Information Management

YellowFinal“Ensure information is created once but used many times” is less a requirement, more an anguished cry for help. It is as much the cry of the lone worker in an untidy back room as it is that of a major corporation with hundred thousand employees spread over a thousand sites. The needs of the extremes are quite different, but unless you know how and why they differ, there is a good chance that your solution answers someone else’s problem.

As a quick start, the answer can be given in four processes, three measures and two horrible complications.

The four processes are:

  • Information managing – there is no point in starting if you’ve already lost the infomation;

  • Search – have you a means of finding the information again?

  • Usage control – is the person who found your information allowed to use it?

  • Trust – are you sure you can rely on what you have found?

Although there are only four processes, how complicated you need to make them depends on a combination of three measures:

  • Scale – how big is the problem?

    • Do you have tens or thousands of items? of employees? offices?

    • Do you need to find it tomorrow? next week? next year? next century?

  • Heterogeneity – how mixed is your environment?

    • Are you using simple office software or hundreds of different applications?

    • Does everyone in the office understand each other, or do they form technical tribes, each with their own language?

  • Complexity – if I update this document, am I done? or do I have to get another half dozen updated as a result of my changes?

Complexity brings us directly to the first horrible complication: process dynamics. In a simple business, only a few people are involved in an update to, say, a company sales brochure, and the worst that can happen is that another update comes along before the new brochure is printed.

In a complex business, such as designing a ship, updates can involve tens of people, and can take months to work through. Meanwhile, other teams are making other updates, and the space where you thought you could put a pump now has an air-conditioning duct running through it, while someone else wants to move the connecting pipes for safety reasons, and the manufacturer has just told you they have stopped making the pump. A good data management system will make sure every can see the latest version of all these changes, but will drive everyone mad because there is a change every few seconds. The information management environment needs to slow things down, ideally to the pace at which people work and can resolve conflicts, but no slower. Controls on process dynamics are there to make sure the knock on effects of change die away quickly and there are no pathological feedback loops.

The second horrible complication is related to the first: are you document-based or model-based? In a document-based process, somebody writes a specification, a draughtsman draws up the design from the spec., an engineer then writes a stress report, and after sign-off the manufacturing planner writes the manufacturing plan. In a model-based system, the draughtsman models the part, validates it against the specification model, and incorporates feedback from the stressman and the manufacturing planner, who have been testing the design variations in their own modelling software.

Both of these complications are called horrible because they involve concepts out of the main stream of management thinking, but entail radially different information management processes. This site is your guide to the processes, measures and concepts.

© Sean Barker, 2015