What's your organization's information layer?

Managing the overlap between data and knowledge.

I recently read two different accounts of an idea that I’ve been chewing on for a while, related to how IT fits into an organization:

  • The Amsterdam Information Model (according to the DAMA Reference book) defines an “information” layer where data (IT) and knowledge (Business) overlap. This area of overlap requires coordination that is often a source of tension.

  • In his book Infonomics, Douglas Laney notes that while the information layer is traditionally delegated to IT, organizations are beginning to split it out into a separate organization, often under a CDO.

I think this is a really useful way of thinking about things. From a technical perspective, I see the distinction as the difference between the software frameworks and storage systems on one side (data), and the schemas and integrations on the other (information).

But it’s worth noting that this doesn’t get rid of the area of overlap - it just splits it into two: One between data and information, the other between information and the business. The question is whether the these two smaller areas are easier to manage than one big overlap. And that will often come down to how well the middle organization understands the layers on either side.

In the tech industry, on the other hand, you don’t really see this problem because the organization that manages the information layer and most of the data layer (software engineering) is part of the core product, and thus on the business side of the house.

Compared to organizations where the business side doesn’t directly manage the information layer, it seems like tech companies are cheating. But on the other hand, the business side of most (non-Tech) organizations is much more tech savvy today than it was in past decades, and often has solid ideas about organizing its information.

When the business side begins to address the information layer, it often gets branded as “shadow IT”. But what if, instead, you formally delegated parts of the information layer to business? Could you shift the overlap between Business and IT to a place that allows them to work together more effectively and efficiently?