Information management

Publication Date01 Jan 1985
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb044644
Pages62-66
AuthorT.D. WILSON
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
ARTICLES
Information management
Professor
T.D. WILSON
Department
of
Information
Studies
University
of Sheffield
Sheffield
S10 2TN
England
Introduction
M
arc Porat [1] who has devoted a
good deal of research to the size
and scope of the 'information
sector' of the US economy, has
noted that:
"The Paperwork Commission estimates that
about $15 billion is spent by the Federal
Government in processing paperwork...the
printing bill for federal forms is about $1
billion per year; another
$1
billion is spent on
directives accompanying the forms; and
another $1.7 billion is spent to file and store
forms."
"...the State of Maryland refused to accept a
$60,000 grant from HEW for a consumer edu-
cation program because the cost of completing
the necessary forms would chew up about
$45,000."
"An oil company spent $17 million and used
475 full-time workers to file government
reports other than taxes."
The point Porat is making is clear: generat-
ing and organising information are activities
that cost money, and the scale of information
generation for organisations dealing with
central government in the USA is such as to
constitute a serious burden not only for them-
selves, but also for government.
Porat's essay is to be found in an interesting
collection of papers edited by Horton and
Marchand called Information
management
in
public
administration
[2]. The book comes at a
tune when the term 'information management'
is becoming a 'buzzword' on both sides of the
Atlantic and it is of relevance to ask, "Why
now?"
The answer is fairly straightforward: the
development of information technology and its
use in offices in all kinds of organisations has
drawn attention to the fact that the creation,
transmission, organisation and use of infor-
mation cost money. Information has become
recognised as a resource in organisations: they
have spent considerable sums on the capture of
data relating to their operations and have been
involved in significant capital expenditure in
information technology to organise and use the
data. In the USA added emphasis to the idea of
information management was given by the so-
called Paperwork Act of 1980 [3] which repre-
sents an attempt to curb government's de-
mands upon business and industry for reports
and returns and an attempt to curb also the
generation of government paperwork.
Information management is not a simple
matter of the right computer and the appro-
priate software for handling data, however.
There are some complexities of information
use in organisations and a multi-disciplinary or
team approach is necessary for the effective
management of information. Furthermore, the
user of information must claim a significant
role in its management and refuse to be satis-
fied with systems devised on the basis of other
people's simplistic perceptions of the users'
needs.
The nature of 'information'
What do we mean by the word 'information'?
Most people talk in terms of information as a
'stuff some container of data or other
symbols. However, there is theoretical argu-
ment in information science about whether we
should regard information as a 'stuff or as a
'process' and about what kind of definition is
most useful for the design of information
systems and services. We might think, for
example, that managing a 'stuff is easier than
managing a process.
What kind of process could 'information'
be? This is where problems begin because the
process must be an individual cognitive pro-
cess and, therefore, inaccessible to direct
observation by others. Under this kind of
definition 'information' is gained by an
individual when some change occurs in his or
her knowledge of something. Now this is use-
ful in the simple sense of drawing attention to
the fact that when we present information (the
stuff)
to a
person it
is
necessary
to
pay attention
to the person's existing state of knowledge if
the information process is to take place
efficiently and effectively. It
is
also pertinent to
the problem of determining the benefits of
'information' since, clearly, no benefit can
occur unless some useful change in the state of
knowledge of the person occurs.
Another definition of 'information' is: that
which aids decision-making. Useful again,
because it draws attention to the fact that some
of the 'stuff we give decision-makers actually
hinders
decision-making. We cannot take for
granted that the giving of information is useful
in
itself:
there is such a thing as 'information
overload'.
In fact, one could take practically any defini-
tion of 'information' and find it useful to some
degree. It is important, however, not to take a
single
definition and ask it to serve all purposes
in guiding systems design: it is necessary to
think of information as both stuff and
process.
Information resources
When we use the term information resources
we are usually thinking of the 'stuff of infor-
mation. Very often, the idea of information
resources seems to be restricted, usually
because of the overwhelming significance of
one type of information for the individual,
work group or organisation.
For example, for the insurance company,
62 The Electronic Library, January 1985. Vol. 3, No. 1.

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