Information Management for the Intelligent Organization


Chun Wei Choo

The declaration that information is the organization's strategic resource has become tired and worn. Yet information is more than just another factor of production. Information is the resource that enables the effective combination and utilization of the other factors of production - it is in effect, the meta-resource that coordinates the mobilization of the other assests in order for the organization to perform. Outside of the organization, the environment is a larger information arena in which people, objects, and organizations jostle and tussle, and create a constant cascade of signals and messages. Competition is the consequence of the unequal distribution of information among organizations and their differential abilities to acquire, absorb and actuate information. Competition has turned into an information race of discovery and learning.

Unfortunately, much of the information that an organization receives is nuance and innuendo, more of a potential than a prescription for action. To become strategic, information must be galvanized into knowledge that can guide action. This transfiguration of information into knowledge is the goal of information management. As rhetoric, information management is often equated with the management of information technology, or the management of information resources, or the management of information policies and standards (Figure 1). While each of these functions is important, we also need a unifying perspective that would bind these functions together. We need to recognize that information, knowledge and insight are forged in the hearts and minds of human beings, that the use of information depends on the construction of shared meanings, and that knowledge creation and use are social experiences in which multiple actors participate and exercise their different intellects and interests. This book suggests that the management of information be viewed as the management of a network of processes that acquire, create, organize, distribute, and use information. The intelligent organization is then an organization that is skilled at marshalling its information resources and capabilities, transforming information into knowledge, and using this knowledge to sustain and enhance its performance in a restless environment.

Fig. 1 Information Management

The objective of the book is to develop an understanding of how an organization may manage its information processes more effectively in order to increase its capacity to learn and adapt. Our vista of information management is broad, encompassing information processes, information resources, and information technologies. We will enrich our palette with analogies and metaphors drawn from the fields of anthropology, biology, computer science, economics, hermeneutics, management, information science, library science, neuroscience, organization theory, systems theory, and other disciplines. In the end, the book is about the practice of information management, and the better part of our discussion will dwell on how organizations may act to strengthen its faculty for creating and using knowledge. Our hope is that the deliberations in the book would be of interest to senior managers and administrators, information managers, information specialists and practitioners, information technologists, and indeed anyone whose work in an organization involves acquiring, creating, organizing or using knowledge. Students and instructors in library and information science schools, as well as business administration or management faculties, may also find the book relevant.

The eight chapters of the book fall into three broad thematic sections. The first three chapters are closely related, as they examine the relationship between information management and the intelligent organization. In these chapters, we approach the questions: What makes an organization intelligent? How does information management help an organization to be intelligent? What are the processes that drive the information management cycle? How can we manage these processes better?

Chapter 1, The Intelligent Organization, develops a profile of the intelligent organization as a learning organization that is adept at creating and gathering knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect the new knowledge. We sketch a cognitive model of the learning organization which describes how the organization senses information about its external and internal environments, develops perceptions and constructs meaning through interpretation, draws upon its memory of past experiences, and takes action based on its interpretation and mental models. To be effective, organizational learning must embrace its own opposites - learning requires the organization to unlearn old norms and assumptions and relearn new frames of reference; learning about future change in the external environment requires the organization to understand the environment deep enough to be able to envision and shape the future to its own advantage.

The goal of information management is to harness the information resources and information capabilities of the organization in order to enable the organization to learn and adapt. Using the organizational learning model outlined in the first chapter, Chapter 2 presents A Process Model of Information Management that would underpin the organization's learning capability. The model traces six key information processes that form a continuous, regenerative loop: identifying information needs, acquiring information, organizing and storing information, developing information products and services, distributing information, and using information. We reveal the special problems of managing each process, issues that are often overlooked or overwhelmed by other dominant interests or as a result of historical development. At the same time, we highlight the opportunities for change and revitalization that may be realized by combining our understanding of information use behaviors with a more flexible, user-centered design of information services and systems.

In the learning organization, managers have an important and prominent role. As decision makers, they hold the authority and responsibility to act on the available information. As leaders, they set examples and promote a culture of information sharing and collaboration. As strategists, they ensure that information policies are well aligned with the organization's mission. Unfortunately, providing relevant, actionable information to managers has proved to be a formidable task, and managers are generally less than satisfied with the information they get from existing information systems and services. In Chapter 3, Managers as Information Users, we review what we know about managers as information seekers and information users, and discuss some important organizational and work-related contingencies that influence managerial information behavior.

One of the greatest challenges facing the intelligent organization is to understand how the external environment is changing, what the changes mean, and how the organization can best respond to the new conditions. The process of learning about the the external milieu is environmental scanning, the art of gathering and interpreting information about the environment so that the organization has the knowledge to develop effective courses of action. Chapter 4 and 5 discuss the theory and practice of environmental scanning, provide some insights about scanning as a learning process, and suggest principles for the design and implementation of an effective scanning system.

