Can the future of information management be defined? Is it possible for any of us to say where information technology will be heading in the next 10 years? The obvious answer is no, however, I
believe that we can paint a image of the future that is vastly different from what we presently see. This article will take a look at the future of information management by looking at the past in
order to establish a foundation for the future. Then we will review the waves of information; two of which are already upon us. Finally, we will discuss specific scenarios of the future and how
your job will be impacted in the next few years.
Historical View of Work Itself
Perhaps the best place to discuss the future is to begin in the past at a very high level and then drill down into specific areas. One topic that has a fair share of reference is the ages of
civilization. These ages simply define how we as a body of humanity work and prosper. Clearly at some point in time, we survived as hunters and gathers. Eventually, we figured out that as farmers,
we could produce enough food for our family and still have additional products to sell. The age of agriculture not only brought us food, but also land ownership, communities, concepts of trade and
business, and many other facets of our economy that are still widely used today. In fact at some point in time, 95% of us were classified as farmers. Today, that number has dropped to below 2%. The
significance of this number is that we could feed the world with only 2% of our labor resources (Starvation is really a political and logistical problem, not a production problem). What caused this
enormous improvement in productivity? Standardization, automation, machinery, biological advancements, and economies of scale are some of the primary reasons. The beginning of the end of the age of
agriculture started with the industrial revolution. We can thank people like James Watt, Henry Ford, Edwards Deming, and Eli Whitney for taking us off the farm and into the factory. At one point,
75% of us worked on the factory floor. Today that number sits at around 11.7%. Why? Again, containerization, automation, information management, and a litany of other reasons account for the
increase in productivity. Thus the age of information arrived with the development of the computer and information management systems. Today, 60% of us work in the information field and many of us
are wondering about the next age. Take a look at the following chart and you will see these ages in action starting back in 1860.
There are several points to make about this figure. First, as described in the previous paragraphs, is an enormous reduction in labor of the industry and agriculture jobs as well as the steady
increase in information jobs. Second, notice that the service jobs remain a constant 20-22% for the past 150 years. If you assume that information jobs will continue to grow, from which sector will
these jobs be taken from? While agriculture doesn’t have much to give and service should remain steady, this only leaves the industry category. Perhaps we can continue to improve productivity but
only up to a certain point and that’s not very likely to provide us much more than a 5% growth opportunity. Have we reached the tipping point of the information age? Is there a fifth age that
doesn’t show up on the radar?
One question that should be popping into your head is the thought that what in the “wide, wide world of sports” does this have to do with metadata? Everything! Metadata is the foundation of the
information age. Our entire solution framework from an IT perspective is built upon the concepts of structure. Hence, this is why just about any discussion on grid computing, reuse strategies,
database frameworks, and ITIL include metadata.
Waves of Information
There will be numerous “waves of change” that will occur during our lifetime. From a high level, a wave of change is simply a collection or clustering of small events that seem to have a common
theme. The microchip is an example where a thousand points of light came together and literally changed the way we live. The principles of these waves follow a similar pattern or laws, if you will.
First, rarely do we see a single wave. The majority of the time waves of change come as a series of waves. The first wave may have addressed a multitude of problems, but it also created new ones.
The new problems must be addressed and a subsequent wave is created. While these waves are created at different points in time, there slope or speed of acceptance is almost always steeper or faster
than the previous wave. Think about the telephone that took over a 100 years to get into the hands of 90% of the American public. The cell phone has only taken 15 years and the internet, perhaps
less than 10 years. Finally, since the slopes are different, then the waves must converge as they mature; just as waves converge when they hit the beach. This convergence can be referred to as the
tipping point and major upheavals of our daily life are changed. The web, personal pc’s, and cell phones have had a dramatic impact to our generation, just as the printing press, telephone, and
automobile did in our fore fathers time. Are all convergences a positive thing? Of course not, take for example the 1988 Yellowstone National Park forest fire that burned 300,000 acres. Why? Some
will say that summer played an important role, the dryness, the winds, or the fact there were multiple fires at one time. In addition, the park agency had decided that small fires would be put out
immediately. The impact of this policy was that our forests grew denser which would allow larger fires to spread must faster than normal. What’s the point? Convergence can create both
opportunities and disasters, but change none-the-less.
