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INFO TECHNOLOGY

Turf wars stop firms from realising info potential

We often say we live in the information age. And yet, many organisations today face a crucial internal problem in deciding who should be responsible for managing the company's information. Instead of valuable information being exploited to the fullest, it is often the subject of a turf war between the IT and marketing departments of the same company.
In business, information and knowledge are sharply distinguished. Information management concerns tangible items located in databases. The importance of information lies in its use - after it has been assembled in a structure, it should be allowed to flow around the business. Information is thus useless if it is not well organized.

We often say we live in the information age. And yet, many organisations today face a crucial internal problem in deciding who should be responsible for managing the company's information. Instead of valuable information being exploited to the fullest, it is often the subject of a turf war between the IT and marketing departments of the same company.

In business, information and knowledge are sharply distinguished. Information management concerns tangible items located in databases. The importance of information lies in its use - after it has been assembled in a structure, it should be allowed to flow around the business. Information is thus useless if it is not well organized.

Knowledge, on the other hand, relates to how information should be applied, and is kept in the heads of professionals employed by a company. If this knowledge is to be properly harnessed by professionals who need to make decisions, a proper information navigation system is crucial. Good information management is essential for good knowledge management.

Both information and knowledge are highly valuable yet fragile items which are of crucial importance in any company's accounting. Although many top managers believe that the quality, volume and accessibility of information can determine whether new sources of revenue are generated, competitive advantages gained and customer services improved, it is not always clear whose role it is to look after such information.

IT experts feel that they have both the most specific role and the greatest responsibility for information management within an organisation. However, financial professionals in the same company often consider this their task, while marketing specialists believe that they are the ones who should watch over these crucial resources. All agree, however, that responsibility for 'holding the fort' should be borne by IT management.

While all of the combatants claim that they are thinking only of the good of the business, all sides should realize that it is not enough just to be aware that information is a business-critical issue - a formal strategy must be in place to guarantee that information is properly managed as a long-term asset.

Given the power of information, particularly in the financial sector, it is curious that industrial and commercial firms tend to be conservative in engaging information management systems. These systems are most often used by top publishers, whose primary aim is selling information, and who thus consider information management crucial to their business.

It is often difficult to say whether information is business-critical for a particular company, and it is precisely this uncertainty in how much a company values information that can give rise to disputes over which department should be responsible for handling information.

The situation is complicated by how each various company department defines information. For instance, financial departments traditionally perceive information as involving figures, but almost never company procedures and policies. What is needed is a complex view of a company's information,as well as senior information managers who would be responsible for information management, collation and distribution throughout the company.

Any information management system should adopt a multidisciplinary approach, integrating information systems developed by the IT department, using information science and library techniques, and pooling contributions from the human resources and financial sides.

A growing number of financial organisations are waking up and implementing this new approach to knowledge management. While they have discovered that information management can be employed in areas like credit control and loan analysis, however, many do not understand that sharing information throughout the company could have a much greater significance for their business.


Peter Borak is Information Risk Manager at KPMG Slovensko. His column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to pborak@kpmg.sk.

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