Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shaping the future of information management

The life cycle of information starts with the ability to notice a signal which has a meaning to the observer. It ends when there is no relevant trace of such information in the behavior of the entity. Information travels between entities and it influences, and is affected, by the dynamics that exists within a population.

Communication utilizes a commonly agreed set of patterns which represent certain signals which have a meaning to a given construct. Language is then an agreed standard of patterns, which is used to construct more complex patterns - commonly known as words.

When children attend school, they are exposed to the rules that govern the patterns - effectively training them on using a protocol. This is then used to build even more complex structures which move from words to sentences to statements to topics and to areas of knowledge.

What does this has to do with information management? If you spell a word incorrectly, you might be able to compensate the meaning using the context of the sentence - even if you use a different language, or even omit the word altogether. If you create multiple issues, including the use of different languages between the speaker and the listener - it becomes trivial that a communication breakdown will occur.

What happens when a word in the dictionary changes? People will continue to use the commonly known meaning - until they are told otherwise. Even then, if their counterparts are not aware of the change, they will refrain from using the new word.

How do we teach our children to manage information? We expose them to scenarios in which certain information is valid, and instill within them the idea that they must OWN the information replica that they are given.

Take for example a telephone number. We will teach them to manage an address book. Be it in memory, on paper or using a digital medium. We tell them how to use the number and for what purpose.

There is a flaw in this model.

The person does not OWN the number. S/he receives a snapshot of the information which is static enough to exert effort to create and maintain a replica of the information. Given the "business requirements" and the "quality attributes" of this scenario - that is "good enough" for most cases and the information is "fit for use".

Still sound ok? Well, we have completely ignored data governance. Have we thought them what to do when the phone number changes? not working? Have we ensured that when our phone number changes we are able to effectively update all replicas of this information?

The ideal process is to maintain a link to all the dependant replicas and to send a message to all the owners of these replicas that the information has changed. When did you last tell someone to ensure they are able to manage all the dependent  replications of their data? Do they understand why it is important? what is the impact?

In the phone example, it is easy to understand the "business impact" of the number changing and people not being able to get hold of you. Before you run off to list you key stakeholders and develop a process for publishing a change in your contact details - rest assure this does not end here. What about medical information as another, arguably, critical type of information with multiple stakeholders. Are you confident all the necessary "users" have "good enough" access to the these type of changes? What about when an emergency situation arises?

How do we ensure that people think about information management in this way? Simply put - we must educate them to evaluate the impact of changes in the quality levels of information. As long as we succeed in linking it to the real “business impact” - we can enable people and organizations to identify the critical attributes and define the necessary controls and processes which will minimize the risk in losing the necessary quality of the information.

To entrench this in the generations to come, we must teach our children to challenge the quality of the information, engage in analyzing the scenarios in which the quality of the information fails to deliver on the usage required, and how to invest in  mitigation strategies in a sensible (economic) extent of effort.

Now go plan your contact details change publication strategy…

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