"So what exactly is it you do again?"
So many times this question has been asked, I can virtually picture the moments: dressed up over cocktails, networking with new potential contacts, enjoying coffee during informal meetings, or drinking tea with family & friends. As I work to build a business of Information Management (IM) services, I quickly learned a cold reality of my industry: information innovators aside, there's still a lack of understanding about what "information management" actually is, and who needs it. When it comes to public relations, IM has work to do: it will never be the sexy darling of " social media", nor does it quite have that robust, powerful pull of "big data". Worse, lack of understanding can lead to fast dismissal: if we don't understand what IM is, do we really need it? The more I pursue the benefits of information management, the more I'm replying with a resounding YES.
So really, what is "information management" anyway?
Well, you could try Wikipedia, which defines IM as "the collection and management of information from one or more sources and the distribution of that information to one or more audiences", a definition approved by AIIM.org. Or you could break it down by Merriam-Webster, with "information - facts or details about a subject" and "management- the act or skill of controlling and making decisions about a business, department, sports team, etc.". Combining the definition of the two words, "information management" becomes the act or skill of controlling and making decisions about the recorded facts or details on a subject. For Information in Bloom, I explain it as a strategic approach to information by organizing the search, collection, sharing, evaluation, storage and removal of data & documents. Not exactly catchy, but hey, it defines control over the information life cycle to a ’T’.
At the core however, IM is about recognizing value. Information is one of the world's oldest commodities, exchanged like gold since ancient Mesopotamia and continuously transforming the world. We've changed how we record it greatly, from clay tablets to electronic signals, but it's been around since civilization was new, and it will still be here long after society crumbles. Like all valuables, it shines brightest when cared for - carefully acquired, kept in a safe place, given to and used correctly by those that need it, and regularly cleaned to remove the " junk". That's IM in a nutshell; librarians, clerks, teachers and spies have managed to direct and control it for ages...only now there's more of it, and more people using it.
Information is now the largest growing resource on the planet, and yet ask most businesses today and you’ll find that the ‘junk’ on their systems far outweighs the ‘value’. Storage has become so cheap that we have developed into information hoarders, our documents piling up on hard drives, afraid to let anything go until we dive in for what we need... and even then, suddenly discover we can't find what we're looking for. Our over-accumulating catches up with us, and instead of holding museums of fine art, we're pack-rats hoping that somewhere in the piles contains something worth having.
So, we need to get our information under control. We need to decide what to keep, what to toss, and when to toss it. We need to put files, notes and data in the right places, so that others can find them with ease. We need to set out the policies and best practices to show those working with our collection how to "handle with care”. We need to keep an eye on the future: if we decided to move platforms, can everything be moved efficiently? Most importantly, can our information increase the merit of the organization as a whole? We need information management, because it keeps our information valuable.