Going Beyond Information

By Daniel Antion posted 09-24-2013 08:56


Last week, perhaps in an attempt to nudge me to write the blog post I ended up skipping, Bryant Duhon called my attention to this tweet:

"Data without insight is just trivia!"

Bryant added that he thought: “no, data without insight is potential.” And suggested ways I might work that into a post about beginning with bits and pieces of material and building a piece of furniture or adding on to a house – things I have been known to do.

I am a bit embarrassed to say that I wasn’t sure I knew what ‘insight’ really meant. Hover-Alt-Click and my favorite Office feature, the questionably accurate Encarta Dictionary popped up to reveal that insight means:

1.       Perceptiveness

the ability to see clearly and
intuitively into the nature of
a complex person, situation, or

After considering that and imagining one of the many piles of material I’ve had sitting in my driveway in the past, I concluded that “data without insight is just stuff.” Trivia would imply a lack of significance, whereas ‘stuff’ may be valuable. Then again, I don’t mean to pick on the original Tweeter, and I don’t want to argue about trivia vs. stuff. I think the focus on data is wrong; well, wrong from an ECM perspective.

We shouldn’t be seeking to elevate the value of data, we should be seeking to add insight to the process.

Wait, doesn’t that mean that I agree with the Tweeter – I don’t know, who cares, sure, maybe, whatever – it’s not the point.

The point is that throughout my career, I have been driven to assemble data into information. To collect, combine, sort, filter and display data in a way that allows the whole to have greater value than the sum of its parts. However, information doesn’t provide insight; information assumes that insight will be present.

If we go back to that pile of stuff in my driveway and consider the 2x4’s, 2x8’s, 2x(n)’s, nails, shingles and plywood to be data, then information might be the resulting building. Insight is the ability to look at the pile and envision to building.

As ECM practitioners, one of our goals should be to build insight into the process of collecting, storing and distributing information. We should be working to add value to the stuff we have.

Take for example the pile of stuff I have in my garage right now. I have seven boxes of railing parts, two sections of handrail, 16 post supports, 16 post covers, 16 post caps and a bunch of connector parts. It doesn’t take insight to guess that I am going to build a railing. It takes insight to know that I need to make several 90° corners, not to prevent someone from squeezing their way into a dangerous position, but to add stability to each section of railing. It takes insight to know that the hand rail needs to extend beyond the railing so that someone in a wheelchair can reach out and pull themselves onto the ramp.

Did I have the insight before I bought those components? No. I knew that I wanted a railing on our recently completed porch, ramp and stairs. I went to the building supply house that I deal with and I saw several displays. I saw how the railing segments with short 90° appendages were very stable. I saw that the mock-up of the handrail included a “P-Loop” that extended beyond the end of the handrail, and I could imagine how handy that would be. They added the insight. They presented the complex mix of available components in a way that made their use and possible combinations intuitive. They enabled me to perceive the value of the information (the assembled railing systems) that could be created from the data (stuff).

How do I do that with the stuff that we have in SharePoint? I can take the List and Library content and assemble portions of them into views, but that’s merely building the information layer. Sure, I’m helping the end-user avoid the sorting, filtering and ignoring the irrelevant bits, but if that’s all I do, I am missing an opportunity. What if I added something unexpected?

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is what I’ll call a “Did you know?” part. Picture a list of locations that we insure. We already have pages in SharePoint where you can click on those places and be led to the specific stuff you want – an inspection report, a contact at the plant, a copy of the policy, etc. But what if I could put something on the screen like “Did you know that there are three open items from a recent inspection report?” “Did you know that the broker for this site has changed in the past 60 days?” “Did you know that this plant has one of the best environmental records in the fleet?

If I could add that, I could lead people to information that they might not even be aware exists. Sometimes, this could be valuable – think of the times when you’ve taken a coworker aside and said “it would have helped if you had told me that before this meeting.”  During the past week, I have shown two people in our small organization information that we have in SharePoint that they were not aware of and that they found useful. I need to figure out a way to make that happen without the random meeting being required. I need to add insight to our stuff.

#data #information #insight #sharepoint #ECM #SharePoint


10-01-2013 08:56

I think the following really says it all:
"We shouldn’t be seeking to elevate the value of data, we should be seeking to add insight to the process." We really need to get a way from the idea that the pieces are more important than the whole. The whole includes the how or "process" as well as the who what where. Thanks for the insight!

09-25-2013 15:15

Or maybe that's Intelligence (capital "I"). Thanks for provoking so many great thoughts!

09-25-2013 15:14

Or maybe that's Intelligence (capital "I"). Thanks for provoking so many great thoughts!