Information Management vs. Information Technology: Understanding Differences and Improving Processes
Jan 1, 2020
For managers today, there can be some confusion around the concepts of information technology (IT) and information management (IM). Both are important, but what’s the difference between the two, how are they related, and how can they both be executed effectively? The questions are not uncommon, and the answers are critical for driving successful operations and delivering successful projects.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IT AND IM
Let’s start at the beginning. At its core, IM far predates IT. Well before the computer age, IM still played an important role in organizations, in the form of administrators, managers, and extensive file systems. The information was on paper and filed away in storage for when it was needed. As technology developed and IM moved to a more digital format, it began to get confused with IT.
Today, IT is required to support IM, but IM is a much broader concept and must be tackled first, before IT can even be considered. In short, IM relates to understanding the information required to run a business; IT is the structure that supports it. The key to understanding IM comes down to defining the purpose that a company’s information is supposed to serve and truly understanding the mission of the company. What are the objectives? What are the key business areas? What processes support those business areas? Once those questions are answered, managers can start to understand what information is crucial to execute those processes. Only then can they know what IT tool—databases, document management systems, etc.—are necessary to manage that execution effectively. In short, all the IM work has to happen and be in hand before a team can decide on the appropriate technology to manage it.
At its core, IM is about two things: effective use of information for the business purpose it serves, and secure sharing of information inside and outside of the organization. Information needs to be sent to the right people—those who know how to interpret it in context and understand the purpose the information is supposed to serve. In fact, the end-user accessing the information should be a significant consideration in the presentation of any information. Organizations that spend the time upfront to understand the way in which information will be used will save time and effort in making that information available to those individuals who need it. Many organizations begin with the development of an information “architecture” that shows how the information interrelates between groups and/or systems.
DON’T BE BACKWARDS!
Only once a team understands the IM part of the equation (company mission, processes, information needed by process, users of information, how it is shared, etc.) can that team begin to address the IT part. Many organizations fall in the trap of doing this backwards—figuring out their IT capabilities and then looking at how they apply to the company mission. This is a dangerous approach. Without understanding IM first, both projects and operations end up being more complicated, time consuming, and much more likely to miss the mark.
BRINGING IN THE EXPERTS
Understanding this difference between IM and IT is not simple, nor easy to explain. It is necessary, however, for the effective execution of large manufacturing initiatives. Helping to define IM is a sweet spot for many industrial consultants. Skilled consultants can work effectively with the different groups in an organization to build an IM framework. This framework can then be used by the entire organization to coordinate information sharing and IT delivery. Further, consultants can help define the scope of what most IM groups need to have in place to deliver service successfully, including ensuring security is approached properly.
The moral of the story is two-fold. First, don’t confuse IM and IT. Both are critical in the ability to effectively and efficiently manage data in your organization. Second, getting your IM framework in place before tackling IT will save you time in the long-run, and the possibility of rework. Defining your IM framework will help teams implement appropriate IT products, effectively support operating groups, and deliver successful capital improvement projects.
Finally, if organizations are able to answer the following three questions, they are most likely ready to begin considering the IT side of the IM/IT equation:
Is the business objective served by the technology clearly defined and understood?
Who are the participants?
What are they trying to do and what do they need to do it?
If you can articulate all those answers, you have a comprehensive understanding of the business requirements that will ensure long-term success.Then all that’s left is the easy part: making it happen!