Tagged: information

Thirty one (ii)

“Yes. I guess. Until we caught up again.”

“So information by itself, in isolation, cannot be adjudged useful or useless. Such potential must depend, at least in part, on the availability of other data, of other information, on existing knowledge, on the resources available to process the information.”

I recall holding my breath momentarily before sighing audibly.

I’m a History graduate for goodness sake, and I should have recognized what Dom was saying before he had to say it. While my college days seem like a lifetime ago, the process of historical discovery, organization and interpretation is as relevant to present circumstances as past, including the foibles of those processes. For example, reconciling attitudes, societal norms and behaviors in Victorian London demands putting oneself in the shoes of a Victorian Londoner; after all, they didn’t view their lives through the lens of an early 21st Century historian, or make decisions or conduct themselves on that basis.

And yet of course each historian studying that time and place will have constructed slightly different frameworks of varying accuracy and subjectivity as proxy for them not actually being there. In short, historians will disagree, or must work hard to align frameworks, to align knowledge, in order to understand and debate different historical points of view.

Turns out my History degree could be rather useful in this age of computing and big data.

Thirty one (i)

“And so that’s where we got to.”

It was Friday evening, Dom was over, and I’d invested in a nice bottle of Gavi di Gavi to have with cod, new potatoes and peas.

“And you want to do what to the business?” he asked.

“Yeah, good point. Haven’t yet worked out what to do on the back of these insights, but it feels like we’ll be able to synthesize that at the away day. It feels like it’s the kind of thing that could help us transform a decent company into a great one.”

“Run that link between ‘Information’ and ‘Influence’ by me again.”

“Well, we define useful information as information we actually use. i.e. we do something differently than otherwise. If information doesn’t do this, then it isn’t useful. So I guess therefore it’s useless. In fact, it’s just getting in the way of us seeing and acting on the good stuff.”

Dom swished the wine around his glass and watched it settle. He did so again as I forked the fish to see how it was doing.

“Sorry I was late again by the way. Sheer traffic. Wonder which car started it.”

I checked the saucepan of potatoes as Dom said this, but I could feel it tease me. He was poking me about complexity. I let it simmer; the thought that is, the potatoes were done.

“Tell me,” Dom said, “did you and your IT chap reach the same conclusion?”

“Funny you should ask that. Not quite. When I recalled our conversation this week I’d added some more interpretation without realizing that John and I hadn’t actually spoken about it. And of course, John started the thread in the first place. So I guess we sort of bounced off each other.”

“So you were both party to the same conversation discussing the same concepts yet you did different things with the content of that conversation at different times?”

“Well, it’s just I took it a bit further, and maybe John was too busy, or took it elsewhere and hasn’t yet shared that with me.”

“So. You and John both debated the same ideas, the same information. Yet, in structuring and organizing this information to form a framework for the incorporation of further information, in helping you in your evaluation of the world – the result of which we generally refer to as knowledge – you got to different places for whatever reasons?”

Thirty (iii)

“There are flows of resources – which I generally think of as time, money and materials. That definition of marketing you referenced Michelle means that we work out what the market wants or might want, and what we can deliver, and then plan to exchange products and services for money. Reciprocal flows. For example, the product flows out and the money flows in. And we hope to keep that up.

“And that’s where another kind of flow comes in, to do with reputation Yvonne. After all, without a decent reputation we can’t hope to keep those sales up. I’m talking about influence flows. Influence goes around comes around.”

“Yes!” John got our attention. “Of course, data, information and knowledge flow. I meant to say that. And when they do so usefully, which we now think of as when someone changes what they’d have thought or done otherwise, that’s influence.”

“That’s really interesting,” said Michelle. “So some influence flows through my department, some through the separate discipline of public relations,” (I couldn’t work out whether the emphasis was sarcastic or respectful towards Yvonne but I had my suspicion) “and some through IT.”

“And…?” challenged Saket. Given the silence, he continued. “And there’s influence flowing in the actions of customer service, procurement, logistics, HR, sales. In fact, in everything. There’s influence in everything an organization does, and sometimes in what it does not do. Let me read you something.”

It was Saket’s turn to find something on his computer.

“Reputation management does not actually mean managing reputation, and brand management does not actually mean managing a brand. They mean actively attending to the business of influencing and being influenced such that the resultant beliefs or opinions held about us and our products are conducive to our achieving organizational objectives.”

“When you say it like that,” said Michelle, “it really puts the customer on a pedestal for sure.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘for sure’. That’s the only sure thing I do know. A Beautiful Mind, 2001.”

After a few seconds of adjusting to Saket’s movie speak, Michelle asked him to explain.

“Well, maybe this whole so-called ‘customer-centric’ way of thinking is an over simplification. The quote I just read out didn’t reference the customer. It didn’t put the customer ahead of employees past, present and future, or suppliers or partners or shareholders, past, present and future. Or the general public interest. Or the planet. All stakeholders matter, and to put one consistently ahead of all the others sounds increasingly stupid to me. It doesn’t appear to recognize the complexities of the world we live in.”

My conversation with Dom about complexity crashed back into my mind, and I had a feeling of clarity, even if I couldn’t actually articulate it. One thing I did know is that I’d had about as much mental stimulation as I could cope with on one call, and I directed the remainder of the call to planning the away day.

Thirty (i)

A theme for the management away day was forming in my mind, yet I felt I needed to explore further first. Saket was out of the country, but he was good enough to find an hour in his schedule to join John (IT), Michelle (Marketing), Yvonne (PR) and me, via Skype.

