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On the connection between 'data' and 'information'

Rachel Wheeler Archive

When working with large volumes of data pertaining to their internal workflow or their customers, companies often make the logical conclusion that if they have data, they have knowledge. The assumption is that if companies put in the effort to mine for data, either within their own walls or outside, they're automatically going to be better informed about the world.

This makes logical sense, but is it automatically true? Are "data" and "knowledge" exactly the same thing, or are they merely two related concepts? And if the latter, what's the connection between the two?

That's a topic that's been debated recently in information management circles. Companies have a strong desire not only to collect data, but to be knowledgeable. It's a challenge to achieve both.

Bridging the knowledge gap
According to TechTarget, data and knowledge aren't exactly one and the same, but there's a connection between the two. Laura Sebastian-Coleman, author of "Measuring Data Quality for Ongoing Improvement," believes it's a matter of perception.

"Take the concept of temperature," Sebastian-Coleman told the news source. "Before the thermometer was developed, people perceived hot and cold, but they did not have a way to express these. It took several hundred years and a lot of intellectual effort to develop the thermometer. Today, we always know the temperature outside. Packed into that data point is knowledge."

In other words, people have their own perceptions about the world, but they need more precise, specific ways of verifying it. Anyone can walk outside and feel that it's cold - that's information. But data is a way of lending a verifiable backbone to people's thoughts and feelings. That's the key to businesses better understanding their environment.

Striving for quality
Companies need to have precise information about their environments if they want to maintain a competitive advantage against their rivals. Having good data about employee productivity is a great way to manage internal workflow, while robust information about consumers helps companies fine-tune their efforts in sales and customer service.

In both of these cases, though, such information is useless unless it's accurate. It's therefore vital that organizations strive for quality with their collection and management of data.

If a person feels like it's cold outside, then he or she knows right away to wear a coat. But if that person is misinformed and makes the wrong wardrobe choice, it could make for a rather uncomfortable day. Business works much the same way. It requires precise data to get ahead.