Wave one of the information world was the codification of data, information, and knowledge. We are about 70% complete with our ability to translate objects, elements, transactions, etc. into core
structures. And look at the success that has been achieved: Operational Data Stores (ODS), expert systems, online transaction processing applications, business intelligence, and many more. Our
ability to move from classic data processing to information technology has been nothing but remarkable. However like most waves, as problems were solved others were created. We realized that we had
too much information. While our database and storage specialist talk about the ability to store a billion ziggy bytes or what ever the next term used beyond a terabyte. Although we can transmit
these ziggy bytes (sorry storage professionals, I like saying the word) at light speed, we still struggle to get a handle on the content, context, meaning, value, and usage of the data/information
itself. Take for example the internet, 50 billion web pages which grows an estimated 20% a month. Over 30 million document or pages pass over the communication lines each and every day; not to
mention the 2000 research reports published. Yet, trying finding anything out on the internet today. In the February, 2004 issue of Information Week, the authors estimate that RFID tags could
generate 7.7 million terabytes of data a day. I have no doubt that we can not generate 7.7 terabytes of data per day nor do I believe we will have any issues in transmitting and storing that kind
of data volume. Will we be able to aggregate that much information into something with business value and more importantly sustain it over a period of time with a solid data management framework?
The second wave of information was the desire to integrate our systems, data, and information in order to reduce the complexity and redundancy. Our efforts to solve this problem have produced a
huge collection of technologies like Enterprise Integration Application (EAI), semantic web, portal technology, search engines, content integration, and on and on. Although we are only 30% into
this wave, the impact cannot be understated nor ignored. The problems of too much information have not really diminished and with the proliferation of HTML, one can only wonder how far we can
really go with the internet. Now, the most important question: what is the next wave? That is indeed the million or perhaps trillion dollar question. And, there are many companies out there willing
to bet on the next wave.
Wave of Knowledge?
Now imagine an environment where the codification and integration problems have been solved. Yes, this is a giant leap perhaps; a world where data quality, discovery, integration, content, context,
work in perfect harmony. This would create a world driven by knowledge. Arguably, we have done a wonderful job at taking data and creating information. But, we still struggle to take information
and create truly actionable knowledge. This new environment will be driven by knowledge creation and knowledge integration. Ah, that will never happen says the cynic. There are a bunch of people
that said certain things will never happen:
The Internet? We are not interested in it
– Bill Gates, 1993
They will never try to steal the phonograph because it has no `commercial value.’
– Thomas Edison
This `telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
– Western Union internal memo
There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
– Kenneth Olsen
The new business models of individual workers and organizations will revolve around your ability to create and integrate knowledge. This may occur by assembling new core constructs of information
and data. Perhaps these new constructs will holistically change the way we think about what we know and do. It’s hard to imagine a world where 90% of what we do day by day will be eliminated or
automated. But, you can bet the farmer of 1860 said the same thing as did the factory worker of 1930. We can’t imagine that most of our value will be replaced with the commodization of effort. As
you walk around the office, take a look at what everyone is doing. If your office is like mine then they are managing data and information. Maybe it’s a phone call to get a project status, or
updating a spreadsheet with budget information. Now, imagine a day where that work is obsolete and completely automated.
Death of the Generalist
Are you a generalist or a specialist? Which of these skills will be required in the future? If I were to ask you that question of me, what would you say? Would you base your answer on my
publications, education, patents, speaking engagements that I do around the world of metadata and come to the conclusion that I am a specialist; a metadata architect? Or would you review what I
actually do day by day, you would see a different picture. I don’t just sit around all day dreaming of innovating or inventing new methodologies, frameworks, tools, products, etc; I do what you do
every day. My day is complete with budgeting, project planning, documentation, project integration, project management, presentations; a generalist day to be sure. Which skills will be needed in
the future? Based on the previous paragraph, the generalist is a dying breed; those functions will be all but eliminated. Yikes!!!!!!
