Information Management (IM) is an important activity in many organizations. However, it is relatively recently that the principles of IM have been sufficiently clear, and the technology of information processes sufficiently developed, to consider the rigorous organization-wide application of IM principles. Reported field experience is as yet scarce on the degree of acceptance of IM principles by management and the results of the implementation. A large-scale longitudinal international survey of senior managers in a wide variety of organizations is planned.
By "information management" (IM), I mean the planning, budgeting, organizing, directing, training, and controlling associated with organizational information. IM includes the management of both information per se and related information resources, such as personnel, equipment, funds, and technology. Distinguishing between "information" and "information resources" is crucial for at least two reasons:
1. Confusion about the differences between information and its manifestations is squandering the information resources of many organizations, leading to ineffective information processes. That is, the desired ends of information processes are being confused with the means. Of vital concern, many organizations are confusing expression of information needs with the design of computerized information systems. (Footnote: As an amusing example, a colleague asked a senior official of the University of Western Ontario whether the university administration was engaged in information management. "Of course", said the official, referring to a room of the Department of Administrative Systems located one floor below. The official was assuming that computerized information systems implied the management of information. The room had a large sign "Information Centre", a term in common use in computing departments for a place where users of computerized information systems can go for counseling, computer resources, or debugging advice. Because of its location in the main administrative building of the campus, students, staff, faculty, and visitors frequently entered the Information Centre in the mistaken hope that they will be able to obtain general information about the University. This example illustrates two pervasive points about information management: first, managers usually don't understand or distinguish between management of computerized information systems and information management in general, and second, the computer people have frequently appropriated the term information as their own. The official readily admitted that the University was not really practicing information management when a more complete explanation was provided.)
2. It is important to distinguish between information and its related resources because many of the information-related issues faced by organizations have to do precisely with the choice of information resources. Starting with a choice of medium (e.g., a computer) is inappropriate until one clearly grasps what information is needed. Notwithstanding McLuhan's famous dictum the medium is the message, most writers about IM maintain that the choice of information resources is a secondary matter which should be preceded by a determination of what information is actually needed.
We may think of choices about information per se as the essence of determining information strategy, whereas choice of information resource is really information tactics. In this paper I am concerned with the fundamental issue of managing information independent of its medium, technology, or organization -- a basic tenet of IM.
Given the widespread publicity, books, magazine articles, and general hype about information systems and most recently, the information highway, it would be hard to find a manager anywhere who disagrees with the proposition that information is important. In a recent survey of 137 senior managers, there was nearly unanimous agreement with the statement "the overall management of information is important to the future success of this organization" (Bent & McLachlan, 1994, 455). Similar results have been obtained by other investigators.
The ideas of IM have been presented in a number of articles and books (Bent, 1994; Horton, 1985; Lytle, 1988; Marchand & Horton, 1986; Owen, 1994). The main ideas are summarized in Table 1. Evidently IM is a topic of importance to most organizations. It is important to recognize, however, that as a separately recognized aspect of management, IM is a relatively new and rapidly evolving activity. Although the fundamental ideas of IM have fairly wide currency, the implementation of IM is not evident in many organizations as yet. This is understandable because it was not until the 1980s that the ideas of the IM appeared in a coherent form. By the mid-1980s a consensus emerged that this collection of ideas is worth considering and perhaps implementing. Only now are the results from a few pioneering organizations becoming evident. Like any set of recommended principles for management, the implementation of IM requires understanding, acceptance, decision-making, and finally implementation by managers. The roles and attitudes of managers -- especially senior managers -- are critical to the successful application of IM ideas. The full IM program also requires enterprise-wide changes of organization, information responsibilities, policy, and procedures, no small undertaking. Because the changes are pervasive, they take some time to fully implement, and the benefits can only be fully realized in the long run -- five years or more. (Footnote: Some may cynically suggest that five years is longer than the attention span of management in most organizations, and this has some truth. Entire management movements have been "discovered" and "abandoned" by consultants in five years, although the average organization may not yet have heard of them. Five years equals or exceeds the planning horizon of most organizations, particularly regarding "high technology" -- information systems and technology -- which, unfortunately, is highly confused with IM.) A little thought convinces us, however, that Information Management is forever --- there is little point of pursuing this approach from a short-term point of view.
Rigorous enterprise-wide implementation may also require the methods of information engineering (Martin, 1990) which were fully developed in the latter part of the 1980s, and have been tested in only 10-15% of organizations (Bent, 1994).
