Data, Information, and Knowledge Management

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The difference, and relationship, between data and information is a common debate. Not only do these two terms have varying definitions, but they are often used interchangeably.  

Just a few examples include comparing and contrasting data quality with information quality, data management with information management, and data governance with information governance.

In a previous blog post, I referenced the Information Hierarchy provided by Professor Ray R. Larson of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley:

  • Data – The raw material of information
  • Information – Data organized and presented by someone
  • Knowledge – Information read, heard, or seen, and understood
  • Wisdom – Distilled and integrated knowledge and understanding

Some consider this an esoteric debate between data geeks and information nerds, but what is not debated is the importance of understanding how organizations use data and/or information to support their business activities. Of particular interest is the organization’s journey from data to decision, the latter of which is usually considered the primary focus of business intelligence.

In his recent blog post, Scott Andrews explained what he called The Information Continuum:

  • Data – A Fact or a piece of information, or a series thereof
  • Information – Knowledge discerned from data
  • Business Intelligence – Information Management pertaining to an organization’s policy or decision-making, particularly when tied to strategic or operational objectives

(Image by EpicGraphic)

This recent graphic does a great job of visualizing the difference between data and information, as well as the importance of how information is presented. Although the depiction of knowledge as consumed information is oversimplified, I am not sure how this particular visual metaphor could properly represent knowledge as actually understanding the consumed information.

It’s been awhile since the term knowledge management was in vogue within the data management industry. When I began my career, in the early 1990s, I remember hearing about knowledge management as often as we hear about data governance today, which, as you know, is quite often. The reason I have resurrected the term in this blog post is because I can’t help but wonder if the debate about data and information obfuscates the fact that the organization’s appetite, its business hunger, is for knowledge.

Three Questions for You

  1. Does your organization make a practical distinction between data and information?
  2. If so, how does this distinction affect your quality, management, and governance initiatives?
  3. What is the relationship between those initiatives and your business intelligence efforts?

Please share your thoughts and experiences by posting a comment below.
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