information management

T.D. Wilson PhD
Visiting Professor, Högskolan i Borås, Sweden
Professor Emeritus, University of Sheffield, UK

The application of management principles to the acquisition, organization, control, dissemination and use of information relevant to the effective operation of organizations of all kinds. 'Information' here refers to all types of information of value, whether having their origin inside or outside the organization, including data resources, such as production data; records and files related, for example, to the personnel function; market research data; and competitive intelligence from a wide range of sources. Information management deals with the value, quality, ownership, use and security of information in the context of organizational performance.

Introduction

The term 'information management' is used ambiguously in the literatures of several fields: in computer science and its applications it is used as a synonym for information technology management (Synott and Gruber 1981) or as identical to 'data management', where the emphasis is on the structures underlying quantitative data and their relationship to the design of databases. In business or management studies it has similar connotations to technology management, with an emphasis on the relationship of information technology to business performance and competitiveness (Synott 1987). In the field of librarianship and information science it is identified with the 'emerging market' for information workers (managers), whose perception of information embraces data, organizational intelligence, competitive intelligence, external information resources of all kinds and the associated technology (manual or machine) for handling these different sources. Compared with the other areas, information management in this latter context is more widely concerned with the meaning of information for the information user and with information retrieval issues.

Information management, 'information resource(s) management', and 'knowledge management'

A further difficulty in defining information management arises out of the often synonymous use of the term information resource (or resources) management (IRM), the term used by the US National Commission on Federal Paperwork in its report (1977), where 'paperwork', including electronic documents of all kinds, was defined as constituting the information in IRM. This usage appears to limit the idea of IRM, but the report goes on to say that an IRM function (in US government agencies) would incorporate a wide range of disparate activities, including records management, library management, computer systems, printing and reprography, microforms and word-processing centres. Schneyman (1985) elaborates on this definition of IRM to cover five types of 'information resources': systems support, including computers and telecommunications; processing data, images, etc.; conversion and transformation, including reprographics; distribution and communication, including network management and telecommunications; and, finally, retention, storage and retrieval, which covers libraries, record centres, filing systems, and internal and external databases. He adds that, 'IRM supports IM by providing the technical capability and overall guidance for IM to do its job', which the defines as managing the ownership, content, quality and use of information.

This expansion of the idea, of course, takes it into the difficult area of the interface between information resources, in the sense of data, documents, etc., and the technology used to manipulate, manage and transmit those resources, with the result that information technology becomes characterized as an information resource. This is a source of endless confusion in the literature so that, for example, when Strassman (1976) writes on 'Managing the costs of information' he is really discussing the problem of accounting for the costs of computer-based systems.

More recently, the term 'knowledge management' has entered professional vocabulary, confusing the situation further. In the 1990s the concept of 'knowledge management' emerged from the management consultancies as yet another of the 'methodologies' for improving organizational performance, following business process re-engineering, the learning organization, total quality management, and all the other methodologies back to Taylor and 'scientific management'. Quite what is managed in knowledge management is difficult to determine, however. Certainly, it cannot be knowledge, which is in our heads, or, as Peter Drucker has said, '…between two ears, and only between two ears…' (Kontzer, 2001) The first text on the subject was by the Swedish management consultant (now resident in Australia) Karl-Erik Sveiby (1990) under the Swedish title, Kunskapledning. Curiously, Sveiby himself now says that he does not like the term and that it decomposes into the management of information and the management of people (Sveiby, 2001)

From the information systems perspective, software houses have been quick to re-brand their products as 'knowledge management software', rather than groupware, information retrieval software, or even e-mail. This strategy has been referred to as 'search and replace marketing'. A stock market 'Knowledge Management Index' exists (Information Technology Toolbox, Inc., 2002) which follows the fortunes of twenty-seven companies, none of which describes itself as a 'knowledge management' company, and only one of which has a product marketed under the knowledge management label. An examination of the company Web sites reveals that the majority of them are marketing some kind of database technology in the form of information retrieval systems, customer relationship management, groupware, e-commerce, intranet systems, etc. One has to conclude, therefore, that Sveiby's decomposition of knowledge management into information management and the management of people is accurate and that no new solution to the problems of managing information in organizations is presented by any of these companies.

From the information perspective, therefore, 'knowledge management' is simply a more pretentious synonym for information management.

The origins of information management

Although earlier uses may exist, information management and information resources management achieved a high visibility in the USA in the mid-1970s as a result of the work of the National Commission on Federal Paperwork, the aim of which was to seek a reduction in the costs incurred by organizations in satisfying the demands for paperwork by the Federal bureaucracies. Ironically, as Porat (1977) notes, the Commission itself required more than 100 information workers and produced a seven-volume report of almost 3,000 pages!

