Like I've said before, I get the privilege of meeting with all sorts of IT organizations that span just about any categorization axis you'd care to imagine.
A precious few of these IT organizations have been working on the whole virtualization / cloud / IT-as-a-service thing for quite a while. They did it the way most early adopters have to do it -- the hard way, using the tech that was available to them at the time.
Their stories are inspiring, to say the least.
Not only a radical re-think of the technology stack, but the associated operational models as well. And, of course, presenting an entirely new catalog of attractive consumption options back to the business.
They've done the whole private cloud thing already, in essence -- or have done it well enough that it's no longer near the top of their IT leadership agenda. And -- as a result -- they're ready to move on to the Next Big Thing.
So, what do these unique IT thought leaders often want to tackle next?
Glad You Asked
This has now happened often enough that I can now guess what the next big topic will be for these elite few: they want to be able to manage information like money.
Their organizations are generating and using enormous amounts of information across every aspect of the business, and it's growing exponentially.
These enormous volumes of information present a growing opportunity/challenge to save money, make money and avoid risk.
They're starting to come to terms with the observation that -- while it's clear the organization is continually amassing an ever-growing information portfolio -- no one is really in charge of it.
Or everyone is in charge -- take your pick.
There appears to be a missing centralized function in the organization. How would we describe it?
When we talk about information, the best analogies usually come from the financial world, because -- after all -- information is very much like money, and vice versa.
That means the obvious analogy from the financial world would be the CFO -- the person in charge of an organization's overall finances -- governance and strategy.
This person knows where the money is coming from, how it's being used, and where it's going. If they can't answer those fundamental questions, they won't be CFO for very long.
So, who will perform the same function for information?
Making The Case
It's often the case that information is generated in one part of the business, and used in another -- much like money. It's also true that without some sort of centralized approach to managing the information portfolio, chaos can result -- much like money.
We don't let individual users and departments free reign in how to use money. Nor should we do so for information that essentially is an organizational asset.
My Friend, The CFO-For-Hire
One of my acquaintances is sort of a freelancing CFO-for-hire. He will bungie into an organization that's, well, a tad disorganized, and start applying common sense.
Where is all the money coming from? Where is it going? Do we have budgets, and a chart of accounts? Can we produce basic financial reports? Are their clear processes (with governance and audits) around the use of money?
When we're talking about money, this is hardly a revolutionary thought.
Well, I'll make the argument that -- before long -- we'll come to look at organizational information the same way.
Of Metadata And Policy
To be useful, information needs labels that tells you what it is and how it was generated. Metadata (basically, information about information) is the key concept. Some metadata can be captured a priori. Other forms need to be generated dynamically, based on new situations and use cases.
Either way, our proverbial "CFO of Information" will need a variety of mechanisms for generating useful metadata, and a few powerful ways of storing and using it.
Policy, on the other hand, should be completely separate from metadata. Policies tend to morph, change and evolve as the business landscape changes. Policies use metadata to enforce compliance; and not the other way around.
Back to my friend the CFO-for-hire: the first thing he usually does is simply understand (and label) all the different financial objects and flows in the organization. That's followed by policy that uses the labeled financial flows to accomplish the overall objectives. Policy might change, categorization usually does not.
Not all that different.
Where Does EMC Fit Into This?
Glad you asked. If you take a tour across the EMC porfolio, and ask the question "what parts of the EMC offering generate and store metadata", and "what products can use metadata to implement policy", it'd be a very long and detailed answer.
Just to give you flavor, there'd be the entire Information Intelligence Group (that's Documentum, SourceOne, Kazeon, Captiva and much more). There's the RSA group (think DLP and GRC). There's the storage group as well -- think Atmos and Centera for starters. It's obviously a dominant theme in our technology portfolio.
Where we've applied this technology in the past is to address tactical pain points along this continuum: e.g. using the new xCP to generate content workflows and collaborative business processes. Or linking in email archiving with eDiscovery. Or using DLP technology to restrict information flows. And that's just a very partial list.
But, in the grander scheme of things, it's more of a collection of point solutions aimed at specific problem areas. In its current form, it's hardly comprehensive and transformational. That being said, we're starting to unify some of the discussion and offerings around the theme of information governance, which is perhaps the most important aspect of learning to manage information like money.
At some point, I believe we at EMC will have to offer up an integrated approach to helping support this emerging new role by supplying the technologies and methodologies that allow the CFO of information to accomplish their task.
After all, just how different is money from information?