Don’t let too much information manage you

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As business managers, we are overwhelmed with raw data. Not only that, but we’re inundated with statistics about the quantity of information we have. And then to top it all off, we’ve even got “meta-information” – information about information. Welcome to the information age.
So how do we harness the power of what we know and what we have access to? How do we keep from getting lost in the quantity of information we are supposed to digest? How do we make profit-minded decisions about the information we need and how best to use it?
The irony is that information is the currency of our times – and we have way too much of it.
The world of business is evolving faster than ever, and information management is the key to taking advantage of this opportunity. We cannot afford to ignore this important resource, because how well we manage information determines our position in the food chain – and whether we’re even around to be a part of it. How do we see through the “data smog” and find the runway lights?
Ignore the information
you don’t need
The answer is information strategic planning. That’s information – not information systems. It’s an important distinction because systems only facilitate the process of getting, keeping, disseminating and using the information we need. The real key is to decide what information we need, how we need it, and where we can get it. Then, we need to design the processes by which we collect, store and use it. That includes taking into account what you have today and the best way to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Keep it simple. Focus not on the information you have, but on the information you actually use and the information you want. To get started, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my business strategy and how do I know if I’m achieving it?
  • Since all you tend to get is what you measure, what do I need to measure?
  • What other information would my company benefit from?
  • What information do my customers want from me?
    Define how you collect and use information
    Now it’s time to start defining the processes (and yes, systems) to help you collect, store, disseminate and use this information. Keep in mind that “garbage in, garbage out” is a universal truth, and that information quality is governed by the process and the people, not by the computer.
  • Where does this information come from?
  • How do I collect it?
  • What format do I want to see it in?
  • How will it be stored?
  • How will it be used?
  • How will it be maintained?
    Finally, ask yourself:
  • What is this information worth to my organization?
    More specifically, what is it worth to me to be able to achieve the competitive advantage or strategy this information will allow me to achieve?
  • Can I afford not to do it?
    The answers to these last questions should become part of your cost versus benefits analysis of any new information system or changes to your current systems. Remember, the value of any computer system is determined by the information it allows you access to and the impact that information has on your ability to do business better.
    The days of hard cost savings from computers are gone for the most part. We’ve already reduced head count and accelerated processing. Today’s benefits come in increased flexibility, positioning for growth and of course, better, faster, more efficient access to our most important resource: information.
    Cirsten Paine is Director of IT Consulting for Virchow Krause & Co., LLP, in Madison.

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