--- Originally published on the Adaptive Path Blog ---
I've been doing a lot of research into "advanced" topics in information architecture in preparation for my day in the UX Intensive. It seemed to me that I couldn't talk about advanced IA topics without talking about Enterprise IA. But the more I've dug into the topic, the more I'm realizing that there really isn't that much there there.
Most of what I've read about EIA is really core, basic principles of IA. They focus on understanding the business context, what the users need and a deep understanding of the content. The emphasis may shift a bit being a little less about content analysis and modeling and more on the business context and facilitation skills, but really, that seems a subtle shift to me. You have to understand the social and political factors that your IA is going into if you have any hope of it succeeding. To me that subtle shift isn't enough to warrant the new label of EIA.
I do, however, believe that something called EIA exists. Though, I'm starting to wonder if like the unicorn it only exists in our imaginations and mythologies. To me, Enterprise Information Architecture is something that happens in large organizations, when different business units come together and start playing nice with their information structures. I'm talking stuff like the holy grail of a single product vocabulary used by all departments (something that at PeopleSoft we were never able to achieve despite my best efforts). Or better yet, crosswalks, switching vocabularies, or meta-thesauri that map like terms between business units and their databases. This means that the marketing department and the support department and the developers can all use their own terminology, but the end user has a seamless experience as they move through the content of the site, as they search various databases, and most importantly, they don't have to worry that they aren't finding all the relevant stuff.
I'm not sure that I buy Lou Rosenfeld's vision of a board of directors that oversees information architecture within an organization. Perhaps we'll get there one day. And we certainly need visionaries like Lou campaigning for such things if they are ever to exist. But I hate for IAs to think that unless they have an IA department they aren't really doing EIA. Sure it's easier with a team. But I think even one person, with the backing of their department, can make a lot of change in the right direction.
At some point, you'll need more than one IA. I certainly found this at PeopleSoft. We needed one IA to keep the websites running smoothly. But we also needed someone who started to work at this more strategic, inter-departmental level. Someone who understands the basic, core principles of IA and sees them implemented throughout the organization, even if they have to do a lot of the implementing themselves.
So, I guess what I'm saying is, I don't see EIA as this big, different, evolutionary progression from "regular" IA. EIA is regular IA, just with a slight tweak in focus.