However, the Commission quickly moved from the position of concern over the physical volume of 'paperwork' to the real problem of 'information requirements planning, controlling, accounting and budgeting' (Commission on Federal Paperwork 1977). Porat (1977) addressed these essentially economic issues in a report for the US Office of Telecommunications Policy. Porat noted that, in 1967, 'the total cost of informational inputs [to the Federal government] was $50.5 billion'. However, Porat's definition of the 'information economy' is very wide, so that it included, for example, the research and development purchases of the Government, amounting to $13.1 billion. Only $11.8 billion, 'was in the form of direct purchase of goods and services from the primary information sector'. By 1970 the overall value of information inputs had risen to $62.8 billion.

In spite of the strong impetus provided by the Commission, however, the idea of information management ten years later did not appear to have penetrated very far into the governmental structure. Caudle (1988) notes that, in spite of the emphasis in the Paperwork Reduction Act on treating information as a resource, '12 of the 16 department IRM managers surveyed conceded that IRM is primarily seen as automation or information technology, including telecommunications' and that 'There is not a general perception outside the IRM unit that IRM has anything at all to do with good management'. She also found that there was even less of a perception of IRM as helpful to management at the bureau level (i.e. the level below departments in the Federal government), where the idea was equated almost solely with the idea of end-user technology support services.

Caudle concluded that the realization that information is a resource, 'is developing much more slowly than the Paperwork Reduction Act's designers likely intended' and, perhaps with more optimism than is justified by the research, that 'once the information technology infrastructure is in place and the IRM offices themselves become operationally mature, IRM offices managers and their organizations should be ready to take further steps toward true IRM'.

In the UK, the development of information management did not receive the same impetus from government, which since 1979 has been concerned with establishing the concept of the 'market' in what was the public sector. The same attitude has prevailed towards information: thus, the report of the Information Technology Advisory Panel, Making a Business of Information (1983), was concerned simply to direct attention to the business opportunities in the information sector. Later, the Government produced guidelines for departments on dealing with business in seeking to derive benefit from 'tradeable information' (DTI 1990).

There was an attempt, however, to introduce the fundamental concepts of information management in government departments when the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency produced guidelines for departments, following an investigation into departmental practices (CCTA 1990). One of the main planks of the guidelines was the recognition that responsibility for information resources was diffused over different sections in most departments and that there was a need to ensure effective collaboration among the resourceholders and, possibly, the integration of these services (particularly data management, records management and library and information services) under a single director.

The Definitions Task Group of the IRM Network (1993), which operates under the aegis of Aslib: the Association for Information Management, has provided concise description of the nature of information management and associated ideas. Clarifying somewhat the relationship between information management and information resources management, the Group associates the former with the task of managing the relationship between organizational objectives, management processes, and information needs in the development of an information strategy and in deriving from that strategy an IT strategy and an information systems strategy.

An information systems strategy is the definition of systems (technological and otherwise) that are needed to satisfy information needs, whereas an IT strategy defines the way in which the technology can support the systems strategy.

Information resources management is, then, defined as applying 'the general principles of resources management to identify discrete information resources, establish ownership and responsibility, determine cost and value, and to promote development and exploitation where appropriate'. This brief account of the development of information management serves to show that a degree of consensus can be seen to have emerged, but the relationships to other managerial issues in organizations are such that considerable scope exists for confusion over disciplinary or intra-organizational boundaries.

The elements of information management

Several strands have contributed to the development of information management. First, it has its origins in a variety of fields that have had to do, traditionally, with the acquisition, organization, maintenance and use of documents: archives and records management, and librarianship and information science (especially in special librarianship and information work). Many of the areas of concern within IM have long been the concern of other professional groups in the information field, including database design and development, information storage and retrieval, and the economics of information.

Second, the development of information technology, and its growing application to all aspects of information management, has been a strong formative influence. The costs of computer-based systems draw direct attention to the issues of the value of information and cost-benefit relationships in the development of information systems and services. Where the costs of such systems have previously been hidden in the work done by a wide range of organizational staff members, their sudden emergence into significance consequent upon the introduction of computers has caused organizations to view information functions in a new light.

Finally, the wide application of information ideas, developed in the business schools, widely accepted in business, and given prominence in the business press and in the media generally, and applied increasingly in public-sector organizations, has resulted in the acceptance of such concepts as strategic planning, cost-benefit analysis, resource management and marketing.

Information requirements

All aspects of information management must be grounded in a consideration of the information requirements (or information needs) of customers or clients of the information systems and services. The study of information needs has occupied information science for almost fifty years, but other disciplines, notably computer science, have also had an interest (Wilson 1994).

From the point of view of the designer of computer-based information systems, it is clearly necessary to understand what kind of reports a client needs from a system and, if possible, to know how the client intends to use the information contained in those reports. Armed with this information he or she can then try to ensure that the system delivers what is needed, when it is needed.

Similarly, providers of competitive intelligence or those who analyse information from online information sources must be aware of the information requirements of customers if their work is to be cost-effective in satisfying users' needs.

