My colleagues and I often describe unified information access as a technology that truly provides "a complete picture of the business." I didn't realize how appropriate that metaphor was until I recently visited a local exhibition of the photography of Ansel Adams (1902-1984).

Renowned for his iconic black and white photos Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River (1942)of untouched wilderness in national parks and other areas of the American West, Ansel Adams was a true visionary of modern photography, whose style and innovations exemplify the pursuit of a "complete" picture.

Ansel Adams used sharp focus to maximize the range of visual clarity from foreground to background, resulting in a "depth of field" beyond what would otherwise be seen clearly with the human eye. Adams also developed an innovative system to determine optimal film exposure and chemical photograph processing so that every shade of gray from light to dark was represented.

Ansel Adams' techniques were originally considered radical in his time. As Adams began his career in the 1920s, photography as an art form was still dominated by "pictorial" techniques: soft focus, hand-coloring and other image manipulation methods intended to make photographs resemble paintings. Adams initially experimented with pictorial techniques, but soon rejected those in favor of what Adams would call pure photography, characterized by innovative techniques to maximize the clarity, depth and sharpness of a photograph.

I see a clear analogy between Ansel Adams' pursuit of "pure" (or complete) photography and the pursuit of a complete business picture.

What exactly is meant by "a complete picture of the business"? We are referring to complete business information, combined from all relevant information sources – structured and unstructured, internal and external – with no data modeling required. This is unified information access – and it too is characterized by innovative techniques to maximize the clarity, depth and sharpness of all enterprise information.

Such a complete business picture enables thorough understanding and unprecedented insights into your customers, your markets, your operations; and empowers the organization to seize new opportunities, solve challenges and fulfill its mission in ways that would otherwise remain undiscovered.

For example, imagine being able to view and analyze all relevant information for any customer, regardless of original source or data type, freely integrated and correlated with no data modeling required. This is a 360 Degree View of the Customer solution built on Attivio's Active Intelligence Engine that delivers a complete business picture of that customer that unifies such diverse structured and unstructured information sources as customer transactional data, account balances over time ("share of wallet"), CRM data, marketing automation data, levels of customer satisfaction, likes and dislikes based on sentiment analysis of text from customer comments via email, chat logs, call transcripts, online surveys, social media…and much more.

Attivio 360 Degree View of the Customer

A sample 360-degree customer view, showing monthly customer interactions correlated with major transactions and analysis of sentiment expressed by the customer, positive (green) or negative (red). Key phrases extracted from customer interactions are presented as a tag cloud, also with sentiment. This full customer view goes beyond data alont to present customer feelings, likes and dislikes, enabling dramatic improvements in service, targeted marketing campaigns and up-selling/cross-selling efforts (Source: Attivio).

Imagine the new levels of success in personalized customer service, account management and targeted sales efforts achievable with such informational clarity, depth and sharpness!

One more interesting analogy: Ansel Adams' techniques also enabled him to fully control the contrast of his photographs; darkening shadows for a more dramatic effect, for example. Similarly, Attivio's 360 Degree View gives you similar agility and flexibility to heighten the contrast between different sources of information to call out critical details and issue alerts for immediate action.

A recent AIIM survey reported that 61% of respondents agreed it would be "very useful" to link structured and unstructured data, but only 2% said they are currently able to do so. Two percent! With that in mind, take stock of all of the sources of vital enterprise information in your organization – structured and unstructured, internal and external – and the extent to which you can easily join, present and analyze all related data and content sources together.

If your findings reveal an informational picture that is unclear or out of focus, perhaps providing some insights into certain areas while obscuring others – a close review of unified information access technology is in order. Doing so will allow your organization to replace your existing abstract painting of enterprise information with a complete business picture rich in clarity, depth, sharpness and contrast.