Information management can be defined as the process by which a company manages all the elements of records, whether externally or internally generated and in any format or media type, from their inception/receipt, all the way through to their disposal, according to the Records Management Society.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries became known as the Information Age as this period heralded the exchange of vast amounts of information that could be rapidly transmitted through computers. In the context where information is an asset and the main competitive tool for businesses, information management takes on a new significance. The range of organizations using this process is diverse, including medical establishments, governmental departments, banks and private firms.
Information takes on a variety of forms, including tacit or subjective information such as opinions, values or attitudes. An example of this is information that is embedded in a company's client relationships. In this case, shared access to such information could inform and improve performance. Another form is explicit, documented information including cases or facts. A good information management system should take into account the differences between types of information as well as the objectives and the nature of the organization.
Key elements of information management are to create, capture, share, develop, evaluate and exploit data. This is particularly important in an increasingly globalized workforce that is driven by relevant, accurate and accessible information. Information management strategies should be adopted to make best use of this asset.
Investment in a culture that supports the creation and sharing of information should be part of a natural process for both managers and employees. A robust information management system is essential for companies to succeed in the global information environment. Effective information management will embed information into processes, products and services and use it as a tool in the decision-making process.
Information management should incorporate a number of elements including:
- Generating information;
- Accessing data from external sources;
- Storing information;
- Measuring the value of information;
- Stripping out information that is no longer relevant.
Researchers suggest that a number of challenges are present in the field of information management, with many businesses struggling to meet information needs. Growing legislation around the capturing and retainment of information has led to an explosion in the volume of data that must be managed. Hence information management has become a time-consuming, costly and complex discipline. Due to large volumes of information, assessing its value and relevance has become a difficult task.
Information that is unstructured adds to the complexity of management, as does the risk of manual data entry errors, processes resulting in poor quality of information and activity such as mergers and acquisitions. This can often result in a legacy of dual applications and hardware that require consolidation. Additionally when an employee leaves an organization, information could be lost if no attempt is made to capture the projects they have been working on.
Security of personal data is the greatest risk in information management. In the computer age this threat is a very real problem for information managers. Although hackers often dominate the headlines, as much as 80 percent of real information security losses, such as attacks, losses or breaches, come from inside the organization. Simple operator errors can cost a company millions of dollars.
A number of steps can be taken to mitigate these risks. First, a point that is often overlooked is the intelligent choice of passwords. Misuse of passwords is common and many organizations do not observe strict password policies. Often a password is passed on to a third part, so a procedural approach can improve a company's risk position. Risk assessment is another useful exercise that can identify technical issues with servers or firewalls.
Organizations are increasingly turning to strategic information management tools that will allow them to spend more time creating and analyzing data rather than collecting it. These can be a cost-effective way of handling information and can simplify the process. Such tools could be helpful in consolidating information systems and allow businesses to focus on the value of the data, in turn helping to improve on decision-making.
New technologies continue to contribute to the field of information management. Data warehousing, video conferencing, document scanning and telecommunications networks are important in creating accessible information. Organizations wanting to optimize their potential should employ processes to create the right information environment and facilitate the creation, transfer and application of information.