The challenge of information management

 

Goals of information management 1

Information management problems. 1

Information advantage. 1

What is possible?. 1

Powerful images and ideal states. 2

Information management strategies. 2

Information management concepts. 4

Information management techniques. 4

Cases and examples. 4

The application of theoretical ideas. 5

 

Goals of information management

1. Supply work, business and consumption processes with information — This is the basic goal: work cannot be done without required information.

2. Improve and speed up business, work and consumption processes through information use and efficient information processing — Information is not only one of the inputs to the work process. By improving information supply and its processing, the whole process usually can be made more efficient.

3. Create and maintain competitive advantage through new, IT-based work and business processes — Often, information technologies allow reorganization of work in completely new ways, and creation of totally new businesses.

4. Efficient use of organization’s information assets — While previous goals come from activity (process), this goal statement invites to think about organization’s information not as some side-product of activity, but as the central resource. Information, not activity may be the „real thing”.

5. Reduce unnecessary complexity of information processing systems; protect against information overload.

Information management problems

1. Situations where meeting the information need, or information processing -- is non-trivial and requires application of specialized skills, resources and system development.

2. Situations where present information management in organization does not satisfy the needs.

Information advantage

In competitive environment, the advantage that a party acquires through possession of more or better information. Related concepts:

Information delta – difference in information between competing parties.

Information superiority, information dominance – In competitive situation, tactical dominance of a party through better information and more capable information systems.

What is possible?

Some research has indicated that outstanding information management can result in organization’s profitability 20-40% above the average. Modern technology is capable:

◦ in Data Acquisition – practically every process can be traced and informational record created.

◦ in Data Storage – text: no limits to what can be stored. Graphical information: capabilities expand very rapidly.

◦ in Access to Data – it is possible to create fast, practically immediate access to practically all data.

◦ in Data transfer – speed satisfies most requirements.

◦ in Automation – many operations of human work can be replaced by computer operation, or improved significantly through computer support.

What is not possible? (What information management will not do?)

◦  Content creation – an IT solution itself does not generate meaning.

◦  Complete information management – new-ness and certain surprise are essential elements of information. Therefore, a comprehensive information management system – that eliminates all risks and surprises – is not possible.

◦  Solving non-informational problems – IT solution can affect positively yet will not solve problems of work organization, social problems, psychological problems, problems of education, etc. Therefore, the Science of Information Management will not make Management, Business Strategy, Social Theory, Psychology and other sciences  unnecessary.

Powerful images and ideal states

Ideal state a state of system or situation, real or imagined, where one or several useful properties have been maximized (pushed into theoretically maximal value).

Information at your fingertips — a system, where all useful information has been organized into structures that allow immediate access. (The property absolutized: search time.)

Complete information — a situation where decision maker can use all information that is relevant to the decision. (The property absolutized: quantity of information.)

Real-time — interaction (information exchange) between user and the information system, or between information system and its environment where system’s response is practically immediate. (The property absolutized: response time.)

Information at the point of need — the worker or operator is given at each moment exactly the information required by the work process. (The properties absolutized: information relevance, search time.)

Anytime, anywhere — access to information at any time, from any location, achived by IT infrastructure and information systems. Related terms: „24-7”, „365-24-7” —system uptime 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

99,95% — system uptime.

Seamless integration — Connecting two or more IT systems with no problems of compatibility.

Fully integrated enterprise — An organization which has succeeded in connecting all its IT and information systems into one integrated system (or, a system of systems).

Company's nervous system — An image used by Bill Gates to conceptualize IT and information systems in an organization.

Information society — a society that produces most of its economic value in form of information products and services, as opposed to exploitation of natural resources, agricultural and hard goods production.

Information management strategies

We can see extremely wide spectrum of information management problems in practice. These problems and information needs are solved and managed in very different ways. To enumerate and discuss all possible approaches is impossible. Still, we can distinguish a number of broad, general directions and approaches toward solution of informational problems. In particular the following strategies are very common, and certainly belong to the most important ones. 

◦  Promoting the understanding of information importance in the organization — This is very important. If people in the organization do not realize the importance od data and information, and what are immediate as well as indirect effects of good and bad information management, then IT will not be used to its full potential.

◦  Improving the organization of existing information — Often, we do not need build a new IT system. Instead, we can take the information at hand and bring it to better shape, using various techniques, some of those are very simple. This strategy can be considered at any time; it can bring quick return at low cost.

