Information: If it doesn't make you stronger, it might kill you

I was reading John Thorps Blog entry “Getting Information Management Right” and read that Gartner predicts that the amount of Enterprise Data will grow by 650 percent in the next 5 years. The article makes a number of excellent...


I was reading John Thorps Blog entry “Getting Information Management Right” and read that Gartner predicts that the amount of Enterprise Data will grow by 650 percent in the next 5 years.

The article makes a number of excellent points and kept me thinking. But back to the 650 percent, it is not like this is a new development. The amount of data we store (both private and for business) has been growing explosively the last decades.

You do not explain the dangers of overweight to an audience of starving people. Not only is it tasteless but chances are you will find you have a less than captive audience.

So the topic of this article is only of interest to those who are not completely starving for information. To stay with the analogy a moment longer, in famine areas of the third world there is virtually no discussions about junk-food since everything is better than starving.

It is only when we reach the higher levels of the Maslow’s pyramid that we start to question the quality and necessity of our food and drinks.

So the first conclusion: If you, at times, wonder what the added value of all that data/ information is that is so readily available these days you are no longer starving for information.

In fact in the “information first world” we run the risk of drowning in all data that is available to us. For these organizations it is no longer about the quantity of data and subsequent information but about the quality.

To establish which world your organization belongs to it is important to recognize a fundamental truth: The primary purpose of enterprise information is to support decision making. No matter how interesting or special you might find a certain bit of information, if it has no (possible) influence on your actions and/ or decisions it is not relevant for your role in the organization. This would basically be junk-information; it might taste good but has no nutritional value. So quality information is not just trustworthy but, just as important, relevant. Good information will support decision-making by bringing down the “guess factor”.

The “guess factor” plays part in almost all decisions we make. It is rare that we have all information available at top quality level when we make decisions. We assume that the information we have is correct. We make assumptions about the thinks we just do not know. Since it is the nature of an assumption that it might be false each new assumption increases the risk connected to an individual decision.

So now we can assess our informational demand: If we take the importance of the decision under consideration and we look at the risk appetite of the organization we can establish which assumptions we can leave as such and when we want to mitigate by gathering additional information. Since making additional information available will cost resources (money) this gives a nice trade-off: The cost of quality information relevant to the decision versus the level of risk associated to the decision.

Enough theory let’s bring this back to day-to-day impact. We can turn the theory around and assess the actions and decisions made over a certain period of time. If we were to ask a cross section of organizational personnel to look at the last, let’s say, 10 decisions they made.

Did they feel they had the necessary information to make good quality decisions? Was the level of risk due to assumptions in line with the importance of the decision? Did they feel confident in the outcome they reached? If not, why not? Was there too little information? Was there too much with the result that the important stuff got buried? Was the quality of information trustworthy?

These and other questions will give you insight in the status of your information management from the demand side. We can go one step further and ask those interviewed if they knew where to get the required information.

Was it easy to find and access? Could they find somebody responsible for the information? Could they find help to get questions answered? Would they know what to do when their information requirements changed over time? These and other questions will give you insight in the supply side of your Information Management.

Doing this on different levels of your organization for decisions of various levels of importance will give you a good overview of the challenges you face. The connection with actual decisions will also tell you if the cost of all this information is in line with the risk reduction achieved.

In this context it is good to remember that continued bad-decision making of lower impact decisions at lower levels of the organization might “kill” the organization just as much as one “bad call” on board room level.

On the other hand you would not be the first to learn that the cost of acquiring, storing and supplying all this information is completely over the top compared to the nature of the risk it mitigates. Often a “best guess” will do the job just fine.

By Arno Kapteyn

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