Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Refining the iceberg model of I.T.

I gave a presentation to Tri-College (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore) library and I.T. staff two weeks ago titled "Puzzles within Puzzles: Managing Complexity in Information Technology." For that talk, I used a diagram that has appeared here before to launch into a couple of related topics. I've revised it to make it easier to read and to visually introduce the concept of the iceberg and the water line. Since I've been notified by a few people that they've used this diagram for other purposes, I'm posting the revised version here. I think the new one has more layers of information, but old and new are both available, depending on your preferences.

As with most models, this is an oversimplification of the real world environments it attempts to describe. Nevertheless, I think this can be useful to show some of the relationships between technology and higher education institutions that impact how I.T. organizations should weigh investments in web information systems.Keep in mind my assertion that the information age is still squarely in its industrial revolution. (We are just now figuring out the processes by which we will be able to mass-produce and distribute online data to meet a consumer demand for web content.) The diagram attempts to reveal observations about this change in the technology environment.
  1. Much of the growth in information technology for the last few years has been within the broad category of information management systems. These systems allow people with only minimal technical effort to generate and use massive databases of information over the web. (The product examples in bold are the ones used at Swarthmore.)
  2. These information management systems occupy a project space that is different from what higher education I.T. shops were engaged in for most of the web's first decade.
  3. Most technology systems beg for integration with other elements of the overall technology infrastructure. The pink arrows remind us that information must move horizontally and vertically across the layers shown. LDAP data about people not only populate scheduling and commerce systems, but they are also useful for defining permissions to alter content in a course management system or customize one's personal views on the campus portal. Images and documents in digital asset management systems are needed in course management systems. And portals? They need to integrate with everything. That's what they do.
  4. Interoperability is rarely provided by product vendors, which has made product integration a key aspect of project management. Home-grown enhancements not only require attention as they are being developed, but also every time upgrades are made in related systems.
  5. Interoperability generally yields a better user experience but adds significant resource demands on technology organizations. The question arises: "When it comes to elegance of the user experience, how good is good enough?"
  6. Enter the water line: The interest in technology projects has a lot to do with how aware various people and constituencies within your organization are of the technologies in question. Do they use them? Do they like them? How directly can they feel savings in time, ease of use, etc. that your solution delivers? Many senior leaders have a very high water line. How do you talk to them about investments that they may never use themselves and may not fully understand?
These are not the only questions one can come up with about the areas I've suggested. If this is, in fact, a useful model for thinking strategically about technology investments, it should hold up to all sorts of challenges and inquiries.

If you would like an hi-res version of the diagram, you can download a copy of the TIFF file.


Post a Comment

<< Home