Becoming an Information Architect
by Barry Isakson, AIA
With the ever-increasing quantity of information that architectural project managers must handle, electronic piles of spreadsheets and word-processing documents are only compounding the problems of project management.
Tools built on easy-to-use database software can provide an effective solution, but in my experience, few firms take advantage of them. Architects should be designing their own information management systems, which have the potential to take over a surprising number of nongraphical tasks in a professional office.
Steps to Information Nirvana
The first step is to stop using word processors and spreadsheets to manipulate and organize information. Although these software programs are easy to learn and use, they have several disadvantages: Their file types do not readily cross-reference related data, and this leads to redundancy and errors. As the size of a spreadsheet grows over time, its formulas and internal references become increasingly error prone.
Furthermore, as the number of files on individual desktops grows, central sharing becomes more difficult. Even in the best-organized firms, naming and locating saved files is a problem. In fact, word processors and spreadsheets are only marginally more efficient than managing information on paper.
Think Data not Documents
I recommend that firms abandon the folder/document metaphor and instead move much of their work to databases. This creates structured data that is both reusable and cross-referenced to other, related data. This approach offers many advantages:
Conceptually, every piece of information in a firm has links to every other. In larger firms, with several projects, the cross links quickly become unmanageable.
A fundamental advantage of a relational database is that disparate tables of information can be linked. Enlarging the tables doesn't introduce errors as it often does with spreadsheets.
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