There are, at least, the following problems with the idea of identifying information requirements, however. First, information requirements change according to changes in the user's environment (both the immediate work environment and the wider environment outside the organization), making last month's statement of requirements less relevant today. Second, information requirements change as a consequence of the information received, giving rise to new needs or rendering obsolete earlier expressions of need. Third, the relevance of information can be determined only by the ultimate user because it will depend on that person's subjective, interpretative response to the information - that is, on the extent to which the person can 'make sense' of the information and incorporate it into his or her knowledge base.

The information manager must therefore make the identification of information requirements a recurrent activity within the organization, seeking feedback on information provided, monitoring the organization's changing priorities and continually seeking to understand how his or her customers function in the organization.

The information life cycle

The idea of an information life cycle is derived from records management, where the idea of document life cycle is central to the overall process. That cycle is set out by Goodman (1994):

The life cycle of records includes the following steps (sometimes referred to as 'document control'):
  • design and creation of records;
  • identification;
  • authorization;
  • verification, validation, auditing;
  • circulation, access, loan, use;
  • back-up procedures and disaster recovery plans;
  • retention schedules and destruction.

The life cycle will vary from organization to organization depending on the nature of the information, the means used to organize it, the extent of use and the controls put upon use.

The Commission on Federal Paperwork set out a very basic life cycle, which identified the following five stages: requirements' determination, collection, processing, use and disposition, with the following comment on its relationship to information management: 'At each of these stages, information values must be estimated and measured, costed and accounted for, just as Government now does for any other resource' (Commission on Federal Paperwork 1977: 43).

The life cycle of information in the Department of State, referred to by Horton and Pruden (1988) (and slightly revised here) is rather more developed and more directly related to internal documents and records:

    Stage 1 draft/revise document
    Stage 2 clearance or approval
    Stage 3 formal and informal exchanges on document content
    Stage 4 local retrieval and re-use (either manual or electronic)
    Stage 5 acquisition and indexing by a central archive
    Stage 6 central retrieval and re-use
    Stage 7 primary and secondary distribution
    Stage 8 disposition, i.e. permanent retention, limited archiving or destruction
    Stage 9 systems administration.

The last stage is not so much a stage as the overall administration of the foregoing stages, involving, for example, security classification, password control for electronic files, and other housekeeping functions.

Information resources

As noted earlier, there is some confusion over the concept of information resources, mainly as a result of the inclusion of technological resources in the concept. However, most commentators regard the following as constituting information resources in organizations.

Data

All organizations generate data about their activities. Thus, a local government department such as a housing department generates data on its housing stock, the physical state of the houses, the details of tenants and their rents, and so forth. A manufacturing company generates data on the production process, recording not only the number of items of each product manufactured in a given time, but also data on the reliability of the equipment used to produce those items, the turnover rate and sickness rate of workers, and the sales by outlet, by region and by sales person. Organizations also collect data on the state of their markets, the economic circumstances of the country or of its exports markets, and so on. All of these data are important, and some are more important than others because they enable the firm, for example, to identify potentially profitable products, markets and export areas. In other words, some data have potential for competitive advantage and must be maintained securely and effectively if the organization is to benefit from having them available.

Records

Data are very often associated with records of events, objects and persons. For example, a personnel record identifies an individual and includes many items of data that define the person - age, training level, sex, marital status, courses attended, year of entry to the organization, and many more. Again, a project will have many records associated with its management and ultimate completion, including all the data associated with, for example, product design and development, prototyping, market testing and full-scale production. Much of the information in these records will be textual in character and will consist of files of reports, test results, correspondence with suppliers, etc. Records of these kinds have long been the province of records management and procedures have been evolved to ensure their effective filing, security, storage and eventual disposal. The techniques of records management are now being applied to computer-based files, under the heading of information management.

Text

Textual information has long been the province of libraries and information centres, concerned, as they have been, with the acquisition, organization, storage and dissemination of printed materials, most often from outside the organization of which the library or information centre formed a part, but also often including the maintenance of stores of internal reports, particularly in research-intensive organizations. With the development of office automation systems and the creation of many more electronic documents in organizations, the producers of such systems have become increasingly aware of the need for effective information retrieval systems to underlie the database of electronic documents.

Multimedia

All the above, together with sound recordings, graphics, pictures and video, may now exist together in a single 'document'. Examples include various educational and reference sources published as CD-ROM packages, such as Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia; but, increasingly, organizations are finding applications for multimedia databases in which, for example, word-processed documents may have sound comments attached by readers and may include pictures, for example in a personal database, or video clips, in records held by a consumer products test laboratory. While the other information resources referred to above may exist in either paper or electronic form, multimedia records require the application of information technology.

