APIs, and social networking. They are evangelists and facilitators, working to disentangle vital information from historical formats, proprietary fiefdoms, industrial staging, and organizational hierarchy. There aren’t many of us out there today—but in the years to come, everyone will participate because every person is both an information producer and consumer. Join me and be a part of the future!


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