I set the tenor of the call by explaining that I didn’t have hard objectives but simply felt we needed to revisit some of the conversations in recent weeks and take them further. I apologized for the vagueness, but perhaps our guts could guide us as much as our minds on this call.

I referenced the conversation with John where we’d knocked the ‘T’ out of ‘IT’ and then substituted ‘Influence’ for ‘Information’ for the ‘I’. If you’re in IT, you’re actually in the business of influence.

I defined influence. You have been influenced when you do something you wouldn’t otherwise have done, or think something you wouldn’t otherwise have thought.

“I don’t remember us getting as far as describing IT like that Eli”. John looked quizzical.

“Hmm. Perhaps you’re right. I think I’ve digested it some more since”, I replied.

I recalled the conversations about measurement. I told everyone how fascinating I’d found the discussion about communication. And recounted the thread with Yvonne about the radical transparency of the social Web. And that was my intro done.

Yvonne was first to jump in.

“I wear a public relations hat as you know, but what does that mean? PR has a PR problem. It seems there are two camps. The first interpretation, and perhaps oldest, is so-called ‘spin’ where I’m supposed to spin a line, persuade people however I can, adjust presentation of the facts to suit our needs.” She put her hands in the air to do the double quotes sign as she said “adjust”.

“Over the past decade or so this way of looking at it has appeared to both gain momentum in some areas of practice and become increasingly frowned upon at the same time.”

Michelle interrupted. “What’s this got to do with what Eli said?”

Unflustered, Yvonne replied, “I’m trusting my gut Michelle, and my mind come to that. Give me a minute to explain.”

She continued.

Fifteen (ii)

“A collection of information is not knowledge. We must build knowledge from such information by identifying and interpreting patterns. So for this example, we identify the process causing the occasional test failures and develop an appreciation for how it might be fixed.

“Putting some important security and legal issues to one side for the moment, we don’t have to care too much about the underlying technology any more. Rather, we need to focus on getting the right information to the right people at the right time in the right format, and help them translate the information into knowledge in order that they can do their jobs better.

“Data paucity was the problem of the 20th Century. Having too much of the stuff is rapidly becoming the challenge and the opportunity of the 21st.”

I checked with myself to make sure I knew John was an important cog in the Attenzi machine. I did.

“Big data?” I asked.

“Are we playing buzzword bingo?” said John, deadpan.

“Hey, you said ‘cloud’ not me!” I countered.

John smiled, “Yes, so-called big data. This idea that we can digitize almost anything, including all our parts and products and services and processes by the way, and collate all those terabytes of data, and store it cheaply and easily and forever and use it for all sorts of analyses.”

I chipped in: “But only if that analyses translates data into information and knowledge, right? Makes it useful to us?”

“Well how do you determine the value of the information and knowledge prior to the translation of data into information and information into knowledge?”

“Er, ask someone in IT?!” I offered.

John took the compliment with a caveat, “And the domain experts. Humans are quite capable of digesting four dimensions of data when presented in an appropriate way, simply because we inhabit a four dimensional world – three dimensions of space and one of time. But the data we have, and could harvest in the future, spans many dimensions. We need therefore to work together to develop intelligent software that identifies and extracts the most interesting, useful, valuable four dimensions for visual presentation to the domain experts.

“A primary challenge isn’t trying to find answers to questions but determining good questions in the first place.”

I put my empty cup down and began kneading the blue cushion with the white bird on it. You know the one.

I was thinking out loud now. “Divining exact usefulness or attributing precise value to an insight is incredibly difficult to do with hindsight, let alone in advance. Perhaps the best we can achieve then is simply to have a good guess at whether the potential information and knowledge we might unearth will make anyone act on it.”

John clarified the thought, “Or perhaps, more precisely, will anyone change what they would have done otherwise.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“Well, deciding not to do something isn’t often recognized as an action.”

Fifteen (i)

“Of all areas of the business, yours must be changing fastest John. How do you see things?”

I was enjoying a coffee in a rather comfy reclining chair that seemed a bit out of place in the IT office. Saying that, the cushions were in the style of social media sharing icons. Nice.

“Well, you could look at two aspects of IT, the information, and the technology. Sounds obvious right?

“Looking at technology first, the way I see it, the biggest change is the level of abstraction the IT departments in firms like ours deal with.

“Back in the day, the technology was all about centralized computing power and spinning disk drives. We bought stuff. We put it in its own room. We configured it. We installed some software. We ran it.

“Then the boxes we put on people’s desks got more powerful, with capable software running directly on them, and the stuff back in the room became more dedicated to storing different kinds of data to serve up as needed.

“Then the local network got more capable so the powerful applications could be re-centralized for ease of maintenance and enhanced security without affecting the user-experience.

“And then the wider Internet infrastructure got more capable and some-one said, “hey, this stuff isn’t your core competence, but it is mine, so why not let me run that for you?” and this thing called the cloud emerged. So now, Attenzi doesn’t need to power its own computing, just like it doesn’t need to generate its own electricity, or pump its own water.

“And so to information.

“Now the words information and data are often used synonymously, yet incorrectly. Data of itself is just discrete, objective facts. Take an example from our production facilities – an item number with a particular serial number achieved a particular status at a particular time.

“Item no. 00256, serial no. 005693432, achieved status 4, 110903032010.

“We mere humans do not readily digest or understand data. Rather, we deal in information; that is data made useful, made relevant. A collection of data is not information – for that it also requires context and understanding. In my example here, in transforming the data to information in the context of Attenzi’s production facilities we find out that the item was a cooker, and all but one of the 52 made on 3rd March passed testing first time.