Information Management for the Intelligent Organization

Chapter 2: A Process Model of Information Management

"A group may have more group information or less group information than its members. A group of non-social animals, temporarily assembled, contains very little group information, even though its members may possess much information as individuals. This is because very little that one member does is noticed by the others and is acted on by them in a way that goes further in the group. On the other hand, the human organism contains vastly more information, in all probability, than does any one of its cells. … One of the lessons of the present book is that any organism is held together in this action by the possession of means for the acquisition, use, retention, and transmission of information."

(Norbert Wiener 1948, Cybernetics, page 158, 161)

"Information. Any difference that makes a difference."

(Gregory Bateson 1979, Mind and Nature, page 242)


Selections from Chapter 2.

Bateson's point is that in order for information to generate pattern, thought and learning, information must be created, processed, and acted upon in an environment of inter-connected social and biological systems. From our discussion of organizational intelligence and learning in the first chapter, it is evident that information creation, acquisition, storage, analysis and use form the intellectual latticework that supports the growth of an intelligent organization. Indeed, the organizational learning loop is also the information management cycle of the intelligent organization. An organization learns if, through its information processing, the range of its potential behaviors is changed (Huber 1991). The basic goal of information management is thus to harness the information resources and information capabilities of the organization in order to enable the organization to learn and adapt to its changing environment (Auster and Choo 1995). The organizational learning model of Figure 1.1 may be mapped into a process model of information management shown in Figure 2.1. The process model depicts information management as a continuous cycle of six closely related activities: identification of information needs; information acquisition; information organization and storage; development of information products and services; information distribution; and information use. The process begins at the right-hand end of the cycle when information is created by the actions of the organization (adaptive behavior). These actions interact with those of other organizations and systems to alter the environment, generating new messages and information. In the identification of information needs, organization members recognize the volatility of the environment, and seek information about its salient features in order to be able to make sense of the situation, and to have the necessary information to take decisions and solve problems. Information needs are defined by subject-matter requirements as well as situation-determined contingencies - some classes of problems are best handled with the help of certain types of information. Information acquisition is driven by information needs, and must adequately address these needs. Planning for information acquisition has become a complex function. The fragmentation of human endeavor into pockets of specialization has led to a proliferation of information sources and services that cater to these niche markets. At the same time, organizations increasingly require in-depth treatments of selected issues that are strategic to their growth and survival. Existing sources have to be constantly evaluated, new sources have to be assessed, and the matching of sources to needs has to be regularly re-examined. In information organization and storage, the objective is to create an organizational memory that is the active repository of much of the organization's knowledge and expertise. The volume of data produced and collected by the organization needs to be given structure in ways that reflect the interests and information use modes of the organization and its members. Information technology can raise the efficiency and reliability of the organization's operational activities. Integrated information management policies ensure that significant information concerning the organization's past and present are preserved and made available for organizational learning. Information acquired and information from memory are packaged into different levels of information products and services targetted at different user groups and information needs in the organization. This is not a passive re-packaging of incoming data. Information products and services have to add value by enhancing the quality of the information and improving the fit between the information and the needs or preferences of the users. The goal of information distribution is to increase the sharing of information. Widespread information sharing catalyzes organizational learning. Information sharing also creates new insight and knowledge about difficult problems or situations. End users should be given the best available information to perform their work, and the information should be delivered through channels and modes that dovetail well with users' work patterns. Information use is for the creation and application of knowledge through interpretive and decision-making processes. Information use for interpretation involves the social construction of reality, and information representation and delivery should support the multi-level interaction of social discourse. Information use for decision making involves the selection of alternatives, and information provision and content should accomodate the kinetic and non-linear nature of the decision process.

The conceptualization of information management as a cycle of inter-related information activities to be planned for, designed, and coordinated, provides a process-based perspective that complements the more conventional views of information management as information technology management or information resource management. This process view of information management has recently began to gain currency (Davenport 1993; McGee and Prusak 1993). The process model of information management should encompass the entire information value-chain, beginning with the identification of information needs, moving on through information acquisition, organization and storage, products and services, distribution, and closing the cycle with information use (Davenport 1993). Information management frameworks do not always include needs identification and information use. Although needs analysis may be one of the most neglected processes of information management, the quality of the information that the user receives is highly dependent on how well the needs have been communicated. Similarly, information use is an essential component, because understanding how information is used (or not used) to make decisions, solve problems, or interpret situations, is essential to a continuous improvement of the other information management processes. To order our discussion, Figure 2.1 shows the information management processes as separate boxes arranged in a linear sequence. In reality the processes are not so neatly compartmentalized, the activities overlap, and their boundaries are porous. We discuss each information process of the model in the following sections. Many of the themes we introduce here will be more fully developed in subsequent chapters.

Information Needs

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Information Acquisition

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Information Organization and Storage

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Information Products and Services

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Information Distribution

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Information Use

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The process model of information management we have presented in this chapter is based on a user-centered, situational perspective that emphasizes the cognitive and social dimensions of information seeking and use. Information is given meaning and action is given purpose through the sharing of mental representations and emotional resonances by the people in an organization. It is only proper that information management begins and ends with the information user.

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