Facets of Information Management

Patrick Lambe, responding to a great post by Jed Cawthorne, makes the point that:

[I]nformation management (and metadata management) processes [are connected] to [the critical role of KM in preserving organisational memory]. I wish the purists would think contextually and concretely when they sniffily claim that IM and KM are different things. They might have distinct foci, but they cannot be treated as separate. It’s like trying to separate bones from flesh – you can do it, but the body won’t work any more.

I completely agree with this point, and want to extend the metaphor a step further. In the body, even the distinction between bones and flesh isn't clear. Are tendons and cartilege bony or fleshy? How about the marrow inside a bone, which is responsible for the production of new blood cells?

Similarly, people always try to find the neat dividing line between organisational activities and say "oh, this is Records Management", or "this is Knowledge Management", and it just can't be done.

We need a holistic term for all the activities that make up this space inside an organisation. Perhaps controversially, I think the holistic term should be "Information Management". This follows Joe Firestone's principle that "knowledge" is a specific subset of "information":

Information is a non-random structure or pattern of relationships within a system ...

Knowledge is ... tested, evaluated and surviving [information] that is developed by a living system to help itself solve problems and which may help it to adapt.

Using this generic definition of information, we can then look at facets of Information Management:

  1. Records Management
  2. Document Management
  3. Content Management
  4. Knowledge Management
  5. Taxonomy Management
  6. Information Systems Management

Not coincidentally, I use one or more or these six terms to tag every post I make on this site.

This list is just a baseline -- it's not meant to be comprehensive. When documenting IM practices in an organisation, I also recommend adding one or two facets that cover the core business of the organisation. For example, in my current work at ITSA, I have a category for Case Management. In my previous job at the National Museum of Australia, I used two additional categories for Collections Management and Events Management.

I call these terms "facets" because they are not independent of each other: Records Management should fit an organisation's known taxonomies, which in turn should be reflected in the Information Systems developed, and all of these will also be relevant to what KM strategies and programs are created.

Many organisational initiatives won't fit neatly into one box. But that's OK. The important thing is to identify important considerations for each facet. This allows actions to be planned in a way that benefits the organisation as a whole, rather than improving one facet at the expense of the others.

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Patrick Lambe (not verified) — Fri, 31/07/2009 - 14:38

Hi Stephen

Apart from the definition of KM as a subset of IM*, I think this is an interesting approach. Facets which are orthogonal to each other allow you to look at distinct, salient but interconnected ways of supporting a particular activity. As you say, it's not completely perfect because you don't have complete orthogonality, but it seems workable and useful to me.

*I can see where Joe's definition comes from and it makes sense analytically, but I tend to take a more naturalistic view (human-naturalistic) that information is a subset of knowledge (for the purposes of practical KM). However I don't think this affects your main point or the utility of the facets you have identified.

Stephen Bounds — Fri, 31/07/2009 - 15:04

Thanks Patrick,

I always hesitate to use the term because "Information Management" is already so semantically overloaded. But I haven't come up with a better phrase yet.

Regardless, I am very sure that "Knowledge Management" shouldn't be an umbrella term encompassing things like Records Management.

If we do that, it is far too easy for people to decide that KM = RM + DM + Info Sys Mgt, which takes us straight back to a process-based approach to KM rather than the complexity-based approach which is taking seed.

For what it's worth, I tend to steer away from the use of "information" in conversation altogether. It's generally more useful to use less ambigious terms such as "documents", "content", "data" or "artifacts" anyway.

Jed Cawthorne (not verified) — Fri, 31/07/2009 - 23:02

Hi Stephen,

I regret to admit I did not know your blog until you commented on Patrick's posting, but your added to my RSS feeds now !

I agree with everything you say, but (there is always a but......) I would just spin one sentence the other way round, KM as a 'super-set' of IM not a sub-set.

I think many organizations have many of the parts in place, but most do not take the holistic view that you do. I totally agree with everything you say about the different 'managements', but some organizations will always have to focus more on one than other, for example Records Management if they are heavily regulated.

So I guess I would characterize may approach by stating that KM is not really a tangible product based 'thing' but more of a 'strategic approach' for an organization, and to have a 'knowledge enabled' organization requires a good 'Enterprise Information Management' strategy, which in turn requires many sub-strategies:
* Master Data Management strategy for structured data in RDBMS
* Enterprise Content Management strategy for unstructured data (all over the place)
* Collaboration and messaging strategies
* Enterprise Architecture Strategy (for the techies to ensure they can seamlessly enable all that we demand of them !)

I love your "equation", I used to use one very similar when I was an EMC Documentum customer and used to present at their conferences. However I think KM = IT Systems + HR Policies + End User Experience - check out my attempt to diagram it at:

Also check out the newly formed TIMAF.org - The Information Management Framework, you may find it interesting, and finally as well as our friend Patrick, if you don't already know their work take a look at:
Dave Snowden: http://www.cognitive-edge.com/
David Gurteen: http://www.gurteen.com/



Stephen Bounds — Sat, 01/08/2009 - 09:25

Hi Jed,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm fairly new in the KM field, but if you haven't heard of me, I suspect you must not be a member of the actKM mailing list? (This is more from the frequency of my postings than from any claimed reputation, though!) I'd recommend you join if you haven't already -- I believe it hosts some of the most interesting debates in the KM field.

I'm well aware Dave and David as they are reasonably regular posters on actKM, and I subscribe to the Cognitive Edge blog. Dave's Cynefin approach to organisational complexity has been very influential in shaping the thinking of most Knowledge Managers, and his SenseMaker software also sounds quite revolutionary, without having ever used in myself.

I think we have to be careful about linking KM closely with IT systems. I firmly believe that KM can and in some cases should be done without a piece of technology in sight.

I don't disagree with the diagram that you've linked to, because all of these areas shape how organisations work. However, it does appear to be a heavily skewed towards documenting and implementing explicit processes, which has serious limitations.

Have a look at my post on why KM is important. In it, I lay out the background, objectives and benefits of KM and a number of strategies for achieving these objectives.

The key point I make is the role of KM to make organisations more adaptive, which includes attributes such as being resilience and innovativeness. The danger with a focusing on process-based improvements is that you typically achieve resilience at the expense of innovation.

In the 21st century, innovation requires organisational systems and structures that can respond quickly. For example, I'm not a huge Twitter fan, but I believe this speed and immediacy accounts for a lot of its buzz.

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