By Martin Bartonitz

In one of our latest blog posts (Escape from the Information Overload), we wrote that tapping into information and its value is a key to the competitiveness of companies. Or to put it another way: Knowledge is the raw material of the future, and information is the gold of the digital age. But what does “raw material” actually mean? What must be done to turn this raw material, or gold, into really useable knowledge?

Information – the gold of the digital age

We are transitioning to a knowledge society, or are in the middle of the digital age. Internet and digitalization are two of the most important drivers of a new industrial revolution, known as “Industry 4.0.” It’s a digital revolution that is shaping our daily lives more and more, both at home and at work. Information is effectively the natural resource of the digital age. In its “natural” form, however, information is nothing more than unprocessed data. As with any other resource, this data/information must be found, extracted, and then processed and refined in order to tap into its full value and thus useful knowledge.

Big Data with an expiry date?

Now there is no lack of information or possibilities to find and extract data. On the contrary: As a resource, information is growing exponentially. Estimates assume a doubling every five or even two years (according to Eco – Verband der deutschen Internetwirtschaft e. V.). There are many other aspects to the wealth of information and the knowledge contained in it. For many people and organizations, the information that is constantly multiplying results in an overload. This information overload (Big Data problem) almost reverses the benefit of information. As with King Midas, the gold of the digital age is effectively becoming an unwanted trinket. Information becomes obsolete more and more quickly. However, the timeliness of the data is particularly important for handling business processes. It therefore needs better organization or better filters so that information does not become “perishable goods.” Digital information must be captured, summarized, processed in new contexts, and made as comprehensively usable as possible.

Information as goods

No company can therefore afford to store information in separate “silos” so that it cannot be used efficiently. Only when the gold of the digital age, knowledge, can be shared does it have the potential to become a relevant, business-critical success factor (more on this in Part 2). For many organizations, however, this knowledge is also an asset that needs to be managed carefully: Patents, research records, personal information, and even strategy papers and project plans are business-critical. Companies and organizations are legally obliged to manage and provide business-relevant information in digital form. This results in requirements: Sensitive data must be protected and authorized users must be granted appropriate access. At the same time, efficient mechanisms are needed to manage the validity and retention period of information (records management).

Digital raw material refinement

But how can a company or organization deal with these developments and requirements? An effective answer is to refine the data and information in such a way that robust and effective information and knowledge management is created, e.g. based on software for Enterprise Content Management. This software digitally combines data from all media (paper, e-mail, etc.) and processes it automatically.

Once digitized and put into meaningful contexts, the media content, i.e. the information, can be accessed much more easily. A constant flow of information ensures maximum efficiency and constant availability. The new access options to related information reduce sources of error such as media breaks, eliminate redundancies, and enable comparisons and evaluations. As a raw material “data” has now become a “product,” which can be used and traded further.

Practical knowledge – a contextual task

But that alone is not enough. Due to the abundance and speed of obsolescence of information, it is becoming increasingly important to make it available in a situation-specific or appropriate context. Rather than rigid structures of documents in records or folder structures, flexible views that can be changed at any time are required for users. However, a conventional document management system is not sufficient to fully meet the needs mentioned above. Many ECM systems are still too focused on the typical tried and tested document. However, data only becomes actual knowledge in a context of surrounding information. This knowledge must be dynamic and can be extracted and consolidated from existing information and structures at any time. For this purpose, processes will be used that are currently partly dealt with in individual technologies, but which belong to an integrated information management system. These include business intelligence, enterprise search, records management, data retention, and classification technologies.

This is continued in “The Gold of the Digital Age (Part 2)”, which covers the distribution of information and cooperation.