Information and knowledge are what a successful organisation turns on. Information and knowledge help management understand what is happening within their organisation, why it is happening and what action they might need to take.
So in depth knowledge is needed to make informed business decisions.
To function in your role as effectively as possible you need to understand how the cycle of information within an organisation works. This includes the;
creation of records – information that needs to be kept (or filed). Creating a record means collecting relevant items of information and storing them in such a way that they are easily accessible to the staff requiring that particular information.
maintenance of records – in order for the information to be of use, it must be properly processed; collated into useful formats, regularly updated and checked for accuracy and relevance
use and distribution of records – the main purpose of collecting and maintaining records is that the information in them is used in a productive way for the benefit of the organisation and its staff. It is therefore important that all staff have access to, and use, the information specific to their job roles.
retention of records – how information is stored and accessed will be a matter of organisational preference. Some organisations only keep electronic records, others rely on hard copies (paper files), while some do both. In each case, a proper method of storing information is necessary
disposal of records – information that is no longer relevant to the organisation’s needs or is out dated needs to be removed from the active information management system and either destroyed or archived.
Receive, acquire and assess information
As outlined in the introduction; an organisation’s success revolves around the quality of the information that it uses to base its business decisions on.
Not all information, however, is useful or even relevant … so how do you know what to collect?
The issue here is one of having a sound understanding of your organisation and the knowledge it might need to stay successful.
This being the case, it is helpful to understand the term ‘knowledge’ in a business sense. Business knowledge is the culmination of a process involving the gathering of data, developing useful information from this data and then using this information to gain an in-depth insight, or knowledge of, a given subject.
Data = pieces of unrelated or linked information. For example;
Your organisation serves 50 customers per day
Your organisation offers 120 different products
Your organisation employs 25 staff.
These are pieces of information that in themselves don’t mean very much. The relevant question here is: ‘how does this data relate to my requirements?’
Information = taking unrelated pieces of data and determining how they fit together to make a picture. For example; of the 50 customers you serve each day 80 percent buy only 10 different products. Of the 120 products you offer, 25 never sell. Of the 25 staff you employ, 10 work in sales and only 5 of those are actually good at their job. Information turns cold data, or facts, into useful information. You now have an overview of how your organisation actually operates. The question here is: ‘what can I learn from this information?’
Knowledge = with meaningful information now to hand, intelligent decisions can be made on making the organisation more efficient and profitable. For example; if 25 of the products your organisation offers never sell then a decision could be made to stop offering or producing these items –saving time, effort and money. If only 5 of the sales people are good at their job then you may decide to transfer or train the remaining 5 and so on.
So business knowledge is made up of a multitude of data and information gathered and stored by your organisation and is used for a variety of reasons.
Assessing an organisations information needs
Most organisations will have specific, individual information needs. The information an architect needs will, for example, be very different from the information needs of an insurance company or a hair dressing salon. There are certain information needs, however, that will apply across all industries including (but not limited to);
operational procedures – these provide the organisation with information about (for example);
the standards to which tasks must be completed to deliver consistently high quality service and products
how cash is to be handled
complaint handling procedures
forms to be used for given tasks and situations and much more.
database information – will include information about customer details; their purchasing history, account status, contact details and much more
website or social media analytics that provide information on how customers are engaging with you.
sales & accounting records – provide the organisation with accurate records of the sales it has made, what its income and expenses are, who owes them money, who they owe money to and more.
forms and templates – these could include membership forms, incident reports (in the case of accidents or illness), job application forms. Collating data from these forms and templates, over time, can show trends in performance. This trend information can then be used to make decisions on future actions and strategies.
invoices – for goods received or supplied must be kept on file for a variety of reasons including tax audits and financial planning
minutes of meetings and agendas – these provide a written record of what is discussed at meetings and often form the basis for action plans; a task list outlining what issues need to be addressed, by whom and in what given time frame.
staff records – provide information about job descriptions, pay scales, leave applications, performance appraisals, disciplinary actions, promotions and more
business plans and marketing strategies – are the back bone of the organisation. They provide the directions for the organisation to follow into future success.
information about new legislation or other government issues are very important to ensure the organisation complies with its legal obligations.
information about competitors – allows an organisation to remain in step with, if not ahead of other organisations offering the same, or similar, products or services. Information about competitors can come from a range of different sources including: customer comments, media advertising, promotional flyers, window displays, personal visits or phone calls (ghost shopping), internet – website and company reports
product Information. In order to be able to confidently recommend products and services to customers, you need to be fully conversant with what the organisation offers be it insurance, real estate or cans of paint! Sources of this information could be:
interoffice memos on product information or changes
sales and marketing staff
firsthand knowledge – trying it out for yourself!
interviews with colleagues to discuss operational or service issues
general correspondence. Letters, memos, faxes, emails are often kept on file as a record of any transactions or deals made.
All of the information listed above (among others) will provide information that an organisation can use to base business decisions on and allow them to better understand its business. For example;
Are they offering their customers the best possible products or service?
Is the organisation operating as cost efficiently as possible?
Are there any new trends that the organisation should consider?
Are there any new laws that affect the organisation’s industry that must be taken into consideration?
What will be the organisation’s future direction?
How will the organisation improve the performance of its staff?
Methods of receiving and acquiring information
Information, as you have learned, is vital to the success of an organisation. It may need to be created from scratch or it may need to be extracted from existing sources. But where does the information come from?
In general, information can be obtained through both external and internal sources.
Externalsources and methods of collecting information can include:
Federal, state and local government offices will have information about
Demographics: information about how the population in the country, state or local area live and work
Legislation and how it affects a variety of business industries
industry regulations and standards that must be complied with
Local library. Libraries will often have back issues of magazines and newspapers for stories or information about local events etc.
Internet. This is an extremely useful tool for researching all kinds of information. Through use of search engine facilities such as ‘Google’ there is almost nothing that cannot be found on the web. Care should be taken, however, when sourcing information from the web as not all sites found there offer accurate, correct or up to date information.
News and lifestyle programs on television are an excellent source of general information.
Newspapers and trade magazines have information relating to the local community and industry specific subjects.
Business networks and industry associations are also an excellent source of information.
Competitor information. This too is useful information; it is important to know what direct competitors are doing as they, more than any other businesses, are likely to take customers away decreasing the organisation’s sales and therefore profits.
Research provided by others outside of your organisation. This might include information provided by customers or suppliers
Social media platforms that provide insight into who your customers are and what interests them. It is also a source of information by way of visitor comments.
Internal sources and methods of collecting information come from existing documents that an organisation will have on file or information that it creates for specific purposes, and will generally include:
Financial information. This information tells an organisation how it is really doing in terms of profit and loss. Much of this type of information can be found in the form of spread sheets or reports that are run from the organisation’s accounting database. Financial information is normally restricted for use by management and the accountants.
Market research. Every business depends on customers. It is therefore important to know what customers are buying, who they’re buying from and why. This kind of information can be obtained from a wide variety of sources including:
customer surveys – questionnaires (creating new information)
general conversation with customers (creating new information)
company sales reports (existing information)
customer information. The main sources of information about customers are:
customer detail forms. These would be completed when the customer first opens an account or does business with the organisation.
customer survey forms where the organisation asks questions specific to their own products and services
sales records and receipts which capture information about what they purchased, how much they paid and on what date.
Observation and listening to what is going on around you. Casual conversations or observations while in the workplace can often lead to interesting pieces of information that, if followed up on, can be used to improve the organisation.
Company “Annual Reports” that provide a detailed view of the organisations current position and what its future plans are.