Information technology

Information technology embraces computers, telecommunications and software systems that aid the organization, transmission, storage and utilization of what might better be called the 'knowledge resources' dealt with above. The range of equipment and the variety of specialized knowledge needed for their effective control is enormous and for these reasons information technology is often dealt with by different sections in organizations. Thus, telecommunications, including telephone systems and facsimile transmission systems, are often controlled separately from the computer resources of the organization. Similarly, functional divisions of an organization often have more expertise in the matters underlying software packages (for example, for accounting purposes) than the computer managers. However, these technologies are merging, so that, for example, electronic mail may replace internal paper mail systems and, in some cases, external mail systems. Similarly, computer linkages between a manufacturer and the supplying companies may obviate the need for communication by other means. Consequently, there is an argument for requiring information technology (in all of these senses) to be managed under an umbrella that also covers the knowledge resources.

To these information resources we may add expert systems and other manifestations of developments in artificial intelligence, such as the 'learning' systems created through neural net technology. Systems of this kind, which draw upon other information resources and the personal knowledge of individuals, already play an important, but little documented, role in certain kinds of businesses (e.g. stock trading) and may become the principal means by which information is put to use in support of organizational objectives in the future.

The economics of information

As noted earlier, the fact that information resources have associated costs has been an intrinsic part of the idea of information management from the beginning. Indeed, the Commission on Federal Paperwork was set up to identify the ways in which the costs associated with preparing documentation to satisfy government regulations or to bid for government contracts could be reduced.

These are, however, broader issues than those of the costs of information, from the scale of the 'information sector' of the economy to the 'value' of information. All of these issues present problems. The most basic of the problems is that of the value of information, a subject that has concerned information scientists for many years. The problem is exacerbated because value itself is used in a number of different ways both in ordinary speech and in accounting. However, there appears now to be a consensus that the value of information can only be considered in the context of its use and is therefore a user-driven concept not a producer concept. This means that the value of information can be determined post facto - after benefits have emerged from its use in some decision situation - but not before its use. The terms use-value and value-in-use were coined to convey this idea (see, for example, Repo 1986). Consequently, it is arguable that an information user must be prepared to bear at least part of the costs of information being provided (i.e. in Taylor's (1986) terms, those relating to the value-adding processes performed on data).

In macro-economics, a topic of abiding interest is that of the scale of the 'information sector' of the economy. This question is most closely associated with the work of Machlup (1962) and of Porat (1977), who attempted to define the information sector and determine its size relative to other sectors of the US economy.

An attempt to deal with the problems of cost-benefit relationship is given by Horton and Pruden (1988) in their account of the method used by the US Department of State (DOS) to estimate the value of implementing information management strategies in the Foreign Affairs Information System (FAIS). The life cycle of information in the FAIS consists of nine stages, from drafting to disposal, and estimates were made of the amount of time DOS officers were involved with some aspect of this life cycle. Estimates of the likely impact of the new systems on this expenditure of time were then made, as a measure of the benefits to be derived. The kinds of headings under which benefits might be expected were:

  • improved productivity (efficiency)
  • improved quality of decision-making
  • improved performance of tasks (effectiveness)
  • improved learning curve
  • upgraded work-function importance
  • automated replacement of certain manual tasks
  • the discontinuation of certain tasks altogether
  • greater interchangeability of personnel
  • eliminated intermediate steps
  • greater task overlapping
  • less need for clerical support
  • reduced reliance on paper files
  • greater re-use of information assets
  • faster response time
  • reduced turnaround time
  • tighter security and reduced violations
  • decreased instances of lost or missing information.

Many of these anticipated benefits would be attributable to the use of information technology rather than being related to the intrinsic character of information, but, of course, unless the information itself was of value there would be little point in investing in the technology.

Improvement in productivity is one of the potential benefits of effective information management noted above. This aspect was touched upon in the White House Conference on Productivity (Strassman 1986), where it was noted that the costs of information workers are almost entirely hidden in the overheads of businesses. Here, of course, information worker means anyone whose primary function in the organization is to process information - hence, it includes all general managers, finance department staff, personnel managers, and many more.

The method proposed by the White House Conference for determining the productivity of information workers was that 'The adjusted ratio of labour-value-added (after subtracting operations labour costs) divided by information worker costs should be used as the measure of information worker productivity at the business-unit level of analysis'. 'Labour-value-added' is defined as the value-added remaining after the contributions of shareholders, suppliers and operating staff have been taken into account. However, this clearly requires the adoption by organizations of methods for determining labour-value-added, of accounting techniques that collect appropriate information, and of definitions of different categories of information worker so that the value added by sub-categories may also be determined.

The 'value-added' approach to the economics of information is explored in the work of Taylor, who notes that

Information systems, then are a series of formal processes by which the potential usefulness of specific input messages being processed is enhanced. These are the steps by which value is added to the items going through the system, however those items are defined … These processes add value, whether or not we have an appropriate definition of value. (Taylor, 1986)

Taylor presents a 'spectrum' of value-adding processes in information systems, which he divides into organizing, analysing, judgemental and decision processes, each set of processes resulting in the transformation of data to information to 'informing knowledge' to 'productive knowledge' and finally to action. A number of the benefits described by Horton and Pruden above are clearly related to value-adding processes.

