Back at the JBoye09 conference in Philadelphia in May, Eric Hartman introduced me to the creation of TIMAF - The Information Management Framework, and asked me if I wanted to write an article for their publication, something which due to the new job, I have still not got round to doing !
However TIMAF founding contributors Eric and Bob Boiko presented their Basic Principles Of Information Management at the conference, and Eric started a discussion on the TIMAF LinkedIn group.
The basic principles were posted as:
#1 IM is Communication
IM is there to help people ‘talk’ to each other.
#2 Information Exchanges Value
IM ensurses the exchange of value in information transactions
#3 Information has Audiences
Knowledge of your audience is essential for successful IM
#4 Information Flows
IM rationalizes the creation and life of your information
#5 Information has Structure
IM is based on Information Organization
Generally speaking, I don't have any issues with principles 2 to 5, but it would not be overly dramatic to say that I do not just disagree with principle #1, but I dislike it , with a passion! (as anyone reading my comments in the LinkedIn group will see).
Recently Joe Gollner of Stilo joined in the conversation, and basically lent his support to #1 and linked to some of his blog posting to support his position. This is a particularily excellent one:
The truth about content.
Possibly in a fit of pique, on the LinkedIn discussion I promised Joe a full 'rebuttal' of his position - yes, ever so slightly regretting that term of phrase now..... I am not sure if I am actually academically equipped to rebutt anything written by Joe, but I am going to use lack of time (and energy - noticed how I have not posted for a while?) as my excuse for not deconstructing Joe's article piece by piece. Please do click on the link above and read it in full, Joe has obviously got a lot of experience in 'content management' and publishing. Instead I just thought it would be easier to provide my reasoning why as to why I really don't like "Information is communication" - and provide some definitions and a working theory of my own, especially as we have recently had a very similar conversation in the office; "what is the difference between document management and content management?"
So, why is information and communication different ? I don't believe the act of communication is what turns data into information. I also do not agree with the sub-premise of the Principle #1 that "Information Management is there to help people 'talk' to each other". Let us consider some definitions in order to put my arguement in context:
Both Joe in his post, and some of the responding comments mention "Working Knowledge" by Tom Davenport and Laurence Prusak - I am a 'fan' of the rather practical definitions given in this book and they are the ones are generally refer to, and starting at the bottom of the DIKW pyramid, they suggest data is: "Data is a set of discrete, objective facts about events".
So a datapoint in a dataset of sales figures, i.e. that you sold $6 million worth of hockey kit in the first quarter, is an actual, substantive fact, but it is not information yet. Well sure it is you say, knowing that you sold that much in a certain period is in fact useful information.
Not really - its simply collected data. To turn the data into information it needs to be processed (by a computer or a human brain) in a contextual manner.
Is $6 million more than the same period last year, or less ? does it consist of more items, or less? Is the profit margin greater or less? Is it more than our competitors or less? By merging it with other data, by disagregating it, by collecting further data to back it up, by extrapolating it, or exploring the effects of the data in various models, we are contextually processing the data and adding value to it. Some data needs more processing and polishing than other data in order to expose its intrinsic value.
This is linked to IM basic principles #2 and #3 - the same information may have more value to some target audiences than others, and depending on that target audience and the intrinsic value of the information, any transactions involving that information, including communicating it to others may increase its overall value.
So - "Information Management is Communication" - no its not. IM covers a lot more than this simplistic statement conveys, it is transformation of data into information in the first place (or maybe that should be out of scope?), the categorization, structuring, storing and retrieving of information, which may or may not include communication. Contextuality can be preserved by providing metadata and linking to other contextual information (or data sources). As for "IM is there to help people 'talk' to each other" again this is too simplistic and vague. Does 'talking' involve decision making? In an organizational context, IM should be about informing decision makers, providing them with as much information as possible to make informed business, technical or investment decisions. In my experience we often get a lot of talking, but no 'action' (remember the old BT adverts - "it's good to talk" - well yes it is, as long as there is an actionable outcome !)
This leads us back to DIKW, Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom. I believe good information management is an absolute necessity for a knowledge management enabled organization.
A part of IM is often 'content management' and as I noted earlier, we have internally been discussing the definitions of content, and I include this in this post, because again I appear to differ in my opinions from Joe (although at the end of the day, is it just semantics ?)
Joe suggests in 'The truth about content' post that content is a nebulous concept, one that surrounds data, information and knowledge. However now its my turn to offer a more simplistic approach. I consider content to be "unstructured information" as opposed to "structured information".
Structured information is that which can be built up from data in a structured manner, synonymous to the rows and columns of a database, for example that which is kept in RDBMS based applications such as a CRM. It is information and not simply a collection of data because it can include many data points from different data sets, metadata and other contextuallising elements brought together and processed to "paint a picture" of me as a customer.
Unstructured information is that contained within words, pictures, sounds, various possible computer file formats, but information which does not sit well in a construct of rows and columns. This might be stored in in Email archive (Outlook .PST hell anyone?), a shared area on a LAN, or in a 'content management' system. Within the category of 'content' we can have sub-categories such as:
- Documents (text in SGML, .txt, X/HTML, PDF, MS Office, XML and various other formats)
- Digital Assets ('rich media', images, videos, audio files etc)
- Records (any content which is evidence of a business transaction)
- Web content (any of the above to be 'published' to the web....)
For the sake of our discussion at work, I tried to capture this into a single (and thus not all encompassing) diagram:
Click on the diagram for a bigger more readable rendition.
Of course nothing ever stands still and all definitions can change, grow, be edited to fit the context etc. Technology also runs ahead at a good pace, and thus blurs the lines. Surely if your text is in an XML 'document' then it is in fact 'structured' information (as in Structured Authoring) even though it is stored in a file system by the CMS (which in turn is storing all the Metadata in a database.......). So while I may not agree with Joe on his definition of content, it is a minor thing, but to my fellow members of the TIMAF group, I just can't reconcile myself to that basic principle :-(