About a century ago –no I’m not that old—companies were using advance information management tools called paper, file folders and filing cabinets. Much of the daily course of business was concern with moving physical parts and products. The movement and storage of information was also a physical effort; paper and files were routed throughout the organization which contained the information needed to monitor and control the organization.
A gentleman Frederick Taylor came on the scene. People either praise him or curse him now as he introduced the practice of scientific management which was instrumental in introducing the management consulting practice. Later Marvin Bowers of McKinsey fame improved upon the practice.
Mr. Taylor’s approach seems like a simple idea today, but it radically changed the landscape of industrial work and today is influencing information work (aka Information Worker). The approach was to find the most efficient step of steps to accomplish a task, document and train others to use follow it thereby optimizing the time to output ratio.
Today we’re posed to accomplish similar automation for workers using information. The problem that arises is that those in I.T. are ill prepared to accomplish this task. Sure Developers and I.T. staff can lay down code to create a sequence of steps a computer will repeat at lightning speed till the cpu fries itself in some distant time. The problem comes into play when you realize most programmers know software, software tools, and hardware, but don’t know your business.
This is where business architects and analysts come in. Analysts spend time learning how businesses conduct work and reduce these down to a set of descriptions in a standard language that programmers can further translate into computer-ease. Architects look identify patterns and replicated them to accomplish similar work across the corporation. Thus they are for lack of a better term super-analysts.
This entire preamble is to reintroduce a simple concept. When management consultants where called in years ago, one of the techniques they used was to toss out every form in the place. Next they would ask staff to create forms only when they needed them and only contain the specific information they needed to accomplish the immediate job. This had the ability to streamline processes. The past few decades’ variations of this approach have hit the BPR and IT domains with mantras like “simplify and automate”. The question become at what level of simplification or generalization should one stop at.
Tonight I’m working on developing two SharePoint implementation architectures which will become these company’s operational infrastructures. [Yes, I’m crazy enough to two projects simultaneously] Fortunately both are new, small firms, so much of the politics and complexity have not developed yet.
So how to start? My typical approach has been to identify quanta of information that is produced and used throughout the organization, then document how these are created, distributed, used and disposed of. Now my data-oriented friends will cheer at that. However, my process-oriented friends will point out that I’m documented processes also. And if the rest of my friends across the Zachman Information Architecture spectrum are reading yes, I go through all the columns with special emphasis on why.
Being I’m translating this to a SharePoint implementation, I’ll define these quanta as “Content Types” and define the attributes that are required for each. [My Information Architecture colleague Carol Corneby] will be happy. This is where translation from business architecture and SharePoint design overlaps and transitions. SharePoint developers will now start to understand what must be build. Concepts such as information flows and stores will be converted to libraries –which are nothing but viewports limiting enterprise data to the subset a business person using the system needs—and workflows that are subsets of the business process or the value chain an enterprise manages to operate the business.
The methods for identification and translation of these abstractions and the conversion process is what I hope to eventually explicate this year as I’ve been doing this so long as have other peers like Ruven Gotz that we just do it without a second thought. As we continue our SharePoint Salons our objective is to accomplish this and disseminate the information to others.