In today’s world, without information there is no business. That is, without having the right information and making it available to the right people at the right time, an organization cannot be fully informed, make the right decisions and act on them, and compete effectively enough to survive and prosper. That much is a given. Finding ways to ensure that an organization’s information is available, timely and in the right form is a complex, ongoing process; I call it the ”secret sauce” that is needed for efficiency and profitability.
That need for information grows particularly acute as economic and competitive pressures flatten and thin the workforce; being able to act faster and smarter with fewer people involved requires ready access to information across a broad scope of needs. The traditional model of acquiring it – requesting answers from an analyst team or asking the IT organization for reports or changes to how data is presented – is today a recipe for competitive failure. Information should be available everywhere on demand in the form needed and through the channel requested, regardless of how or where it is stored. The information should be in a context relevant to the workforce areas that need it – marketing, operations, customer service, sales, field service, manufacturing and others. And in the global marketplace it must be available not just for the internal workforce but also for the external range of consumers, customers, suppliers and partners.
The increasingly large numbers of consumers seeking to interact with businesses or to interface with government entities through the Internet place intense pressures on information assets and access mechanisms. This demand can stretch the effort of managing information to the breaking point: If the business or agency fails to take the steps required to make information easily accessible through portals, Web browsers and mobile devices, the clamor for more resources to support interactions at physical locations, telephone call centers and online interfaces will continue to drive costs skyward. And at the same time consumer satisfaction will plummet as people grow increasingly frustrated at being unable to conduct business or find what they want to know through the channels of their choice.
We all understand that data is a commodity in business, but information – data in a specific business context, today including content, text and rich media – is not. An emerging type of application is designed to make the right information available to employees, customer, suppliers, partners, visitors and consumers at the exactly right moment. Our firm has defined this focus in the market as a new category called information applications, and we are explaining to business and IT the opportunity for making information more available through a robust platform and tools with which these applications can be assembled, deployed and modified in a short timeframe. Information applications are built on new technologies that enable individuals to gain access to individual items or related sets of information through search and navigation and to interact with it. The information sought could be about a customer or location or could be a metric showing historical performance – no matter what it is, these applications can access and present it dynamically, and they are simple for anyone to use without training or having to involve others. Under the hood, though, deploying the capabilities to assemble and present the information requires planning. I have written about this new market category often (See: “Information Applications: New Focus on Information Availability“ and “Information Applications: New Generation of Information Technologies“) since I started this research focus a couple of years ago. My colleague has put the use of information applications in the context of customer management (See: “Better Customer Management using Information Applications“).
The platform must handle both large volumes of information requests from individuals and the breadth of the content and data residing inside and outside the organization needed to answer them; at the same time it must maintain high performance and scalability potential. It must rank high in usability, offer flexibility in user interfaces and be accessible from many applications, portals and mobile devices. In short, the platform must serve as a foundation for the organization’s information architecture, supporting information access and discovery, and interactive action-taking and decision-making through collaboration.
Understanding the need for information applications and deciding on the platform and tools can be daunting tasks for organizations. Our firm announced the release of our Information Applications benchmark research to help them find best practices (and avoid the worst ones). These research-based insights can support efforts to provide information for a broad range of processes and people inside and outside of the organization. And like its subject, the research itself is timely: It found that over half of organizations are planning to change the way they make information available in the next 18 months, and 60 percent are making improvements in how they design and deploy information availability. As well the research found a need to make changes; the research found that existing technology approaches make it too difficult to assemble information and take too long, and that it is not easy to integrate information from various sources.
The research determined the maturity distribution of organizations by industry by applying our unique Ventana Research Maturity Model™ and the buyer-oriented Ventana Research Benchmark Index; it yielded many insights into buyers’ requirements and how well the market currently satisfies them. Only 22 percent of organizations are at the top level of maturity, indicating that most need improvement. The research identified the components necessary for understanding the organization’s requirements and building a successful business case for adoption; these include mitigating the cost, time and risk of existing efforts, but the top three organizational needs were improving workforce productivity (cited by 65%), improving operational efficiency (63%) and gaining a competitive advantage (55%).
This benchmark research also identified decision-making, information access, performance and process improvement and better analysis as the top five categories of operational needs. It explored in detail how companies are improving their efforts in these areas by expanding their technology and business competencies for assembly and deployment of information applications instead of using traditional application development. It also examined what types of interactivity are needed along with issues in deployment not only to computers but also to mobile devices and smart phones, which was found to be important in almost one-fifth of organizations.
This new category builds upon the limitations of individual market segments like information management, application development, analytics and business intelligence, enterprise search and content management. Many industry efforts focus on search as the interface to applications as this next step forward, but this is just one component of a fully capable information application. Collaboration, navigation and integration of all information types also are important so the information application can enable any individual to accomplish the task at hand.
No matter what role you have in your organization, you should realize that getting information at the right time in the right format needs to be easier than it is today. I believe that information applications, acquired in a finished format or built through a platform and set of tools, will help organizations achieve better efficiency and effectiveness. If you are ready to explore how this can help your organization, come listen to our webinar or download the executive research report and begin to see what you can do.