What is information - really?
Information is something that tells us something about something. Information is our mirror of the world, often created in retrospect. It helps us to understand the world better, to see the things we need to see in order to better navigate our way to wherever we are going in the real world - but only if we have access to the right mirror exactly when we need it. The right mirror – the information - should allow us to see everything we need to see to make the right decision, rendering a complete picture without any distortion, cracks or missing pieces.
The picture we see in the mirror is often made of a lot of individual pieces of data. On its own, a piece of data does not tell us much, if anything. We need to put the data together to turn it to information, creating a mirror. What the mirror shows depends on what pieces of data we have, and how we fit the pieces together. Different mirrors help us see different things, different perspectives. They help us to create new insights about the world we live in. We can also be fooled, when the mirror presents something which is not true.
Just think for a moment about how far we’ve come since the first information technology, the written language, was introduced, with so many new and disruptive information technologies having changed our societies, businesses, and life in general. It’s thrilling, but also sad because not everyone in the world has yet access even to the first information technology.
For businesses, information technology is their primary means to manage and operate their businesses, as well as to innovate themselves and their products and services. The information they have access to and their ability to use it purposefully ultimately determines their success. The better they understand the world, and the faster they do it, the greater advantage they can get compared to their competitors.
The key to build and maintain a successful business today lies much less in improving the operational performance of manufacturing processes than it did just a couple of decades ago. That knowledge that can easily be copied, which means that the manufacturing processes can be executed in locations where the cheapest raw materials and resources can be found. Instead, what determines the long term success of a business is its ability to access or create and make use of information. Doing so requires having access to the right talent – the people – who can turn that information into knowledge and who can turn the knowledge into the right actions, fast. The information they use, their raw materials, comes not so much from data generated by their manufacturing processes as it comes from data about what people (customers) like and need, how they behave, and the relationships they have to other people and things that affect what they like, need and how they behave.
The right people with the right talent who get access to the right information in the right time can create the right products and services and offer and provide them in the right way to the right customers. Right? It is not primarily the data originating from transformational and transactional processes that enable them to do that, but rather information and insights created from near real-time data about people’s social interactions and whatever other trails of data they leave behind when interacting with information systems.
Much of this data is available to any business who wants it, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee, The best survival strategy of today and tomorrow is hence not to try to get unique access to data and to protect that data from falling into the hands of others, but rather to ensure instant access to all relevant data that is available and improve the organization’s ability to make sense of and act upon it before anyone else does. That can't be done without becoming more open and transparent, and encouraging and enabling sharing and collaboration across all barriers. Information must flow unhindered to anyone who can quickly make sense of it and act on it together, which can’t be done without becoming a more social business.