It's About the Data, Stupid (Or, Why They Are CIOs)

While writing my last post on the topic of Data Driven business, a small voice in the back of my head kept saying “it’s about information, stupid”. There is a lot of confusion in the industry about data vs. information. We’ve been talking about data for many years: databases, data management, data storage, and so on. And yet, strangely, the organization accountable for all this data is called Information Technology and is the responsibility of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Why is this?

I believe that the use of the word data comes from a historical starting point in the early days of computing when the majority of what was stored was numerical in nature and, due to storage limitations, the units, meanings and uses of these values resided only in the heads of the white-coated programmers who guarded the machines. Slowly, this material was integrated into the computing environment. Even today, relational databases separate the values (or data) from its names and meanings in column headers and table names (metadata).Together, data and metadata form the beginnings of information. In fact, they started out as information in the minds of business users whose needs were modeled and implemented in applications.

The truth is that when we look at it more closely, it is information that the business needs and uses. It is information that we use to record and communicate what is happening in the real world—or, to be more precise, our perceptions of what is happening. It is this recognition that leads to organizational terminology focused on information. For the business and for people, it’s information that’s important. Only information is meaningful.

It’s thus somewhat ironic that as Big Data has grabbed the corporate imagination, we have begun to introduce Chief Data Officers (CDOs), whose importance and value may be thought to equal or exceed those of the CIO. In fact, it’s the information that’s meaningful; the data is stupid.

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