The views of senior management are critical to the success of IM. For this reason a survey of managers in public, non-profit, and private organizations in North America is under development. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the survey which is planned. The survey will attempt to determine the extent to which managers understand the concepts of information management, whether they believe that these concepts have value, and the extent to which information management ideas are implemented in their organization. These variables should be compared according to the characteristics of the respondents and their organizations. The survey will be repeated to assess the changing attitudes of managers toward information management. Plans for the design of the survey are described below.
Information Management (IM) is the enterprise-wide planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, directing, training, and controlling of information. IM includes the management of various information resources: carriers of information such as documents or electronic media; departments which provide information services; and both computer-based or traditional information systems.
First information, not Information Resource. The need for information itself should precede consideration of what form of information resource -- media, technology, organization, or system -- is appropriate to provide the information.
Planning for Information. Planning of all kinds should consider the needs for information. IM considers the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization to identify those information needs which are most important, that is, strategic information needs.
Centrality of Information Resources. Information resources may be considered to be central and critical to the exploitation of all other resources. IM should be considered equally important as human resources management, financial management, or management of physical assets.
Organization-wide. IM seeks to maximize the value and harmonize the use of information across the organization. IM determines which resources should be managed on an enterprise-wide basis, and which should be distributed or decentralized.
Leadership. In establishing an IM program, the Chief Executive Office (CEO) or an officer responsible for all information resources (sometimes called the Chief Information Officer -- CIO) should set the direction.
Information Life-cycle. IM seeks to manage information resources throughout their life-cycle: acquisition, deployment, use, and disposal.
Information Roles. IM seeks to define and plan the informational roles of individuals and units throughout the organization, and to affix responsibility for stewardship of information resources.
The principles of information management are summarized in Table 1. We do not seek to justify or qualify these ideas here; each point has been extensively discussed in the literature, e.g., (Lytle, 1988). Suffice it to say that the principles do indeed have a persuasive rationale. My goal in this research is to determine whether the ideas of IM have been generally understood, whether have they been accepted, and what are the results.
I indicated above that the ideas of IM have received some widespread currency. In particular, it appears likely that many larger organizations (such as transnational companies or governments) have some group which is concerned with IM in a policy or strategic sense.
It is important not to confuse familiarity with acceptance. There is evidence that few managers have given more than passing thought to the formal acceptance of IM ideas (Martin, Davies, & Titterington, 1991).
In any larger organization, acceptance by whom is a question. In a sample of senior officers of Canadian organizations, Bent and McLachlan found that senior managers, while basically accepting of IM principles, considered that these principles were less accepted by others in the organization (Bent, 1993). Obviously it cannot be true that most managers accept IM ideas while their colleagues do not. It is important to obtain a sampling of opinions in a given organization in order to more clearly define what is meant by "acceptance", and under what circumstances we can say that acceptance has occurred within a given organization.
In any organization, the principles of IM may have been put
into practice with greater or lesser degrees of acceptance. The
describes the model which is being used as a basis for characterizing the degree of acceptance of IM principles in organizations.
Have the principles of information management been put into practice?
There is a need to go beyond the opinions of managers, and acceptance by managers, to determine if the ideas are actually being used.
There are several means by which IM principles can be implemented:
The application of the principles of IM can be as diverse as the operations of the organizations themselves. It is impossible to devise a set of questions which can cover every contingency. It is planned, therefore, to ask managers to briefly state important actions, taken by themselves or other senior managers, which put the principles of IM into practice. It is possible that this kind of information will prove be too sketchy, and therefore telephone or in-person interviews may be required. A preliminary questionnaire will be compared with interview information.
If the principles of information management have been put into practice, what are the results?
The results attributable to implementation of IM principles are of greatest interest to researchers and practitioners alike. Broadly speaking, the results could be formulated in two main categories:
The results could be stated in terms of traditional, concrete measures of organizational performance. In some ways this approach is of greater interest, since it requires establishment of the value of the ideas of IM in terms of non-informational aspects of corporate operations, using well-established measures of performance such as those relating to market share, return on investment, or corporate reputation. Because of the diversity of organizations, and measures which could be considered, this approach is extremely complex . Indeed, it may be premature, given the recency of IM ideas. The time period for acceptance, implementation, and to production of results would be measured in years in most organizations. In most organizations, full implementation and production of results may still be in the future. Nevertheless, some narrative of concrete results following from implementation of IM principles by senior executives would be of interest.
The results could be stated in informational terms. Since IM is largely concerned with the effective deployment of Information Resources we could look to concrete results with respect to those resources. Thus, we can consider effective results from Records Management, IS&T, and other established information programs. It is important, however, to look outside these traditional program areas. IM is concerned with interconnection and generalization of traditional information programs and policies into coherent overall framework.
