The Power of Information Flow Modelling – Part 2

In Part 1 we talked about the role Information Flow Modelling (IFM) has to play in a business which is having to respond to the new pressures presented by the digital economy. We also put some definition around the term so that we can understand the value this new visualisation provides. We then looked at how people fit into the IFM model and what we can do with this new knowledge to ensure that our most valuable resource is doing the most valuable work possible.

Before we get into Part 2; the role of the System, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about what IFM is not.

IFM is not BPM

Business Process ModellingBusiness Process Modelling (BPM) is the activity of representing processes of an enterprise, so that the current process may be analysed, improved, and automated. This requires a current state to be captured – how processes are performed today, and a future state developed once the issues identified in the current processes have been removed.

BPM is typically performed by business analysts, who provide expertise in the modeling discipline; by subject matter experts, who have specialized knowledge of the processes being modelled; or more commonly by a team comprising both.

The business objective is often to increase process speed or reduce cycle time; to increase quality; or to reduce costs, such as labour, materials, or capital costs. In practice, a management decision to invest in business process modeling is often motivated by the need to document requirements for a specific project.

The main challenges with BPM are often associated with when to do it and how to do it. When presented with knowledge concerns, often the cry of “business process model it” is heard, without necessarily understanding the value of the outcome or the cost of capturing the data needed to enable the outcome.

Interpretation of the result can also be challenging as there are many notations to choose from. It can be a time consuming process too; people don’t tend to talk in process language, so interpretation into the BPM framework is needed. Once created, using BPM to effect change requires discipline and for the people involved to use the new process so realise the value. As Business Leaders are typically non-IT savvy (up to 87%), they can struggle to understand the value from the BPM presented to them.

The time taken to create good BPMs which enable the business can be significant. Without the adoption of a BPM platform, BPMs are often confined to a folder and never see the light of day after their initial creation.

However, when done correctly and shared through the business, the level of detail afforded by the BPM to professionals managing change within the organisation can be invaluable. The granularity of a BPM, whilst time consuming to create, is how value is realised in understanding how the current state needs to change to offer improvements. Data is an element that is not necessarily included as part of the process flow other than in exceptional circumstances. The requirement for data within the process is often only found by inferring its existence.

IFM is not EA

Enterprise ArchitectureEnterprise Architecture (EA) is a conceptual blueprint that defines the structure and operation of an organization. The intent of an enterprise architecture is to determine how an organization can most effectively achieve its current and future objectives. The EA often provides for 4 points-of-view; the business perspective, the application perspective, the information perspective, and the technology perspective.

There are many methods within the scope of EA; FEAF (Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework), TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Forum), PEAF (Pragmatic Enterprise Architecture Framework), DODAF (Department of Defence Architecture Framework) and MODAF (British Ministry of Defence Architecture Framework) are some examples. These all seek to provide continuity of the architecture practice for the sake of simplicity within a domain.

Data Architecture may be considered another of the EA disciplines, specifically creating the models, policies, rules or standards that govern which data is collected, and how it is stored, arranged, integrated, and put to use in data systems and in organisations.

The very fact that these disciplines are so specific means that they are often viewed as highly specialist and communication between them and with less architecturally minded individuals can be challenging.

EA can be highly conceptual which also presents a challenge in terms of how it is communicated to the rest of the organisation.

Information Flow Modelling

Information Flow ModellingInformation Flow Modelling focuses, as the name suggests, on the flow of information through the organisation. IFM makes the data and information needs of the business in terms of accomplishing its required business outcomes, explicit.

Information Flow Modelling can add context to BPM, EA, and other, disciplines. Providing the information flow perspective, brings the requirements to have these other organisation contexts available to ensure the correct running of the business, into perspective. When we consider that much of the power of IFM comes from the business value generated by the purpose of data, IFM can help form the strategies that drive the requirements for these specialist and often highly technical modelling requirements within an organisation.

By focusing on the information flow, people and systems become the enabler of the flow. The complexities about what the people do, in terms of the transactions they perform using data to complete processes as part of their daily work, and how systems work at the fundamental level, can remain within the other technical disciplines allowing the Information Flow Model to focus on the information need, and therefore value – an new perspective on the business which can drive new knowledge leading to accurate and actionable decision making.

The Role of Systems

The role of the System

So to Part 2 of this series. As you model the flow of information through the organisation, you will be able to identify the roles that systems play in enabling that flow. Systems are used by people, providing them the ability to perform their actions. “Systems” is of course a very general term, but that is deliberate. System can describe an analogue tool, such as pen and paper or a digital tool, such as an application like Xero, or an imaging machine, or an Office application.

Systems also store and provide information; they are repositories and can include your file system, your database(s), your filing cabinet, the ‘c’ drive on your PC, or your cloud storage.

Systems can automate actions based on the required information to enable the action to take place and whatever programming has been implemented to achieve the required outcome.

As we model the flow of data through Systems we are able to establish facts about the appropriateness of the systems used. For example, a common situation found in many enterprise businesses is “Excel hell“; the use of Excel as a system to manipulate data, often pulled out of a system of record (SOR), manipulated and then loaded back into the system of record. This can happen when the business has not been able to justify the cost of purchasing a Data Mining add-on to their SOR. Instead, people are used to perform manual tasks at great expense and risk to the business. There are many more examples of this, all of which are immediately highlighted when we consider the role of the system in enabling the flow of information to enable a business outcome linked to a defined purpose.

When we then consider the value of the work that is being done, areas of high value, using inappropriate systems are of interest in terms of our ability to effect a positive change in the business leading to an efficiency gain. This process of automating current manual tasks is a critical part of the digital transformation journey, but now we are able to do this incrementally by taking a value based approach. McKinsey’s article “How digital re-inventors are pulling away from the pack” describes the impact of this automation in detail; and also the consequences of ignoring it.

The additional advantage of considering systems from a value perspective is that it removes the emotion from conversations about which ones are necessary, or not, and which ones should be invested in, or not. The personal connections that many people make with the systems they are invested in, are expert in or have expended many hours customising, can in many cases cloud judgement which becomes based in hearsay, or who shouts the loudest, or who has been there the longest. The value approach provides the evidence to support or dispute these opinions.

In summary, if you follow the Information Flow Modelling approach to understanding your business, you will see the place of systems within the business, as providers and stores of data and information, but also as the tools people use to perform their daily work. Now you can see which systems are fundamental to meeting your business outcomes, and which aren’t. The result – better system investment prioritisation and strategies for integrating key platforms or migrating systems to take advantage of technology innovation.

Now that you have this view; information flow and the enablers of that flow, it is possible to overlay additional lenses to provide more insight of value. In Part 3 we will look at the Information Flow Model’s ability to help with the data privacy discussion; how it can provide your Data Impact Assessment and answer the questions regulators and customers may have about how you look after the data they provide to you.

Already sold on the idea of this new approach? Click here to arrange a demo and a chat, and start your IFM journey today.