“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight -Carly Fiorina”
What would be the use of information if you cannot make use of it for your business? And so, shouldn’t you wisely align your business information elements required to support business capabilities which are ultimately linked with enterprise business goals?
The important question is “How can we do this”? Let’s find out.
In any enterprise the information elements exist in form of concepts, information objects, data or data elements, entities, documents etc. In the fast-paced changing environment it is of paramount importance that decision makers have holistic view of the key information of the enterprise (structure and flow). The best way to display this kind of information is models and diagrams.
The structure and flow of information is best represented with the help of models called ‘Data Flows‘. There are two main approaches to work with Business Capabilities and data flows. One is ‘Top-Down’ and other is ‘Bottom-Up’. In a Top-Down approach you define the functions which are required to support the business and then align the Information corresponding to these functions. However in a Bottom-Up approach we analyze the information elements which we have, and then synthesize them to be used in different business functions.
In this article I would like to shed some light on the ‘Top-Down‘ approach.
For deriving Data Flows from Business Capabilities the following steps should be used in the listed order.
Map Business Capabilities:
In this first step it is required to map the business capabilities with the business functions of the organization. This enables us to check for any gaps or any redundancies. For doing so we need to analyze the enterprise architecture in relation to our organization’s goals. As a result we are getting a Business Process Map aligned with the Business Capabilities of our organization.
Figure: Business Process Map
Define Business Process Catalogue:
Once we have the Business Process Map with us, we need to prepare a detailed catalogue of business processes supporting each process group. Since creating a process definition can be a very extensive exercise (depending upon the size and complexity of business), we might consider prioritizing some of the key processes initially.
Define Business Processes:
In this step we define the business processes with the set of activities and tasks those once completed accomplish an organizational goal. Business processes are best defined as in Business Process Models. The type of modelling approach we decide to take are mainly driven by the level of detail we want to capture in our business processes – e.g. process models defined as SIPOCs (Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer) are good for defining business processes at high-level. However if the objective of our initiative is much wider than just defining data flows, then we would define business processes with the Business Process Management Notation (BPMN) or using Event Process Chain (EPC) for this purpose. All these approaches are capable of capturing the information elements/objects which are required to perform a task/activity in a process. If our objective is limited to data flows we also might want to emphasize on information exchanges and data interfaces during the process definition.
Figure: Process Definition – SIPOC
Derive BIO (Business Information Objects):
This task involves analyzing the business processes that we have defined in the previous step. During the analysis we derive the multiple business information objects. A business information object is a notion of a virtual object which exists independent of implementation. Depending on the level of abstraction and detail these objects are sometimes also referred as Information Concepts, business information entities or data entities etc.
Define & Derive BIO Characteristics:
In this step we will first define the characteristics that we will be using to identify the nature of Business Information Objects (BIO). Once these characteristics are defined we need to derive the characteristics by analyzing each and every BIO in the specific context in which they are used. For understanding the context we must refer the business processes to the associated artifacts where BIOs are being used. Confidentiality, privacy, maintenance frequency, retention time are a few typical examples of key BIO Characteristics.
Derive BIOs Relationships with Other Elements:
The characteristics of the BIOs that we had derived in the previous step will become the base of the relationships and associations these BIOs have with the other organizational elements. In this step we also derive the relationships/associations that a BIO might have with other BIOs. Parent-Child or Composition-Subset, Supplier-Consumer and Cause-Effect are few of the relationship types that you can use for this purpose. While deriving the relationships and associations we will also be interested in knowing the degrees of relationship also known as Cardinality.
Define Data Flows:
Data flow diagrams portray the transformation of data. They show where data comes from, which activities process the data, and if the output results are stored or utilized by another activity or external entity. And even more important it is, to understand how a particular information object is used to support any business capability and ultimately achieving business goals and objectives. Data flow diagrams can consist of multiple layers of abstraction. The highest level diagram is a context diagram which shows the system in its entirety.
Figure: Context Diagram
Figure: Data Flow (Data Process View)
Business processes are the core of every organization. In order to best utilize the enterprise resources for these business processes, and to make these processes to adapt the dynamics of change environment, business processes must be able to gather, integrate and manage various types of information along their life-cycle.
Business Stakeholders must also be having access to key organization information for effective and efficient decision making. Therefore it is of supreme importance for an organization to have the holistic view of their information systems which must be properly aligned and mapped to their business functions.
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