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Signs of Lifecycle

Signs of Lifecycle

Information lifecycle management is not a technology or product that can be purchased. It is a process that requires defining the value of data in the organization and then storing and protecting that data accordingly - even as its value changes over time.

Like most CIOs, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Colin Knowles recognizes the importance of information lifecycle management. What distinguishes Knowles's role as director of technology and distribution at the national broadcaster is how the strategic importance of managing information over its lifecycle forms a fundamental pillar of the organization's business.

With a number of disparate information lifecycle management (ILM) projects behind it, eight years ago the ABC began a concerted effort to unify the classification of its information when it recognized the need to digitize its tape-bound archives. For Knowles, the move has resulted in the new-found luxury of using standard IT storage infrastructure for traditional broadcast content, but also ushered in a new era of how coherent ILM has become integral to business processes. So the ABC moved away from tape archiving and began betting its business on ILM.

Knowles says that if you do not have an ILM strategy "you're in big trouble" because the organization is not going to be practising good governance, and is "probably not going to be worrying about business survival". Businesses and vendors can talk about ILM and think of a "grandiose scheme" but Knowles says a lot of ILM has been done for many years in different ways, albeit in a micro fashion.

"In a lot of organizations, and we're not unique, you have a lot of information about what's happened in the past but it's stashed away and is not adequately accessible," he says. "We've been trying to fix that over the last few years. We've tried to enshrine some of that information in our procedures and practices. Information management is about making that available in a readily digestible form. And of course it's becoming easier."

Recent research by the Information Storage Industry Centre (ISIC) at the University of California San Diego into end-user perspectives of ILM revealed three key drivers for ILM initiatives, which differed depending on the level of operational management within the organization.

To gain a better understanding of how senior technology managers address ILM, Dr James Short conducted 12 interviews with CIOs and CTOs across nine organizations. Short's findings revealed three distinct categories for how the respondents viewed ILM within their organization: a storage-centric, or utility, view; a compliance-driven, records management view; and a customer-focused, business intelligence (BI) perspective.

Despite the divergent viewpoints of ILM by CIOs, both Knowles and Short agree ILM is a moving target that has not yet matured to the point where vendors can offer a packaged solution.

"We are in early days [and] have a long way to go before the diverse vendor offerings and product platforms can be simplified," Short says. "User companies do not have their arms around the problem at this point, and vendor economics would not favour standardized offerings even if they could be reasonably produced at this time."

Knowles goes a step further to say he does not think there will ever be an "out of the box" ILM solution because the characteristics of all organizations are different. Instead, Knowles leans towards the idea of a toolbox, which is easy to adapt to the intricacies of individual businesses. "The most successful applications, apart from mundane ones, are really just toolboxes that allow you to create your applications around it," he says.

In addition to the dearth of turnkey solutions, another key finding of the ISIC survey positions ILM as an ill-defined concept or set of practices. ILM is a process to support business goals and is seen as a "natural" progression of ideas and products coming into the market. To help alleviate the infrastructure uncertainty, Short recommends CIOs look at software middleware providers, not storage vendors, because this is where "the rubber hits the road" with respect to rationalizing the divergent vendor ILM offerings at the point of use.

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