Data, Information, and Records, Oh My!

Classic new blog move, get something up on the site and then leave it for a whole month before posting anything new!

Last month, after 7 months in my job, I finally received my business cards. Not so much because I had to prove my worth first, but rather that there was a whole redesign of the company logo underway. Pretty swish, isn’t it?

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But what does it mean to be a consultant working in Information Management? Usually when meeting people outside of the profession I tend to just say “consultant” to avoid what can be a very in-depth discussion. While I have the elevator pitch down pat for my peers, I find it difficult to express to others what I do without accidentally slipping into “shop speak”.

First things first, IM is not IT! But there is a lot of cross-over with other disciplines. I’ll delve into this more in future posts, including how these intersections play into potential career paths within the information profession.

From chatting with friends, the biggest point of confusion seems to stem from different terminologies so I’ll do a quick break down of some common terms here:

Data – Data, which is the plural of the word “datum”, are basically just facts or figures. These facts have not been processed or dealt with and are in their rawest form. This means that they are bits of information, but not information itself (if you feel like you’re losing your head yet, please hang in there!).

The concept of data is ubiquitous and it can be managed and represented in many different ways, including tables, data trees, and graphs.

Information – When data is processed, organised, structured or interpreted, it becomes information. Data will always change as there is always more coming in, but it is a tidbit of truth, an actual thing that has happened. However, information can be wrong.

Here’s an example of how the two go hand in hand:

Data: Every few years the government takes a census, gathering information from citizens such as yearly income, age, gender, and location, among other things.

Information: Alone, these bits of data are practically meaningless: Postcode 2000 NSW, income $70,000 a year, Caucasian.

However, when processing this data, the government is able to interpret it as valuable information. In this case the information could be represented as statistics such as unemployment rates, or average income for different parts of the state or city. Or, it could provide information for future projections such as infrastructure planning and public transport improvements.

Records – These can take on a completely different meaning depending on whether you’re coming from an IT or an IM perspective. For me, records are pieces of information that are evidence of a decision or transaction. For an organisation, records become a part of institutional memory. If that organisation happens to be a government department then those records also contribute to the memory of a nation, while also supporting the accountability of government.

By providing access to information then people can interpret and make use of it, or make decisions based on it. Access to records allows reinterpretation and allows for even more connections to be made.

More on this in a future post… 🙂

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