Knowledge vs Information vs Data
In the early days of computing, we talked about data processing, then we got information systems and now companies are seeking knowledge management and knowledge management systems. So what’s the difference?
A piece of data is a number or letter or combination. An example might be the number 4, which is a piece of data. If we add the fact that it stands for a child’s age and it is actually 4 years, then we now have information which has meaning and therefore more value. However, we know things about 4 year old children, how tall they are, what they can do and so on. This is knowledge. As we move from data to information to knowledge, we add context and, therefore, value. Computers naturally handle data which is ultimately reducible to binary representation. Context is much more difficult to represent on computers, and is often incorporated through the structure of information systems rather than the content.
Knowledge Management vs Information Management
Knowledge has the greater value than information, but that additional context which adds value is difficult to manage. Some writers on the subject have argued that true knowledge only arises when human beings interpret information and add their own knowledge. Most views of knowledge management distinguish two types of knowledge: explicit and tacit (or implicit) knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be represented in rules and other structured forms, and lends itself to management using computer based systems. Systems often take the form of repositories of frequently asked questions for help desks and similar, so that once an answer to a commonly asked support enquiry is established it can be stored and be given to the next user who has the same problem.
Implicit knowledge has greater value, but is much more difficult to represent in structured forms on computer based knowledge management systems. As a result most knowledge management systems deal only with explicit knowledge and companies focus upon the management of explicit knowledge. The techniques for explicit knowledge management are similar to those developed for information management. There are many barriers to managing tacit knowledge: it is difficult to codify; people are less willing to share it since its greater value brings them personal prestige and often better remuneration.
The Influence of Technology on Knowledge Management vs Information Management
The influence of technology has tended to emphasise the management of explicit knowledge using techniques adapted from information management. There is a more balanced, alternative “inclusive” view of knowledge management, which acknowledges the distinctive characteristics of knowledge including the high value of tacit knowledge. From this perspective, a KM system is a socio-technical system which has as its objective the management and sharing of knowledge to support the achievement of organisational goals, recognising the importance of human and cultural aspects of KM and the enabling role of technology in partnership.