In common with others, Taylor acknowledges that the 'value' of information is not an intrinsic property but something negotiated between the system operators and the users. In other words, users of information make judgements about the value of information in the context in which they apply that information.

The tools of information management

Some of the tools of information management are those derived from the fields that have contributed to its development; for example, classification and information retrieval from librarianship and information science; database design and development from computer science; the document life cycle from records management; communication audits from organizational psychology; and cost-benefit analysis and value assessment from business management. Creating a 'toolbox' of techniques for the information manager requires, essentially, a sufficiently wide background to be able to know what exists in the contributory fields and to be able to select and integrate techniques to apply to the problem at hand. There are entries for most of these topics elsewhere in this work, but some techniques have become so particularly associated with the idea of information management that they deserve attention here.

Information audits

The idea of the information audit is derived from financial audits in accounting, which, as Ellis et al. (1993) note, are generally 'compliance' audits, undertaken to ensure that the organization is adhering to proper fiscal and legal standards in its financial management. Information audits take more the character of 'advisory' audits, which are 'more concerned with informing users of existing systems and practices and with assessing the appropriateness of existing systems, standards and practices to the organization's goal or objectives'.

Barker (1990) describes five types of information audit: those based on a cost-benefit model; those that seek to map the relationships between resources; hybrid approaches (which combine features of the first two); audits of management information; and operational advisory audits, which link organizational objective, information requirements, and compliance with regulations and standards.

Following her analysis Barker devised a model information audit consisting of ten stages:

    1. Establish the operational objectives and define the organizational environment.
    2 Determine the information requirements for the users.
    3 Inventory of the information resources.
    4 Identify system failures and key control points.
    5 Evaluate system failures.
    6 Test key control points.
    7 Generate alternative solutions for system failures.
    8 Evaluate the alternatives.
    9 Check conformity of the system with existing regulations and standards.
    10 Propose recommendations.

The identification of information resources requires techniques akin to those of cataloguing, i.e. the resources must be described as books are described, according to a standard code of practice. The state of New Jersey adopted such a strategy in its 'InfoFind' tool, which 'describes the state's information sources and identifies the state workers who are most knowledgeable about them: the information custodians' (Stone 1988).

Information mapping

The term information mapping is most closely associated with the name of Forest 'Woody' Horton but has also been used by Best (1985). Best, however, uses the term in the context of introducing information technology in organizations and takes a systems analytical approach to developing an IT strategy.

Horton, who takes a view of information resources more in accord with this article, has been responsible for the development of the information audit into a highly structured tool, which he calls information mapping, for part of which he has developed a software package known as Infomapper. Both the book (Burk and Horton 1988) and the software package present a highly structured way of identifying and recording the information resources of an organization, keyed to departments and hierarchical levels, with indications of 'ownership', responsibility for updating and other matters such as purging and disposal. The book, however, goes beyond the software in setting out, in addition, graphical representations of the information resource 'map', and approaches to measuring the costs and the value of information.

Recently, information mapping has a acquired another meaning, in the guise of 'knowledge mapping', by which is meant, the identification of people's skills and competencies. This idea is an old one in new clothes, first arising in the personnel management literature in the 1960s (e.g., Bronstein 1965), resurfacing when mainframe computers replaced 5"x3" cards (e.g, Hoey 1972), and having a further lease of life when desktop computer networks became common. The proponents of 'knowledge mapping', however, appear to be unaware of these earlier manifestations of the same concept. However, there is scope for further confusion, because the term is also used in cognitive science research as a way of determining what is learnt in learning tasks (see, e.g., Herl, et al. 1999)

Communication audits

The communication audit predates information management as a tool for the investigation of communication in the field of organization theory. Emerging out of that field, it has also found a place in the management of organizations where it is used to identify barriers to communication and possibilities for improvement. In this area the tools developed by Goldhaber (1974) and Goldhaber and Rogers (1979) for the International Communications Association (ICA) have had most impact. ICA instruments have been used most in exploring communication between management and employees in organizations. The role of communications audits was explored by Booth (1986, 1988) and, more recently, by Potter (1990), who categorized communication audits as being used to measure the effectiveness of introducing IT in an organization, interpersonal communications, communication between management and employees, the effectiveness of organizational communications, or public relations activity.

Clearly, given the increasing interest in various aspects of quality management and quality assurance, the communications audit has a significant role to play in ensuring that communication between information services and their customers is fully effective.

Information access, networks and intranets

Determining the appropriate mode and channel of communication is also part of the information manager's role and, in recent years, the emphasis here has shifted from the acquisition of information resources 'just in case' they are likely to be useful to the organization, to a concept of acquiring, or providing access to resources 'just in time' to be useful. In organizations, the responsibility for managing internally generated information and data has increasingly come to be the function of information technology divisions, with responsibility for the acquisition and organization of external resources being the responsibility of the special library or information service. However, the ubiquity of telecommunications and computer networks both in organizations and in the world at large is making this distinction less and less useful. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the greater part of information needed to understand markets and the market position of a company is now available electronically, either through specialized providers of business information such as Reuters and Dun and Bradstreet, or through publicly available sources such as the Web sites of newspapers and business magazines. Similarly, competitive intelligence can be 'mined' from Internet resources and the proprietary on-line systems (see, for example, Halliman, 2001).