◦  „Informatization” of the process — A general strategy of identifying information processing operations in a work process and building IT solutions to supply these operations with information and high quality and low cost. Making processes more information-intensive has become practical necessity in virtually all areas of life today.

◦  Information support to human activity — The same goals as in previous strategy, but a different philosophy. For knowledge work, IT systems should not control the worker, but give him or her support. This strategy provides a variety of tools to the worker who is free to choose and apply them as he or she likes.

◦  Language development (taxonomies and coding systems) — Information processing is an activity; but the activity is maybe not the most critical aspect of it. All information processing takes place in context of language. There are natural, human languages, and many more or less formal, computer languages, including various coding systems. Languages provide the context for information processing. Languages should not be taken as given; language development is an important direction of information management improvement.

◦  Using meta-information — Meta-information is information about information. Usually we limit our thinking to the view that information is a description of the objects in the „real world”. But information itself needs to be described. Introduction and skillful use of meta-information is a promising direction of information management improvement.

◦  Use of templates and patterns — Template (pattern) is a set of structural features of a solution that was found to work in one situation; if extracted and stored, a template or pattern can be used to solve further, similar problems. For example, think of the role of document template in word processing.

◦  Creation of information model — To understand, and possibly control or operate something, a general strategy is to build a model of it. Models can be built on paper, or even made of wood; but computer modelling is superior to these approaches in several respects. Complete, large, elaborate, easily modifiable information models form the core of many important information systems.

◦  System development — Information management problems can be of two types: one-time, or recurrent. Problems can also be simple or complex. To handle complex, recurrent informational problems, the organization has to allocate many different resources (hardware, software, operators, infrastructure). System development is the process of building these resources into assemblies that can be usable over long time and for a range of complex problems.

◦  Process improvement through IT — It is not enough to provide information support to and automate existing work processes. To maintain competitive advantage, organization must continuously seek ways to introduce new, efficient business models and work processes. Information technology has become a very important source and enabling factor of process innovation. There is a lot of new technology available, and organization can certainly find something that fits its profile and makes sense economically as well.

◦  Information design — People today want their information to come in forms that are similar to what they experience in media channels that they use. Information provided by information systems must be not only timely and correct — it must be designed in accordance to aesthetic values and customes of the information user. This places an extra burden to information system designers; a burden that is not fully met today.

◦  Optimal mix of information channels — It is not enough any more to build single systems. Organizations employ a multitude of information systems, IT equipment and media channels. That informational landscape has become complex, and often it is changing so fast, that nobody even has full picture of it. Still, it must be managed, somehow.

◦  Standardization and simplification — One strategic way to help untangle the informational problems is to actively use standardization of information system elements. Organization must follow industry-level standarization; it must also conduct standardization at its own. Without the use of standards and deliberate simplification of information management processes, system building will constrain not aid the business.

 Intelligent use of Low Technology — Often, new technology is used where „low” technology works better. While many organizations are hypnotized by the promises of the latest technologies, a more mindful organization can often create value (and advantage) by clever use of less simple technology.

Information management concepts

Confidence in information management is built mainly by study through practice. One cannot claim competence without trying hand in system development, programming, information architecture, information design, or other disciplines of the information management group of sciences.  A certain conceptual apparatus is still needed – in order to get an overview, to build “a big picture”, and to help fill in the places where knowledge is insufficient. We have tried to put together a basic set of information management concepts. It is organized in form of short articles. Access to the articles is provided through a conceptual outline and through an index. 

Information management techniques

Very many techniques exist that can help solve information management problems. These are best studied in practice sessions in infomation management courses.

Cases and examples

Information management is important for organizations. Information management is tighly related to business processes and competitive advantage of the company. Therefore, information about company’s information systems and informational capabilities is usually considered confidential. Information about organization’s on-going IT projects, IT strategies and lessons learned from completed projects is also an important strategic asset. Information on these matters can still be acquired, from various sources; yet, its potentially fragmentary and biased nature must always be taken into accont.

The application of theoretical ideas

Information work is characterized by its relative idiosynchrasy. A manual worker maybe can be equipped by a shovel of standard shape and measurements. But requirements of knowledge workers as to their informational tools and work environment differ widely. It may sound counter-intuitive, but people’s information needs and information behavior are highly variable.

Therefore, developers and educators should research through, develop and articulate a spectrum of ideas and solution tools that may be applied to a spectrum of information management problems.

Then, practitioners can choose, try and use specific ideas and techniques for their specific needs.