Information: its dimensions and quality.
Complex ecological and social systems depend upon people exploiting the key resource of information. In identifying resources, the Industrial Revolution gave us the ‘4 M’s’ of men, money, machines and materials, the Green Revolution gave us the environment (the natural world that we have inherited, that we briefly inhabit and that we must conserve for our future generations) and the Computer Revolution gave us information; today, we would re-phrase ‘men’ as ‘people’ and ‘machines’ as ‘technology’. Information is widely regarded as the intangible resource (although money could be argued to be a special case of information in that currencies, notes and coins of the realm, are merely promises by the National Bank to pay the bearer their designated values). Seminal works by Kent, Stamper and others warn us of the dangers of dealing with this abstraction whist in the practical world of commerce, industry and administration the President of the Confederation of British Industry maintains that ‘managing information is the greatest challenge facing all organisations today’. This paper addresses the question of how can we interpret this theoretical abstraction of the information resource into the practical reality of ‘helping people to get better with information’ (which is the mission to the UK National Health Service information management strategy that embraces this ISSS Conference topic of ‘Information to make a difference’). A helpful starting point is recent research by Earl, Boaden and Lockett, Waters and others which distinguishes between Information Technology (IT), Information Systems (IS) and Information Management (IM). Probably, everybody’s information resource is largely supplied by IS which exploits IT and is developed by the strategic, tactical and operational processes of IM; further, IT is highly complex technically, we have never witnessed a simple IS and IM has been a disaster socially (as evidenced by the appalling success rates of all our efforts, as low as 20% according to some UK empirical research studies). Within this context of IM, Wang et al provide a taxonomy of the dimensions of information. In this paper, their taxonomy is compared with similar research reported by Galliers, Reynolds, Waters and the UK Chartered Institute of Bankers in an attempt to extend the classification and further define the characteristics into a more complete set. In summary, our conclusion is that the objective of IM is to deliver the right information to the right person to support the right activities at the right time in the right place at the right cost with the right quality in the right presentation and with the right availability (in the same sense of Drucker’s definition of improving organisational effectiveness and efficiency as ‘doing the right thing right’). In practice, if people understand and improve upon these dimensions of information then they will ‘get better with information’; ultimately, we all need to be empowered to DIY (do it yourself) our own IM in order to achieve sustainable success. Given this taxonomy and definition of information dimensions, the quality of information in practical real-world settings can be measured in terms of the occurrences of defects (eg: engineering’s MTBF and MTTR). Thus, ethnographical field research methods (particularly observation) can be applied to identify information failures and to verify, classify and quantify their occurrences; ultimately, this helps people to prioritise their information problems in order to propose and implement solutions. The paper concludes with some results from our recent empirical research which compare leading technological organisations in four sectors of the UK economy; these are Banking (Citicorp), Construction (Kvaerner - Trafalgar House), Health (Frenchay NHS Healthcare Trust) and Transportation (LEX). This comparison identifies their stages of IS development (as originally defined by Nolan and subsequently extended by Galliers and Sutherland), their relative timescales and costs (measured in terms of IS investment per employee per annum) and their information quality (indicated by the average number of defects suffered by each employee each day). Our current field research is extending these trials into other sectors, including Manufacturing (ABB, British Aerospace), in an attempt to improve information quality control by back-tracking he causes of defects and evaluating their effects by forward-tracking, where possible.
International Society for the Systems Science
Water, S., Bakehouse, G., Davis, C. & Doyle, K. (1998). Information: its dimensions and quality. Proceedings of the 42nd Conference of the International Society for the Systems Science. Atlanta, GA.
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