Thus, more and more information is brought into organizations through organizational networks and their connection to the Internet and the local application of the technology - intranets. The great advantage of intranets lies in the relative ease with which legacy databases can be given new life and easier access through the development of Web-based interfaces, as well as in the increased potential for information sharing. To some extent intranets have been hailed as the solution to almost every problem of information management in organizations, being hailed as the basis for the 'virtual organization' or the main tool for 'organizational learning' (for a range of views on intranets see, e.g., Bernard, 1998; Hills, 1997; Blackmore, 2001). Vaast (2001), in a study of intranets in French companies, found that 1995 marked the point at which they became a common phenomenon, but that their evolution within companies varied considerably. Some used the intranet as a major strategic initiative, e.g., in merging companies, or in presenting themselves as 'leading edge' corporations, others allowed the development of departmental intranets, without any overall strategic objective for the company. In a UK study, Leow & MacLennan (2000) found a high acceptance of intranets as a central part of information strategies in banks.

Whatever the nature of development, however, there is little doubt that the intranet and connection to the Internet has drawn attention in organizations to the need to access and manage textual information as much as information systems have previously managed corporate data.

Access, privacy and security: information and the law

Information management aims to improve the effectiveness of organizations by managing information as a resource - providing access to relevant information in a timely and cost-effective manner. However, this aim carries with it the problem of determining who needs access to organizational information and data, whether the privacy of individuals needs to be protected, and what levels of security need to be in place to ensure not only privacy but also the protection of competitive intelligence.

In the UK, the Data Protection Act of 1984 established the legal basis for the protection of personal data in computer files and provided citizens with the basis for ensuring that such information was accurate and protected from misuse. There have been some doubts about the extent to which the aims of the Act have been realized, particularly as the cost to the citizen of obtaining information on the data held is set by the data-holder and can be high.

In Europe generally, the European Commission's draft directive on the protection of personal data (Commission of the European Communities 1992) is intended to harmonize legislation across Europe and to require those states that have not yet produced such legislation to do so. The overall aims are very much those of the UK Data Protection Act but grounded in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. The definition of personal data files, however, is wider, covering not only electronic files but also manual files, and a great deal of uncertainty and confusion exists as to its future operation regarding, for example, library catalogues and bibliographic databases that might be regarded as constituting personal data.

In the USA, the 'Poindexter Memorandum' (Systems Security Steering Group 1986) caused a violent protest when it sought to restrict access to government information on the grounds of national security. In seeking to protect what it called 'sensitive, but unclassified' information the memorandum could have led to what was regarded as wholly unjustified restrictions on access to information and it was ultimately withdrawn.

In the past, librarians and information managers needed to think of information law almost solely in terms of copyright but, as Knoppers (1986) points out, the situation is now very different. He notes that the information manager should

  • be responsible for identifying any existing information laws that affect the organization;
  • serve as the 'missing link' between legal services … the human resources and management information systems departments, and operational units of the organization to coordinate their activities and ensure that information law requirements are being met on a day-to-day basis regardless of the information technology used;
  • ensure that information law compliance is integrated into the systems design methodology of the organization; and
  • advocate changes in information law when compliance with it inhibits the introduction of new information technologies, thereby threatening the competitiveness and viability of the firm.

Information policy and information strategies

Information policy may be determined for any level of organization, from the international community to the individual organization. Information policy has become a subject for debate at the international level in Europe as a result of the attempts by the European Commission to aid the development of the European information industry.

As noted earlier, in the UK the focus of national policy has been on the business opportunities in the information sector and on 'tradeable information' held by government departments, which might constitute opportunities for business as well as earning income for the departments. More recently, following the American lead, a statement on the public-sector opportunities provided by the notion of the information superhighway (CCTA 1994) has been produced. The idea of the information superhighway came to prominence as a result of the Clinton administration's declaration on a national (US) information superhighway, building on the achievements of the Internet (National Telecommunications and Information Administration 1993).

Information management has developed out of the perception that information is crucially important to the success of business organizations and to the productivity of public sector agencies. At the organizational level, therefore, an information policy defines the overall aims and objectives of the organization in relation to information. As Lytle notes: 'Information policies relate to: (i) data, (ii) information processing equipment and software, (iii) information systems and services, and (iv) staff roles and responsibilities. Formal development of information policies recognizes information as a strategic organizational resource' (Lytle 1988). Thus an aim of policy may be to provide access to the organization's data resources for all executive and managerial level personnel directly to the workstation. Another aim may be to provide customized searching of external, online information, resources for planning and marketing personnel.

