Your Business Runs on Information and Knowledge, Not Just Data
IT Manager's Corner

- Info Management
- Design Details


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Data Warehousing (Details)

Designing a business information architecture for exploiting many diverse databases and information systems is much more difficult than developing a basic data warehouse for a single application. The Information Management system must support problem solving in an environment where the objectives may be ill-defined or totally unknown, and where the direction of the business is completely open-ended. The system implementation must manage information input from all the various sources, organize the information in the way users expect to view the contents, and allow the users to exploit the data to make new discoveries.

A key functional capability of the Information Management system is to empower the business analyst to connect to useful, filtered data and information extracted from the many available data archives. This filtering resource specifically supports the problem solving activities of a company.

Design Strategies and Implementations

The creative processes involved in business competitive strategies are often abstract and difficult to define and quantify. This makes the requirements analysis challenging and the Information Management design process complex. This complexity demands the use of a flexible, iterative development approach.

Your design team should apply a Joint Application Design (JAD) approach that involves your customers, interactively, as key members of the design team. You should also employ Rapid Application Development (RAD) prototyping with regular testing and feedback from the end users as a critical part of the design and development methodology.

A multi-tier Information Management architecture provides increased flexibility for control and growth.

The design for Information Management architectures typically use a multi-tiered approach. The standard Client/Server architecture uses two or three tiers (client/server or client/middleware/server). The Information Management system can use any number of tiers depending on the data structure and the distribution of the data sources and application servers. This approach allows for the creation of multiple levels of entry and provides added flexibility to create division work areas and special work groups. The figure illustrates the basic architecture of a four tier system that includes using the Web server as a "separator" between external and internal users, thus giving more access availability and system control for in-house users.

Data Mining Capabilities

No matter how cleverly and creatively the Information Management system is designed, built, and operated, the Information Management system is still basically a repository, or storage facility. The value is entirely dependent on the analytic applications that access, process, and present the data, information, and knowledge to support research and problem-solving requirements. This is the process of Data Mining.

Top-level applications will execute simple queries with options derived from the basic metadata model. Advanced searches will provide for increased complexity and will allow the user to "drill deeper" into the Information Management system. Advanced searches also allow the user to create queries that include analytic and computational tests.

User Support Automation

An important factor in the success of the Information Management system is an active and responsive Help Desk. The Help Desk must have a person-in-the-loop design, but automation tools must be available to perform quick searches of information and accurately point the user in the right direction to get the expert help requested. The Help Desk system must also provide for easy logging of questions and answers and provide an action listing to ensure follow-up and close-out of questions.

New Software Development Technologies

New software development technologies and languages, particularly those developed for World Wide Web applications, such as Java, ActiveX, DOM, Perl, CGI scripting, SQL, and XML, are evolving at breakneck speeds. The Web browser interface, via the Internet, an in-house intranet, or simply a standalone application that uses the browser graphical paradigm, is rapidly becoming the medium of choice for analysis and management of information.

Another emerging Web technology that may be incorporated into your Information Management system is video streaming. Streaming technology compresses audio and video data on the fly, so users can play back videos over the Web in real time instead of having to wait for multi-megabyte files to download. Potential applications include video based training, recording and reviewing presentations and simulations, and on-line advertising.

Workflow Applications

Today's business is operating in an increasingly competitive and interdependent environment requiring a more intense focus on relevance to customer needs, productivity, and quality. To remain competitive, a company must improve the performance of the organization as a whole, rather than just the productivity of individuals. Lower costs and wider use of computer technology for automation, improved data access, and customer service, particularly Web technology, are key enablers for improving efficiency.

What is Workflow?

Workflow is the automation and management of processes in order to save time, effort, and costs. A process is a sequence of actions in a specific order necessary to achieve a particular goal. The sequence ensures that the right actions are performed by the right people at the right time.

Due to the increasing competition and the pressures on the bottom line, the success of any new Information Management System may depend on effective implementation of automated Workflow Systems. The investment in understanding the data flow and information system processes has already been accomplished in our previous efforts with the government. Benefits include increased productivity, reduced operating costs, and more effective exploitation of data and information resources (information being readily available and organized).

One of the lessons learned from previous projects was that an up-front investment in workflow analysis of a data system operation and the development of an automated Workflow System paid significant dividends in overall system performance and efficiency.

Documentation Management

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Documentation management control is a constant problem for any business. It is the classic case of change happening faster than the documentation can keep up. This often leads to misinterpretation of data and information in the Information Management system and wasted time resolving disconnects. The key is to implement an automated document management system to alleviate this problem. The system must be a powerful and robust document and Web content management server which controls and manages critical information and processes. The system can support capture, updating, distribution, assembly, and access for all document types ranging from traditional rich text and pictures to HTML, XML, and multimedia objects.


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