Commentary - Nearly every part of an organization’s operations depends on an infusion of information, but getting the deepest and richest insight when you need it can be a frustrating and time-consuming process that relies on a patchwork of technologies and manual processes. The ever-increasing volume of data and new data types aggravates the situation even further. Because users are getting pieces of data rather than intelligence, all too often analysis is compromised, decisions and actions are delayed, and costs are difficult to trim.
Satisfying the demand for better information that can be rapidly delivered as comprehensive insight requires a focus on consolidating availability and hiding complexity from the user. Unified Information Access (UIA) converges diverse information in a universal index without relying on cumbersome integration layers and without sacrificing the relationships and analytics that make information more meaningful. Adopting UIA can significantly impact productivity and competitiveness and reduce both IT cost and complexity, especially when broadly deployed.
Organizations that are ready to advance to a unified approach centered on the varying needs of information consumers will be most successful when they adopt a comprehensive information management strategy and map out a plan for improvements that are both phased and continuous.
Assessing your current state
The first step in developing a plan for implementing UIA is to start with a self-assessment of existing capabilities and needs, along with a determination of the urgency and importance of solving each issue identified. Once a thorough assessment is complete, the organization can identify their current and desired states based on the five levels of the UIA Maturity Model.
Unified Information Access Maturity Model
Level 1 – Advanced enterprise search
This initial level offers significant improvements over traditional enterprise search in both relevance and user experience. This level typically includes:
• Advanced search across content sources
• Entity and key-phrase extraction
• A graphical search interface
• Advanced navigation (facet recommendations, synonyms, spelling correction)
• Real-time, complex security and permissioning
• Real-time field updates
• Scheduled alerts to notify users of new content
• Tunable relevancy to enhance control of results
• Content spotlighting to manage promotions and ads
• Enterprise-class performance and availability
• Simple migration to the next level, Unifying Information Sources
Level 2 – Unifying information sources
This level not only brings together diverse content sources but also integrates data, making it immediately available. This unified information is also thoroughly linked, ensuring complete, well-related results. Level 2 includes:
• Unified information store: content and data combined in one index
• External sources included in results
• Information linking to join data from diverse sources
• Text analytics for deeper insight into content
• Schema-neutrality: application development that doesn’t require the creation of new data models and that can also leverage any data models that already exist
• Immediate access to new data – no requirement for ETL steps
Level 3 – Delivering information applications
This level moves beyond information retrieval to support UIA-based applications, which include interactive dashboards or other special-purpose graphical interfaces. Level 3 includes:
• UIA applications
• Interactive dashboards with advanced navigation for exploration; charts and other clickable data displays; related content and links
• Information automatically delivered to the interface via saved queries and alerts • Keyword and SQL queries
• Additional text analytics, such as document-level sentiment analysis
Level 4 – Converging business analytics
Level 4 introduces more sophisticated, role-based applications and integrated business analytics that converge text and data analysis. Level 4 includes:
• Workflow to automate processes
• Interactive, linked dashboards with multiple roles
• Unified text and data analytics
• Real-time alerts for immediate notification or to trigger workflow
• Use of UIA index and JDBC or ODBC driver as schema-neutral information store available to database applications
• Statistical entity extraction and key phrase detection
• Entity-level sentiment analysis
Level 5 – Comprehensive information management
The final level extends the advantages of UIA across the organization. It emphasizes the delivery of services built on a standardized and flexible architecture that avoids problems created by technology silos, without sacrificing the value added to data in application processes. Level 5 includes:
• Enterprise-wide deployment of UIA and UIA applications
• UIA as a primary information management layer
• Analytics and activity monitoring to trigger processes
• Workflow to link UIA applications to other applications for interactive process automation
Planning a transformation roadmap
After determining your current state and highest priorities, you are ready to plan, execute and measure new implementations of the processes and information-management technologies your organization relies on. To start, you can choose one of two paths: either a comprehensive approach or an initial focus on the rapid realization of deriving immediate value from a specific project.
1. Comprehensive approach: Frame an information management strategy and plan a roadmap. This approach allows strategists to anticipate far-ranging projects and potential obstacles as well as prepare for indirect results (e.g., when you implement a UIA application to increase your ability to anticipate customer defection, you will need to have tailored programs in place to intervene in time to retain the customer).
The roadmap will include the first project to undertake, the expected order and priority of subsequent projects, and the means to measure and report progress against goals. Continuous improvement is important to success, and so is establishing realizable goals and milestones. For many customers, the roadmap may cover only some parts of the organization, with the expectation that success will trigger the adoption of UIA in areas not initially considered.
2. First-Project Approach: Implement a high-value first project before creating a larger plan. You may choose this approach when you have a single, mission-critical project that is either limiting your capabilities or offers significant immediate upside, or when you want to demonstrate the benefits of UIA before seeking broader support.
Implementing UIA first for a single project can produce rapid dividends. For example, in 2010 a manufacturer replaced enterprise search with level 2 UIA. In the first month, the company measured a 56 percent drop in abandonment rate and a 152 percent increase in partner referrals, both of which translated to tens of millions in additional revenue per year.
Summary To get the best results for any complex task, information must be converged, connected and distributed across many specialized channels – applications, websites, dashboards, alerts, etc. The impact of delivering complete, well-related information using a unified information access platform is measured in increases in productivity, competitiveness, cost control, and user satisfaction.
Sarah Meyer has been the Director of Product Marketing at Attivio since 2008, where she focuses on articulating the value Attivio’s approach to unified information access brings to the challenges companies face in gaining better return on their investment in information. Besides product marketing roles, she has also been a product designer and development manager.