Information strategy deals with how these policy aims are to be accomplished: thus, the second aim above might be accomplished in a variety of ways; for example, by training personal assistants and secretaries in online searching, by commissioning the organization's library services to carry out the searches on behalf of managers or by investing in the appropriate software 'agent' (such as SandPoint Corporation's 'Hoover') to enable the task to be performed automatically and delivered to the manager's terminal (see Hermans 1997). Each of these strategies will have different, associated costs, risks and time-scales that need to be evaluated against the anticipated benefits.

The National Health Service in the UK provides an interesting case study of the evolution of an information strategy and the role of the Internet and intranets in the strategy. In Information for Health: An Information Strategy for the Modern NHS (Department of Health, 1998) the aim, set out by the Secretary of State for Health in the Foreword, was 'to provide NHS staff with the most modern tools to improve the treatment and care of patients and to be able to narrow inequalities in health by identifying individuals, groups and neighbourhoods whose healthcare needs particular attention.' The objectives, therefore, were not narrowly informational in character, but related directly to the central functions of the National Health Service. Subsequent developments in the NHS have been guided by this overall strategy, both in relation to the professionals working in the system, through NHSnet, which connects General Practitioners, NHSweb, and the development of electronic patient record systems and associated standards, and in relation to the citizen, through NHS Direct Online. The NHS is a huge organization and implementing an information strategy requires the development of a complex web of standards, technology, and electronic resources.

An information policy may have a number of different dimensions and each dimension may have a variety of alternative strategies for its realization. Consequently, the strategic planning necessary to define policy and relate strategies to the financial, personnel and other resources of the organization is no trivial task. An excellent example of this complexity is presented by Bowander and Miyake (1992) in their study of the information management strategy of the Nippon Steel Corporation. The strategy focused on sustaining the competitiveness of the company in the world market for steel and its success is said by the authors to be due to

  • intensive scanning for new information;
  • identifying new business opportunities using IT;
  • rapid information assimilation through organizational learning;
  • information fusion for generating new innovations;
  • intensive use of information through learning by doing and learning by using;
  • building competence for achieving new business through tie-ups and rapid commercial utilization of already available technologies; and
  • highly forward-looking and intensive information management strategy at the firm level.

While much of the focus of the paper is on the information technology strategies which were implemented to support the information strategy, it is notable that the company paid significant attention to information content and information sharing as the basis for its strategic business development.

Warning notes, however, are issued from all sides. For example, Galliers et al. (1994) have explored how information strategies fail and their conclusions are directly applicable to information policy and strategy. Failure is associated with: (1) the lack of a 'champion', someone at the highest level in the organization who takes upon himself or herself the task of arguing for resources, negotiating and restructuring, and otherwise setting the scene for the attainment of the policy (this is a frequently reiterated point in the literature - see, for example, Wilson 1989a); (2) a condition of rapid change in the business environment and the aims of the organization; (3) a lack of mutual understanding of the aims of the strategy and the means for its attainment on the part of the different actors in the development process; (4) a failure to provide the appropriate means for 'organizational learning' so that (3) may be overcome.

Sauer (1993) adds to these points the fact that the implementation of information systems is 'the product of a coalition of stakeholders'. One of the stakeholders is the organization set up to develop systems and it relies upon the support of the others (who have the power to obtain resources etc.) to attain its objectives. Failure occurs when the system development organization runs out of support because of, for example, failure to meet expectations, or to deliver on time and within budget, or to deliver useful systems.

Strategic information systems

The idea that information has strategic value emerges out of the idea of information as an organizational resource and the related concept of competitive intelligence or environmental scanning (as the work referred to in the previous paragraph demonstrates). Thus, the information held in corporate databases may have strategic value in identifying new market opportunities or may itself constitute new information products. Such new opportunities and new products are strategic in the sense that they aid the competitive position of the organization and, given the tendency in the UK towards the adoption of market-oriented management in public services, today all organizations may need to adopt a competitive stance.

Again, an organization may scan the business environment for market opportunities, for threats to present competitive positions, for potential replacement products and services for those currently marketed, and for potential acquisitions. New products have recently been marketed to enable firms to scan the online databases and Internet resources for competitive intelligence. Such information is strategic information and the systems designed to acquire, store, organize and make available for use such information are strategic information systems. Choo (2001) has edited a useful series of papers on competitive intelligence and environmental scanning.

However, the use of information in strategic or competitive ways is not without its hazards, as Marx (1987) has pointed out. The case of computerized reservations systems (CRS) in the airline business is well known: American Airlines developed its CRS (known as SABRE) and agreed to carry information from other airlines. However, the system was set up in such a way as to give preference to information on American Airlines' flights. This was subsequently ruled to be unfair practice and American Airlines had to redesign its system.

Marx draws attention to other situations in which the competitive use of information and information systems may constitute unfair competition or restraint of trade or contribute to the creation of a monopoly position in an industry. All of this, of course, confirms the emergence of information as a key resource in business, to which the same legal constraints must be applied as are used to prevent monopolistic ownership of other means of production or distribution.

