A great deal of attention is being given to digital transformation. According to Forrester, “Seventy-four percent of business executives say their company has a digital strategy, but only 15% feel they have the skills and capabilities to execute." This is the digitization of end-to-end processes for serving customers across their entire lifecycle – from first learning about your products and services through purchase, use, service and retention. Though these processes have been enabled by technology in the past, what is different now is the seamless experience that users expect across channels, functions, devices and throughout the customer’s journey. It is no longer possible to look at a step of the process in isolation or to look at a siloed function. The seamless digital customer experience requires an unprecedented level of communication, coordination and information flow throughout the enterprise.
Digital projects are data projects - not software projects
A key challenge is that many organizations embarking on these digital transformation programs have begun to realize that there is frequently a critical element missing across enterprise scale information initiatives. Multiple specialists, consultancies, agencies, integrators and software solution providers need to be brought in to address the information management challenges presented by end to end, omnichannel digital transformation. In each area of focus, information needs to be put into a context that allows users (whether internal stakeholders or external customers and partners) to get to what they need to solve their problem and complete their task. Shoppers want to find the product they seek, business customers need to find a specific solution, internal users have multiple tasks and their contexts change continuously depending on the problem they are solving. Mobile devices need to pull data from multiple systems and applications to provide an experience that is customized and personalized.
However, when there are multiple systems, processes, applications, stakeholders, departments, divisions, data stores, and software tools needed to create that experience, in many cases, there is no one that is tasked with creating an overarching taxonomy of concepts and terminology that can be used as a foundation for each of the initiatives.
Context is the key requirement for digital transformation but if there is no common structure and organizing principles or each group and project has slight variations on terminology, it will be difficult if not impossible to create an optimized experience.
Transformation depends on a contextual information infrastructure
One of the challenges in a project with multiple work streams is ensuring that the information and architecture, concepts and terminology are consistent and appropriate for all applications both short term and over the long term. This entails development of an information domain model that can accommodate each of the project outputs and inputs. A centralized approach for understanding and accommodating each of the project terminology requirements and designing an extensible model that can adapt to changes will ensure that short term solutions do not end up getting thrown out or redesigned due to new requirements.
We call such an approach a contextual information infrastructure. The reference architecture used for building this infrastructure must address all required information platforms and their data sources. And it must contain the information modeling, mapping, classification and metadata standards used to connect them in a contextual fashion.