Data architecture versus information architecture: How they differ
Julian Thomas, Principal Consultant at PBT Group
In my online travels, I recently came across this article on TechTarget that examines some of the differences between data architecture and information architecture. At PBT, we certainly deal with data architecture more, but that does not mean we must not be aware of the latter and how it impacts on our work.
Put simplistically, data architecture is about the management of data, specifically focused on how raw data is stored and managed. For instance, how do we load data, update data, decide who has access to data, the types of access, how long do we keep data for, and how do we destroy (or prune) data are just some of the questions we aim to answer. For its part, information architecture is more focused on how people organise and structure content. For example, the information on a company’s website, its social media, and the reporting and business intelligence (BI) dashboards it uses.
Confluence of data
However, the lines are blurred when raw data is turned into information. Who is responsible for that data and who needs to manage the information? Is it the data architect or the information architect? Further complicating this is (often in corporate South Africa) the assumption that the data architect takes care of everything. There is no view of even having an information architect at the organisation.
It is therefore the data architect that is lumped with the duties of both these roles. The risk in this is that the business starts lacking focus. By grouping both these areas of responsibilities together, the organisation dilutes the effectiveness of both with neither role then being completely fulfilled.
Many companies think that the data architect is solely responsible for BI and data warehousing. However, this means there is no attention placed on the operational side of data. Therefore, there must be a well-defined focus on what the role of the data architect (and information architect) must constitute. In this way, it eliminates the lack of clarity from both data and information architecture perspectives.
As the name therefore suggests, the information architect must be committed to information. Data is that which is reserved internally and used by systems as part of the operational business processes. Information can be used by decision-makers and even people external to the organisation. The information architect is focused on how data transforms into information, how that information is used and presented, and ensuring it is used consistently.
In many respects, the information architect connects the dots between the data elements and relating the information to how it is used, for what purposes, and the interpretations drawn from it.
From this perspective, the information architect deals with the data once it leaves the system and is concerned with how information is communicated and shared. The data architect is involved on a system and database level. It is therefore critical for companies to keep these roles separate to avoid neither being optimally fulfilled in the end.