Information architecture as an alignment discipline

(This is from a post to the IAI Members email list.)

People want to understand the direct value information architecture provides to an organization. Inevitably, the worth of a thing comes down to the value it provides others, and it’s always easier to value the tangible over the intangible. For Information Architecture, people inevitably value the deliverables: our wireframes, site maps, etc.

The real difficulty comes from assuming IA has a direct value contribution to an organization, that there’s something — no matter how intangible — that IA owns, and the value of that commodity, only owned by IA, can only be captured by hiring some information architects. But, deep down, we all know that’s a bunch of crap.

For starters, owning a part of the product or the experience is an out-dated idea from the industrialized world. Sole ownership of any part of a product or experience is no longer possible: we live in a collaborative world.

Though some disciplines focus and specialize in one area of a product or experience, even then they don’t own it. The organizational value is always created collaboratively, by the organization. For example, engineering might be said to “own” the technology, but management (sourcing) contributes immense, inherent value to any technology. So does manufacturing, interface design, and marketing.

In every organization, these diverse disciplines bring a special perspective to every issue. If all of these perspectives work together to accomplish the organization’s total vision, then we’d have the perfect, ideal, utopian organization where information architecture would provide no additional value.

Information architecture, like business analysis and enterprise architecture, is a discipline of framing and alignment that ensures an organization’s parts work together.

In the real world, regardless of how brilliant or how talented our co-workers are, regardless of how effectively a given discipline applies their perspective to improving products and services, they develop a certain tunnel vision. In these kinds of environments, the different groups begin to slowly drift towards different versions of the organizational vision. Instead of everyone working to benefit everyone else, we start to lose value in the cracks.

Alignment disciplines, like information architecture, identify these gaps and help bridge them. IA creates structures that make it easier for diverse disciplines to stay on the same path. IA creates tools that help groups understand and validate the path their on, so they know where they’re going, and it helps organizations validate their current direction against where they want to go.

IA has no value of its own. IA has the ability to help organizations recover the value they lose in the gaps between where the organization wants to go, and where it’s headed.

This isn’t something IAs should be worried about. Business Analysis and Enterprise Architecture are in the same boat. However, when selling our value in a world that prefers to think about “owned” contributions to a product or service, it can be difficult to value ourselves honestly on their terms.

Like anything, it’s a matter of education, a matter framing. And like any change it requires that you not only identify the gap, but also that you be willing to work to close it.

Part of closing this gap means we stop trying to own part of a project. We stop governing small tactical decisions that are more the purview of more focused disciplines. It also means we start understanding the larger picture, how the different groups work together. How they don’t work together. It means we should reframe our work towards creating tools that help organization’s identify, bridge, and avoid gaps and maintain overall alignment.

This is the work we already do. It’s really more a matter of perspective.

Loading Google+ Comments ...