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Strategic information management: understanding a new reality.

"We sit on the edge of a cliff, where radical new technology is rising up to us with a force so powerful that it will transform our landscape. The rules of commerce are shifting rapidly, with explosive new business models taking shape by the minute. Almost every day we are astounded by the latest innovation in communications, computers, and biotech. Technology is behind key transitions in the very foundations of our society."

James Canton, Futurist

Change is a constant within our contemporary environment, and the forces for change are many. The rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been the most prominent among the many agents for change that are forcing a re-evaluation of the role of the records and information management (RIM) professional.

Futurist James Canton's analysis suggests what some have called the "new reality." It is into this new reality that we can place the emergent strategic information management (SIM) professional.

Characteristics of this new world of corporate information management include competitive advantage and competitive intelligence, intellectual property, litigation, information economics, the information ecology, enterprise portals, security and privacy, globalization, groupware, and tacit knowledge. While ICTs may have encouraged the development of SIM, they have also had many expected and unexpected outcomes in the socio-technical systems we know as organizations. Additionally, technology cannot be considered as acting alone. It is a product of society; it is also part of a larger environment in which other forces are at work.

Organizations today face more competition than was the case even a decade ago. A successful business relies on the right combination of organizational resources working together in a dedicated effort to penetrate and achieve leadership in the marketplace, and information is such a resource. The identification and use of information play a large role in an organization's achievement of competitive advantage. Organizations most efficient in gathering, processing, and distributing information -- as well as using it to make better business decisions -- will enjoy an edge in achieving success.

Because of the development of ICTs, records and information managers have had to become more technologically literate. But this is the tip of the iceberg. As intellectual capital expert and Fortune columnist Thomas Stewart advises, they also need to review their overall potential contribution to the success of the organizations in which they are located -- in addition to protecting social and intellectual capital. ICT development has meant that RIM professionals are now free of many tedious physical tasks and can more fully explore the more intellectual and value-added side of their profession.

Where records and information managers have traditionally concentrated on the evidential qualities of records, they are now realizing a greater interest in the informational content of records that can be used for decision making and action. The framework in which such records are created also contributes information that goes beyond what might be used in a court of law or audit. There is no doubt that the newly focused work of RIM professionals has, in many ways, become more central to the core business of organizations as they seek to preserve intellectual property and gain competitive advantage in an increasingly volatile environment.

The downside of this phenomenon is that many records managers have found themselves unprepared to accommodate this new bearing. Records and information managers and their supervisors face many problems in redefining their work, their position, and their expanded responsibilities. The older model of managing static information resources is being driven out by that of information in motion. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish a "record" among "documents" in their multitude of forms.

Issues of preservation and access have also become more problematic with the use of ICT. Relationships with information technology (IT) departments become more complex. And in the mind of management, the RIM professional profile remains below what it might be.

The Changing Landscape

Authors Cornelius Burk and Forest Horton, established writers on information management, describe five revealing steps in the history of information management. These stages clearly demonstrate that the focus of information work has changed from the achievement of the effective and efficient managing of documents and technologies to the strategic use and application of information itself:

* Stage 1. Paperwork management

* Stage 2: Management of corporate automated technologies

* Stage 3: Management of corporate information resources

* Stage 4: Business competitor analysis and intelligence

* Stage 5. Strategic information management

Stage five, the emergent paradigm, focuses on corporate strategy and direction. It emphasizes the quality of decision making and information use needed to improve overall business performance. The strategic management focus provides linkage to the functional strategies of the business, such as finance, manufacturing, research, and development. It is a top-management, strategic function.

Who, then, will do the work that must now be done? Information technologists will keep information systems running, librarians will deal with published information, and the records managers will manage the category of documents known as records in specific and particular ways. Who is managing the information so that it can be used optimally and strategically?

New professional specializations must be defined to serve societal and organizational needs for information access in the Digital Age. These new information professionals need broad competencies and a holistic view of information. They need to understand users of information and be committed to using and shaping current and emerging digital technologies to solve problems of information access, organization, and preservation in hybrid environments that feature both printed and digital documents. They need to see the role that documents, as containers of information, play in effective human communication.

At its current developmental stage, SIM has more to do with the content than the physical embodiment of information. It also has more to do with the meaning of the information -- and its use for making decisions -- than the technologies used to communicate it. In a new paradigm, RIM professionals understand that the fundamental concepts of information management may be applied to information created and stored in any medium. This means that the scope, functions, and responsibilities of RIM have broadened and deepened.

