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Dec 21, 2003: Enterprise IA as Intellectual Property

A while back, HP's Deb Seys and I were emailing back and forth about my entrepreneurial model for an enterprise IA team. Deb said:

...things like a company wide metadata standard or a controlled vocabulary belong to the company as a whole, they are intellectual property (IP) that must be owned and managed by some group with a top down sanction. How would an entrepreneurial group get traction in setting an enterprise wide standard when they have no real authority to do so?"

Interesting question, but I'm more fascinated by Deb's extremely astute observation: she points out the existence of something I've not heard anyone discuss before, at least not in the IA world: enterprise information architecture intellectual property. A horrid term; let's give it the absolutely horrid acronym "EIAIP".

What might constitute EIAIP? It's the aspects of the information architecture that help unify a site across business unit silos. Because it pertains to the entire enterprise's web presence, EIAIP is something that no one business unit should ever own, as their own perspectives will bias its design and application.

More concretely, what might count as EIAIP? Here are a few ideas:

  • Metadata standards (both structural, such as schemas, and semantic, such as controlled vocabularies)
  • Determining appropriate algorithms for relevance ranking of search results
  • The logic for selecting and ordering best bet results
  • The selection of guide pages linked from a site's main page
  • The logic for determining how to link objects in a content model (a.k.a. an ontology or a semantic web)

Getting back to Deb's question: how would an entrepreneurial team get the chance to own EIAIP without the authority to do so? The more I think about this, the more this question seems moot. The issue isn't so much whether a team using an entrepreneurial business model could pull it off, or where they got their authority from. Truth be told, the people who could grant such authority are pretty much in the dark about the existence of enterprise IA issues, much less the intellectual property aspects of enterprise IA.

Look over the list above, and then ask yourself if decision-makers in your enterprise would understand what these are about and why they would have enterprise implications. Most managers wouldn't, and by default, ownership of EIAIP would fall to those who are most conscious of enterprise IA issues. That would be a centralized team, regardless of what business model they adopted.

In the more enlightened enterprises where such IA concepts would be understood, my gut is that an entrepreneurial enterprise IA team would be more successful in making the case for EIAIP ownership than one using a different business model. Such a team would naturally engage in ongoing conversations with its "client" business units around the enterprise, gathering the market research to build a case to managers for ownership of EIAIP.

And down the road, we might start seeing enterprises take their information architecture a bit more seriously, seeking to establish it as intellectual property treated in much the same way as products and services. I'm kind of looking forward to the day that the business logic that drives selection of a site's related links might be patented. As soon as the lawyers get involved, you'll know that IA has arrived.

OK, enough enterprise this and that for 2003, and back to nesting... Happy holidays all!

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Comment: Peter (Dec 21, 2003)

Happy newyear too! Looking forward to patenting IA business logic? Brrrrr...

Comment: Lou (Dec 22, 2003)

Only kidding Peter. OK, just partly. I remember a story from the library world some years back, where a librarian had been sued for malpractice. Apparently a lot of other librarians were excited at this; it meant that the field was being taken seriously if its practitioners could get sued just like doctors and lawyers...

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