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Gustin Partners | August 29, 2016 |

Rediscovering Information Management – Part 1

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

American history should remind us that information is THE critical resource in the modern age and how we collect, store, analyze/interpret and act upon it matters greatly. Lesson rich but forgotten pivotal moments in geo-political information management history include:

  • publication on the front page of the New York Times in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg of the “Pentagon Papers” [information distribution];
  • early morning arrest of five men at the Democratic National Committee offices on June 17, 1972 in the Watergate Complex [information collection];
  • the second Gulf War begins in 2003 believing that Iraq was on the cusp of being capable of producing nuclear weapons of mass destruction [information analysis];
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server [2009-2013] rather than official State Department e-mail accounts [information governance]; and
  • Edward Snowden’s 2013 copying and leaking of classified National Security Agency information [information security].

Better technology would not have prevented or reduced the impact of these infamous episodes in geo-political information management history. A better “theory of the case” [i.e., focal point/cogent statement unifying various information management tasks and strategies] might have helped.

How we produce and consume information is becoming the dominant part of modern identity. Individuals and organizations are increasingly defined by their information management patterns.

More data does not equate to more or better knowledge/decisions. In 2008 blogs and websites were increasing at a rate of ten thousand and hour. In 2006, humanity produced 161 exabytes of digital data [5 exabytes =~ 37,000 Libraries of Congress] meaning annually we are adding data equivalent to THREE MILLION TIMES the information contained in ALL the books EVER written. This information has to be managed.

Knowing how fast you ate, how much you walked, how you slept and even what happened when you went to the toilet does not equate to a smarter society. All that information has to be managed!

Irrational Expectations
It certainly was not Socrates, whose second principle was “know that you do not know,” but somewhere along the fabulously interesting history-of-ideas timeline, modern man became convinced that everything was knowable.

Perhaps we should blame Arthur Conan Doyle and his literary creation of the omniscient Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps it is the never-ending slate of TV and cable police procedurals with plot turns involving forensic science that always manages to connect all the dots and find every criminal.

Any frequent traveler experiencing the all-too-frequent systemic disruptions in service will tell you that “just because an airline says so,” does not make the information they are giving you accurate or actionable.

Just because something is knowable does not mean that it is known. A 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 69 percent of Americans could correctly name the vice president, only a slight decrease from the 74 percent who could in 1989. Is part of the role of information management to ensure that executives/citizens know what needs to be known?

Value Destroying Behaviors
Scholars of information use, information ecology and information ethics all agree that information without context is meaningless. Contextless information gives rise to “unsatisfying” information experiences.

A primary role of information management is to add context. We are not in the content management business, we are in the context management business.


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