Structured and Unstructured Information in the Enterprise
By billy.cripe on Jul 06, 2009
Information is the currency of the enterprise. While we sell products or services, it is information that brokers that transaction. Whether we create reports, devise strategies, or process queues of applications we consume, create and consider information. Enterprise 2.0 technologies and Web 2.0 behavior patterns have not changed any of this. Rather they have augmented the modes and methodologies through which we process information to execute our responsibilities.
Infrastructure systems like databases and data warehouses along with targeted applications like CRM and ERP systems have matured to a high level of sophistication. In some senses the information they manage and transact is easier for machines to digest and understand. The information is structured. It is defined and already machine readable. Humans interacting with such information do so through user interfaces that are designed to make the computer structured information understandable by people. We are operating in computer territory - rows and columns and rigid structure is not intrinsic to the human condition.
Despite this, the mechanization of human information processing has seen great successes. User interface design, SQL HTML and XML act as translating prosthetics making us cyborgs in practice if not reality. What much of the Enterprise 2.0 and Social Software has done is to enable much more natural human to human communication brokered through powerful technology channels.
The information is not structured for machines, it is structured for humans and passes through the machine. One of the results of these developments is an explosion of unstructured information. Content designed by humans for humans is easier than ever to create and consume. So the situation is that we have an unstoppable tide of human consumable information passing through the machine but (largely) unintelligible to the machine.
The stage is set now for the anthropocentrizing - the making-human-like - of our computer systems. Enter Enterprise Content Management systems. These systems are designed to house large quantities of human created and human consumable information. They hold documents, web pages, images, and other items primarily created by and for people. They have some small amounts of structured information that surround the information items (metadata) that act as guideposts for the machines needing to access that information.
And this is why ECM systems are vital for the long term success of Enterprise 2.0 projects and systems: They manage the human oriented information in ways that machines can (start to) understand. One-off or point solutions in the Web 2.0 or E2.0 space can provide limited functionality or targeted solutions.
But realize this: There is no enterprise that is lacking *only* an internal social network, no enterprise is lacking *only* a tagging or folksonomy infrastructure, no enterprise is lacking *only* a recommendation system.
ECM systems will continue to mature and converge with structured data systems - not to become subsumed by them but to bring into focus that vast universe of information that is currently occluded from current systems that rely upon machine structure in a human world.
Fio Deus Auxilio Machina