Information and its management have provided work for probably the most diverse collection of professionals imaginable, each with his or her own perspective. These groups range from computer scientists and data retrievalists, to librarians and archivists, each claiming its own field's unique, special qualities. As far as different intellectual paradigms are concerned, it has been commonly noted that researchers seem to operate exclusively within one paradigm or the other, mostly ignoring the efforts of those working from a different perspective. As a result, while there has been much "borrowing" of concepts, techniques, and terminology among the various groups, there has not emerged a foundational, clear, and unifying frame of reference with which all can agree.

In general, many of the existing phrases describe the functions of use of information, which is so essential to business strategy and competitive advantage. We rely on the information itself, not necessarily its facilitating mechanisms, to assist decision making and guide actions. It is important to be knowledge based -- signifying that the information must have meaning and be useful. As individuals and as organizations, we continue to need the right information, in the right amount, at the right time -- and from whatever source -- for use in decision making.

Perhaps the time has come for convergence of systems of inquiry and the development of a more holistic, inclusive theory that recognizes the interconnectedness of disciplines and technologies. The phrase strategic information management can be aptly used to characterize this development. It is both expressive and useful in describing the work and responsibilities of the new corporate information professional. It places emphasis on managing information rather than documents or data sets; it also indicates the purpose of such activities. This phrase aptly covers the panoply of new RIM responsibilities.

What's in a Name?

The words "strategic," "information," and "management" may be combined for different meanings. For example, strategic information is clearly information that can be used to develop a plan for success and is integral to such a plan. An information strategy is a plan for dealing with information successfully. Putting all three words together in strategic information management means the management of strategic information to achieve organizational objectives.

The term strategic information management has been used by different groups at different times with different meanings, notably by the information technology and information systems communities. They have used it largely to describe the application of information technology to support business principles.

There also is the view of management and business administration theorists as well as management accountants. For example, author Michael Zack suggests that the concentration here is on developing strategies rather than on managing information that might be strategic.

SIM, however, means much more. It is about the strategic uses and applications of information for competitive advantage, and ultimately it is about people. It is a strategy that turns an organization's intellectual assets -- including recorded information, corporate memory, and employee expertise -- into greater productivity, increased competitiveness, and increased collaborative efficiency and effectiveness. SIM draws upon internal and external resources -- explicit and tacit -- that are recorded in documents and imbedded in people.

SIM responds to various challenges facing organizations today. These include

* increasing the productivity and creativity of knowledge workers who work with information resources

* planning, implementing, and evaluating the effective use of information resources within organizations

* developing policies to maximize the benefits resulting from the widespread use of these resources

* improving the strategic use of information resources in business, government, and non-profit organizations

* understanding that ICT is a tool for accessing information, not an end in itself

Integral to strategic information management is the

* perception that information and knowledge are commodities that have a bottom-line value in the new economics of information

* understanding of how knowledge is created and communicated; documents and people both contain information, but they cannot be managed in the same way

* recognition of the importance of managing different types of corporate information, such as competitive intelligence, records management, and financial systems

* design of information ecologies, organizational culture, and communication as well as the interaction of communities of practice

* support of appropriate applications and those uses of IT that can be used to support SIM functions

Essential elements of strategic information management also include the identification of internal information sources or documents that might be relevant to the organization's strategic direction. This means understanding how information containers or documents can be described and organized so that they can be retrieved effectively.

To understand how documents and the information they contain are retrieved, it is necessary to understand how and why people search for information, how they evaluate that information, when they stop looking, and how they use the information they have found. This new discipline combines information management and business practice, analyzing business processes and information flows and how they can support one another. It involves knowing about the organization itself, as well as its competitors.

The main purpose of strategic information management is to provide information that leads to decision making and activities that enable the organization to cope successfully with change. SIM will be successful in an organization only if the following conditions are met:

* Information is seen as a resource, and it is understood how it can be assessed, valued, and used.

* Someone is responsible for the SIM function. This is for at least two reasons: first, the persons responsible should be properly trained for the job and take responsibility for its execution; second, it does not then become merely a part of others' work and, therefore, commonly neglected.

* Issues regarding information management are routinely discussed and considered at the executive levels within the organization.

According to Richard Cox, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, records are the "main business of records professionals ... information ... derives from the evidence found in records." The traditional domain of records managers and archivists might well be records, but these have been viewed, to date, only in their capacity as containers of information. Now, however, records, as a sub-genre of documents, containers of information, need to be viewed for the information that they contain rather than merely for evidentiary value.