Open-ended narratives and subjective evaluations of results, as well a questionnaire items concerning specific information policies and resources, will be used in this section of the field research.
How do the results vary by type of organization and respondent, and by time period?
The ideas of IM, and concerns about their implementation, are of course not confined to one type of organization, one sector of the economy, or one country. The most informative survey would compare practices in various countries, organizations, and kinds of businesses.
Based upon trends which have been observed in the academic and trade literature, the following tentative hypotheses have been adopted:
Generally, governments have been leaders in the adoption and
implementation of IM ideas.
Rationale: the ideas of IM were first collected in support of US Government operations (Horton, 1985); comprehensive policies concerning information are necessary to support of government operations (which are largely manipulation of information), and in order to implement legislation concerning government information (e.g., the Canadian Freedom of Information Act); governments are involved in the formulation of policies for development, which increasingly involve information policy in the modern economies.
Among advanced economies, European (especially the UK,
France, and Germany) and Japanese organization have been
relatively advanced in
their approaches to information management.
Rationale: in Europe, professional organizations concerned with information have evidenced greater interest in IM ideas; Japan appears to have cultural approaches to management which implicitly foster the adoption of IM concepts ; countries and economies which have a greater need to consider standards in their information strategies are more likely to have considered and adopted IM ideas.
Larger organizations, and transnational organizations, are
more likely to have in place a well-developed IM infrastructure.
Rationale: governments, the largest organizations of all, are considered above; transnational organizations consider similar information coordination problems; coordination of dispersed work groups requires a higher degree of information integration, which in turn rests upon the establishment of suitable IM policies.
For these reasons, it is planned to establish an international survey relating to IM policies. Partnerships with international organizations concerned with these policies is being sought.
Type of Respondents
All respondents should be senior officers in a position to understand and describe the role of IM principles in their organizations.
Respondents will be grouped by type of organization. Careful attention must be paid to the organizational level of the respondent, the degree of their familiarity and responsibility for information processes and resources, and their educational and experiential background.
The Dynamics of IM Concepts in the Organization
Clearly, we are dealing with a relatively new phenomenon in a highly dynamic environment. The dynamics of the acceptance of IM are important. It is therefore highly desirable that longitudinal research be conducted to clarify how attitudes toward IM, implementation of IM, and the results of implementation, are varying in time. Sufficient resources are being sought to be able to repeat the survey described here over time.
Summary and Conclusions
Given the rhetoric about information, information systems, and information technology, one would expect that most organizations would be seriously engaged in re-thinking the role of information and information resources in their organizations. This appears not to be the case for a combination of reasons including: the recency of persuasive ideas regarding information management; the time lags inherent in understanding, acceptance, and implementation of new approaches to management; and confusion between ends and means -- information and information resources.
An international survey of senior managers in various kinds of organizations is being planned to gain a better understanding of the current state of management practices regarding information management and their practical results. Because of the long-term nature of the planned research, and the complexity of the topic under investigation, there are serious methodological barriers to obtaining a fully satisfactory picture of the current and emerging trends in IM. This explains why current knowledge of IM practices is fragmented and sketchy. It is important that the survey be replicated over time to obtain a representative picture of the rapidly changing information management scene.
For Further Information
Planning of the survey described above is preliminary.
Partnerships are sought with interested organizations and
further information or to provide suggestions, contact the author
at the address indicated here:
Dr. Dale H. Bent
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
The University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario N6G 1H1
(519) 689-2111 X8476
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Bent, D. H., & McLachlan, J. S. (1994). Demand for Information Managers: A Canadian Survey. Education for Information(12 (1994)).
Horton, F. W. (1985). Information Resources Management: Harnessing Information Assets for Productivity Gains in the Office, Factory, and Laboratory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Lytle, R. H. (1988). Information resource management: A five-year perspective. Information Management Review, 3(3), 9- 16.
Marchand, D. A., & Horton, F. W. (1986). Infotrends: profiting from your information resources. John Wiley & Sons.
Martin, J. (1990). Information Engineering, Book I: Introduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Martin, W. J., Davies, C. A., & Titterington, A. J. (1991). Marketing the concept of information management to top executives. Journal of Information Science, 17, 209-220.
Owen, D. E. (1994). IRM Concepts: Building Blocks for the 1990s. In Training for Information Resources Management, Section B: Information Resources Management Case Studies (pp. 102-113). The Hague, Netherlands: International Federation for Information and Documentation (FID).