The death of the generalist will open the door for a high performance worker and specialist. The workers of tomorrow will have a collection of attributes that should be reviewed in detail. First,
this person is a subject matter expert is some field where they are the best in the field. What does best in the field mean? Today, you can be the best in your department in some skill, be it
presentations, writing, metadata, java, quality assurance, or just about any skill on the books. We get away with this due to the organizational walls we build to keep more experienced and
knowledgeable resources at bay. This isn’t anything new; we have used the organizational walls to our benefit for 100’s of years. But, those days are numbered. Suppose for the moment you consider
me as one of the top five people in the world of metadata; that sounds great. The bad news is that numbers one through four are only five tenths of a second away from the organization. Of course,
price and availability will still play a role in our new economy but they will only soften the blow. The new high performance worker is a knowledge creator, integrator, utilizes online
collaboration to the fullest, uses intellect and available intellectual assets to create and/or enhance products, services, and processes, requires a high level of autonomy and flexibility; an
associate, not a subordinate. These characteristics will establish the foundation for the next wave or age. The age of knowledge is upon us and most of us are not prepared. However, where will all
these experts come from? They will be you and me of course. We walked off the farm, we walked out of the factory, and we will soon wave goodbye to the cubical and the hierarchal structures that it
What can you do now?
What can you do now? First, realize that nothing turns on a dime. This transformation into a knowledge based business model will take time; perhaps 10 to 20 years. What role will metadata play in
this new environment? No one can truly say, but I can imagine a whole new focus on metadata in the future that will literally change the way we view the grand discipline. As an individual, I would
hope that your entrepreneurship behavior will continue and you will be able to state in a few sentences how you add value to the organization. Not only how you add value, but how your project,
trade, and skills create an environment for success. Does all of this free agency talk seem far-fetched for you? Daniel Pink describes a new world where your skills will be your market force. In
fact, 27 million of us are working as small business owners and contractor type services. That’s around 20% of the work force and growing. Constant education is critical in this new world. One
question I ask my team every six months is to describe for me what has changed on your resume or CV in the last six months. If the only thing you can change is the end date of your current job then
your in trouble. As Tom Peters puts it; “If the other guy is getting better faster than you’re getting better, then you’re getting worse.”. Ouch!!!
Globalization will continue at a much higher pace than we have ever seen. For most of my father’s generation, globalization meant moving production overseas. For me, the initial concepts were the
possibility of selling our products to the vast majority of the worlds population located in India, China, Russia, etc. But my biggest mistake was not seeing the change in the world economy,
education system, and reduction of barriers to commerce. America not longer has a God given right to be the world economic super power. We earned that right by being a free nation, governed by an
economic friendly structure, hard work, and an entrepreneur spirit. But this isn’t the industrial revolution environment and many of our positives have turned negative. We now rank 18th on the top
25 countries in education and Georgia ranks dead last. Our public debt is somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,133,629,790,637.80. Mistake number one for me and oh what an enormous mistake it was.
America no longer holds the rights to labor, innovation, or capital. We all must define ourselves and our work as a “unique value proposition” in order to survive in the future.
Final Word for Metadata
Ok, let’s bring this conversation to an end by discussing the impact that metadata will have on this new world beyond the obvious. Metadata’s role in wave one is clear, crucial, and perhaps
greatly under appreciated. In fact, by itself metadata transformed data into information and enabled the codification process. Wave two, integration will occur when we are able to collect complete,
accurate, and contextual metadata information. The answer here lies in the belief that knowledge itself will consist of a temporal assemble that only lasts for a limited period of time. Metadata’s
role will continue to expand on the desktop for security and records information management, within our data warehouse projects, and the enterprise. Change is coming, are you