JameskobielusBy James Kobielus

Yes, like anyone who got a liberal arts degree (me: B.A., Economics), I had to take Political Science 101. And like anyone who sat and thought about what exactly politics is, I soon realized that it’s anything but a science. Some call it the "art of the possible," and that strikes me as exactly right.

Or, more to the point, it’s the art of engineering consensus and coalition around issues, leading (hopefully) to effective action. Which brings me to the one useful kernel of wisdom that I took away from Poli Sci 101: that the most effective coalition builders are those who engineer a clear, compelling agenda for shaping collective action over the long run. Ironically, Al Gore may have had a greater, lasting impact on the world by losing the 2000 election than if the U.S. Electoral College, Supreme Court, and Floridian perforations had all swung his way. He spearheaded a powerful agenda-based coalition of considerable momentum, focusing the human race on our collective responsibility for global warming. And his chief tool was information: an "inconvenient" but totally science-based truth, reflecting the overwhelming consensus of those who study climate change for a living.

Clearly, no political agenda can succeed in the long run without a potent information agenda — or, at least, people who are adept at using all available channels to build consensus and spur action. Honestly, when IBM started to use the term "Information Agenda" in their go-to-market messaging, I wasn’t sure if I agreed with what they were doing. I understood the notion of, say, a "business optimization," "agility," or "green" agenda, because those terms point (albeit vaguely) to desired results. But information is a tool for building and maintaining an agenda — it’s not an end in its own right.

But then I realized that’s not entirely true. Information technology is a precious corporate resource, as are the business intelligence and performance management applications that flow through those channels. So, in that very important sense, an "Information Agenda" makes great sense. Every organization — public or private sector — must build and sustain a strong IT, BI, analytics, and performance management capability. Sometimes those assets are wielded for corporate transformation or optimization (by Al Gores of the corporate world). And sometimes — usually — they’re in the hands of grassroots personnel, who are simply trying to keep their organizations humming smoothly and on an even keel (hopefully, the next U.S.president can keep this big bruised ship of ours from capsizing).

Of course, we all recognize that actionable intelligence is fundamental. Every organization’s Information Agenda must revolve around the need to keep that intelligence trustworthy, current, and relevant. So that all decisions — no matter how humdrum and mundane — may be grounded solidly in unimpeachable truth.

No matter how inconvenient.