By the time this column comes out, Enterprise Management Associates should be about a week away from finishing our \u201cNext Generation Management Architecture\u201d report.The report is centered around a few key points. Some of these are:* There really is such a thing as a next-generation architecture for network (systems, apps, etc.) management.* Next-generation design can be achieved by seeking commonalities in design across management products, rather than getting lost in the differences. Through this approach, EMA has evolved a layered, structural model that is not brand-specific.* Next-generation architecture will depend on cooperating analytic engines (across brands) and federated data stores with efficient data gathering to support three distinct client types: IT professionals, business professionals and IT service customers.* The design for this next-generation architecture is targeted at bridging the gap between business value and operational IT management.* The first step in bridging that gap is the recognition that data and information have, in themselves, no intrinsic value. Unlike capital, the accumulation of data or information does not inherently contribute to the business.It is this last point that I\u2019d like to discuss briefly in this column. Our report assumes that the value of most information is extremely time-sensitive and transient, and that real value can be achieved only by:* Supporting complex individual or group decision making or actions, so that it provides a valuable critical insight, or* Multiplying the shared information by many occurrences, so that it can support multiple types of decision makers in multiple environments.Breadth of support or in-depth support for decision-making is then essential. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that \u201cdepth\u201d cannot be captured in isolated information points. Most often, \u201cdepth,\u201d will be signaled by the association of information and\/or data.Today, management products can help with decision making by combining historical with real-time information, sometimes on the same screen - so that a trouble spot in real time can be mapped, for instance, to time-series data to show trends over time for a given device or for multiple devices.This is still rudimentary - even when it\u2019s somewhat automated - compared to where automation associative capabilities could evolve over time. Associative linkages of information would be able to combine, in the future, far more complex variables than usage, impact and present and past event conditions. They will ultimately weave subtle insights together between business and infrastructure that are not even dreamed of today.One area where data or information association is a clear focus is in search engines like Google. Progress there will have a direct bearing on the management technologies of the future. Moreover, it will be a two-way street. Associative behavior will also help to profile \u201cusers\u201d of management and other information, so that greater efficiencies can be achieved in more automated fashion.This side of \u201cinformation sharing\u201d will over the next decade become an intense area of growth within and outside of management. Even so, it is an area that remains primitive and frustrating today; witness the generally \u201cpassive-aggressive\u201d behavior of Microsoft\u2019s paper clip (at once subservient and stubbornly forcing users like myself through a series of absurd interactions).Linking different informational contexts together in automated fashion presupposes an interrogative perspective that is fundamentally dialog-like in nature, even if the dialog is, itself, not explicit. This is very different from the classically technical view of computers as a source of purely technical analysis. Historically, after all, the world once viewed computers primarily as a way of performing calculations. This has changed to a view of computers supportive of a more inclusive form of information sharing. And if next-generation management is to become real, the industry must recognize that \u201cdialog\u201d (between people, organizations, and yes, between man and machine in associating information) is the ultimate value-add for management and many other applications. Will this happen? At some level, it almost certainly will.