Chapter 4, Environmental Scanning as Strategic Organizational Learning, examines the significant corpus of research on scanning that seem to show broad agreement on a number of issues. Research shows that scanning improves organizational performance, especially if the scanning function is well integrated into the organization's strategic planning and learning cycles. Scanning increases with environmental uncertainty, and we may expect the need for scanning to grow as the environment becomes more labile. Scanning is focused on the market sectors of the environment, and longer-term issues tend to be neglected or underemphasised. Managers use a range of sources to scan, but there is a heavy reliance on informal, personal sources.

Chapter 5, Environmental Scanning in Action, presents many case studies of how successful organizations in Canada, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, US, UK and other countries have established effective scanning systems and used them to energize organizational learning. From their experiences and those of well-known consultants and practitioners, we distill a number of principles that could enhance the craft of scanning and learning about the environment. Scanning should be planned and managed as a strategic function, much like a research and development program that is given the critical mass of resources to pursue activities with the potential to deliver high payoffs. Scanning should be implemented as a formal, structured, continuous system that maximizes and integrates the information gathering and value-adding capabilites of the organization. Users should participate actively throughout the scanning process, not just as recipients or consumers of information, but also as information partners who contribute their own assessments and commentaries, share and disseminate information, and create fresh insights from the available information. Finally, scanning should be supported by a coherent set of information management strategies that enable the organization to systematically collect, coordinate, store, analyze, and distribute information.

We live in a time of unprecedented access to information - technology, industry and government have lifted the information floodgates, and the waters are still rising. Although organizations may be drowning in information, they often lack the knowledge to illuminate their choices and actions. On the one hand, organizations need to activate a sufficient number and variety of information sources in order to adequately reflect the span and sweep of external phenomena. On the other hand, they need to identify and access specialised sources in order to probe strategic issues in detail. Chapter 6 and 7 discuss the management of information sources, suggest ways of matching sources to information needs, and examine the use and potential of online databases and Internet resources.

Chapter 6, Managing Information Sources, proposes a holistic approach towards the selection and use of information sources, recognizing that sources effectively `feed' on and off each other in an ecology of information chains. Sources high on the information chain summarise and interpret data, while sources low on the chain (close to the event) provide details and let the user develop their own sense of the situation. Users choose sources by a number of criteria: their accessibility, their ability to offer trustworthy and relevant information, the richness of the information channel, and so on. The chapter examines how human sources and textual sources may be used to scan the environment and initiate organizational learning.

Electronic sources are considered in Chapter 7, The Internet and Online Databases: Scanning on the Information Highway. Searching for information online offers distinctive advantages - it is both a radar for sweeping the information horizon to detect signals of change, and a telescope for locating specific items that best answer a query. In the hands of a skilled and creative information professional, online databases are a powerful tool for scanning the environment and analyzing the forces of change. A rapidly growing number of business, educational and government organizations are using the Internet to access as well as to distribute information resources and services. The Internet presents a unique opportunity for organizations to rejuvenate its information culture by expanding its knowledge network, promoting information sharing, and facilitating direct communications with customers and clients.

Chapter 8, the final chapter, Learning to be Intelligent, looks at some new tools and methodologies that the smart organization can use to understand the forces and dynamics that are shaping the future. Scenario-based planning helps the organization to expose and where necessary unlearn its assumptions in order to be better prepared for external discontinuities. Systems thinking beckons the organization to analyze social and business phenomena as dynamic, holistic networks in which the parts and participants interact through control and communication loops. Complexity theory approaches social systems as complex, adaptive systems that can self-organize, acquire emergent properties, and learn from experience to adapt to the changing environment.

Although it may be impossible to predict the form and function of the future, we may safely assume that the dynamics of competition and organizational growth will become increasingly based on information and the knowledge to leverage this information with other physical and intellectual resources. The intelligent organization will foster its own information partnerships that combine user-experts with information technology experts who build the organization's data infrastructure, and information (content) experts who organize knowledge assets to facilitate their productive use. The new charter for information professionals will be to participate as active partners in strategic information alliances that vitalize organizational learning. For the intelligent organization, the first class will be on the delicate art of mobilizing and managing information.


I wish to thank Ethel Auster for reading an early version of the manuscript and offering many helpful suggestions; Stevan Dedijer for his papers and insights on business and social intelligence; Seng Hon Wong, for sharing his know-how on environmental scanning. The book owes an intellectual debt to Robert S. Taylor and Thomas Davenport, whose work on information use environments and information process management respectively have helped to lay the conceptual foundation for the book. Last but not least, I thank my wife Bee Kheng and our two children Ren Min and Ren Ee for their love and encouragement. Although many people have contributed to the creation of the book you hold in your hands, the author admits final responsibility for what you are able to read.
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