Education for information management

The state of education for information management is as diverse as the basis for its definitions. In the UK, the Departments and Schools of Librarianship and Information Science (LIS) have introduced information management options and, in some cases, new degree programmes in the field, and have made a strong bid within their institutions to be the lead departments in this new area. However, there is competition from the business schools (where the focus still tends to be on the strategic role of information technology and on the consequences of that role for the management of IT) and from computer science departments, which, in the early 1990s, felt the effect of declining demand for their courses and which, in consequence, have sought to broaden the basis for attracting students by offering courses in business information systems and information management.

Attempts to define the information management curriculum have been limited, but Wilson (1989b) analysed the contents of key journals in the field and found the following categories:

  • application areas (such as banking, local government, industry, etc.)
  • artificial intelligence
  • economics of information (including the information industry)
  • education for information management
  • information management functions (e.g. manpower aspects, strategic monitoring, etc.)
  • information policy
  • information systems (including database systems, decision support systems, legal aspects, organizational impact, etc.)
  • information technology (with two main sub-categories: management aspects and technological aspects)
  • information use and users, and
  • systems theory.

While the attention given to each of these elements seems likely to differ, they do seem to constitute the general core of information management and, indeed, those departments of library and information studies in the UK that have created information management programmes have produced different mixes of the elements depending upon the existing strengths of the teaching staff. Since the first edition of this text, the situation has changed little: a study by Maceviçiute and Wilson (2002) found:

  • in the economics of information a shift to a concern with wider market economics, rather than cost/benefit relationships in the firm;
  • greater concern with organization and human issues;
  • the emergence of information networking, the Internet and intranets as themes;
  • greater concern with telecommunication policies - associated with networking;
  • more attention to intellectual property issues - also a consequence of networking, etc.
  • the proliferation application areas for information management concepts; and
  • the emergence of knowledge management, as a virtual synonym for the field.

The situation in the USA is similar and appears to have changed little since Lytle (1988) noted that confusion existed over the educational base for information management and claimed that: 'The reason for the confusion is not curriculum overlap or battles in academia for the latest degree programme. The primary problem is confusion concerning what qualities and skills are required for IRM positions, whether these positions have IRM, MIS, or other titles.'

Conclusion

Whether information management is a passing fancy or a new way of considering the role of information in organizational performance must await the test of time; however, there can be little doubt that the concept has had a significant impact on the thinking of professionals working in a variety of fields. Managers of computer services have become information managers (and even directors of information management services), records managers, archivists, information scientists and special librarians have changed their titles and shifted their professional orientations, and educational institutions have introduced new courses in information management in departments as diverse as computer science, business management and librarianship.

Clearly, then, changes have been set in train in several directions and acceptance of the concept, however defined, is widespread. The history of organizations, however, is full of ideas that have attained significance for a time and then fallen away, either into general acceptance within the body of management ideas or into whatever limbo exists for such things. One thinks in this context of 'scientific management', 'organization development', 'programmed-based budgeting', and the like. If information management is to avoid this fate a number of things must happen: first, the function of information management (rather than simply the idea) must become accepted as a key part of organizational structures and processes, so that a constituency can exist as a basis for the other desiderata. In this respect, scale is a significant feature: government departments, local government structures and the National Health Service are large enough for the value of effective information management to be perceived, but the majority of manufacturing firms are small and medium-sized enterprises. As Roberts and Wilson (1987) noted: 'Information management, in its information technology manifestation, is a distant and impractical idea for the majority of manufacturing firms. Most are devoid of levels of information awareness sufficiently lively to influence information behaviour and practices in a positive fashion.'.

Second, a coherent educational programme or curriculum must emerge in which there is at least a core of universally recognized elements, so that the knowledge base of the information manager can be recognized by prospective aspirants to the role and by employees. In most cases, the situation remains confused, with business schools, computer science departments, and departments of library and information studies adopting differing approaches to the field, and still, five years after the original publication of this work, there is little sign of the emergence of the desired cohesion.

Third, a research agenda must emerge to provide the theoretical basis for information management so that its problem areas can be identified and explored in a coherent and rigorous manner. Again, there is some indication that this is happening, in that the relevant journals are accepting papers from a wide range of sources, including library and information studies, recognizing the broad disciplinary approach necessary to the field. However, one of the key journals in the field, the Information Management Review, ceased publication in 1993 after only eight years' existence and it is evident that either the volume of research is insufficient to support even a small number of specialist journals or (and this is probably more likely) researchers wish to maintain their links with their parent disciplines. In the UK, the situation has been further exacerbated by the disappearance of the British Library R & D Department as a funding agency for research in the field. Researchers are now either in competition with every other discipline in bidding for resources from the research councils, or are engaged in more applied research for commercial sponsors and the various agencies of the European Commission.

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This is a revised version of the entry 'Information management' in the International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science, 2nd ed. Edited by John Feather and Paul Sturges. London: Routledge, 2002


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