On a Professional Level

Strategic information managers identify, coordinate, and fuse information resources throughout the corporation, managing information as an integrated corporate resource. They must identify gaps and duplication of information, clarify the roles and responsibilities of owners and users of information, provide cost savings in the procurement and handling of information, identify costs/benefits associated with different information resources, and actively support management decision processes with quality information.

Strategic information management is a multi-disciplinary body of knowledge and action within a number of areas. It operates in an inclusive and holistic way and requires some sophistication of knowledge of business practice, organizational culture and dynamics, fundamental information management, retrieval theory, and information gathering. For mid-career professionals who find their responsibilities changing, and for those wishing to enter the profession in response to industry demands, there are new competencies to be learned. Areas that will prove useful include the following:

* a clear and practical understanding of the differences between data, information, knowledge, metadata, intelligence, documents, and records

* an awareness of human information behavior -- how and why people look for information and why they stop; also, how they create uses and applications for such information

* a comprehension of how documents and people, as containers of information, can be "coded" or indexed, not only in terms of functionality, but in terms of content as well; this would include a look at indexing languages

* a command of techniques that are used to evaluate information, such as accuracy, completeness, and possible application

* a grasp of knowledge management -- including aspects of human resources management and communities of practice, coding of tacit as well as explicit knowledge, and collaborative work practices

* an understanding of systems theory, particularly in seeing organizations as systems placed within an environment and their interaction; this is critical to understanding the function of competitive intelligence, as well as the related issues of information politics and information economics

* the ability to undertake a meaningful information and knowledge inventory (as opposed to a records inventory)

* a review of the principles of organizational communication so that workflow might be fully comprehended

* an understanding of business processes, performance indicators, and competitiveness

It would be unrealistic to suppose that every RIM professional will be transformed into a SIM professional. A medical analogy may prove useful on this point. In medicine, certain things are core knowledge and should be known by all doctors. These include physiology, chemistry, biology, and psychology. Yet, there is also a need for specialists -- people who know all about the heart or, perhaps, particular effects of tropical diseases on the heart. Not everybody needs to know this specialized information, but it is part of the body of knowledge. The strategic information manager, then, will work in partnership with records managers, archivists, librarians, business intelligence specialists, IT and IS managers, and others to address the goals of strategic information management.

To some extent it could be said that the traditional work of records and information managers is and always has been about strategic information management. But, with changing societal, educational, and legal issues -- not to mention different commodities and different ways of working and doing business -- a global arena in which to operate, and the pervasive effects of information technology -- records management must be willing and able to adapt in order to survive, let alone thrive.

RIM is part of SIM, and the new terminology gives records and information managers a chance to settle on terminology that can redefine the image of the profession, place them at the center of corporate information activities, and better reflect the broader importance of records and information management.

At the Core

This article:

* Describes the changing landscape of information

* Defines strategic information management (SIM)

* Focuses on skills needed for SIM

Read More About It

Berci, Bela J. "Strategic Information Management vs. Strategic Business Management." 1996. Available at

Myburgh, Sue. "The Clash of the Titans, or, It's Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings." Information Imagineering. Eds. Pat Ensor, Mark Wolffe. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.

Wilson, T. D. "Models in Information Behaviour Research." Journal of Documentation 55, 1999.


Burk, Cornelius F. and Forest Horton. InfoMap: A Complete Guide to Discovering Corporate Information Resources, 2d Ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

Canton, James. Technofutures: How Leading-Edge Technology Will Transform Business in the 21st Century. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 1999.

Cox, Richard. "Why Records Are Important in the Information Age." Presentation at the Managing Electronic Records Conference, November 1996.

Kirk, Joyce. "Information in Organizations: Directions for Information Management," 1999. infres/paper57.html (accessed 30 November 2001).

Nardi, Bonnie A. and Vicki L. O'Day. Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Stewart, Thomas A. Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations. New York: Currency Doubleday, 1997.

Zack, Michael H. "Developing a Knowledge Strategy." California Management Review, 41, no 3, 125-145.

Sue Myburgh is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication and Information Studies at the University of South Australia. She teaches corporate information resources management and electronic document management. Myburgh has had extensive and international experience in the discipline of information management spanning two decades. She may be reached at
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Article Details
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Author:Myburgh, Sue
Publication:Information Management Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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