Is Information Management now back in focus?

by Frank 12. August 2012 06:00

When we were all learning about what used to be called Data Processing we also learned about the hierarchy or transformation of information. That is, “data to information to knowledge to wisdom.”

Unfortunately, as information management is part of what we call the Information Technology industry (IT) we as a group are never satisfied with simple self-explanatory terms. Because of this age-old flaw we continue to invent and hype new terms like Knowledge Management and Enterprise Content Management most of which are so vague and ill-defined as to be virtually meaningless but nevertheless, provide great scope for marketing hype and consultants’ income.

Because of the ongoing creation of new terminology and the accompanying acronyms we have managed to confuse almost everyone. Personally I have always favoured the term ‘information management’ because it tells it like it is and it needs little further explanation. In the parlance of the common man it is an “old un, but a good un.”

The thing I most disliked about the muddy knowledge management term was the claim that computers and software could produce knowledge. That may well come in the age of cyborgs and true artificial intelligence but I haven’t seen it yet. At best, computers and software produce information which human beings can convert to knowledge via a unique human cognitive process.

I am fortunate in that I have been designing and programming information management solutions for a very long time so I have witnessed first-hand the enormous improvements in technology and tools that have occurred over time. Basically this means I am able to design and build an infinitely better information management solution today that I could have twenty-nine years ago when I started this business.  For example, the current product RecFind 6 is a much better, more flexible, more feature rich and more scalable product than the previous K1 product and it in turn was an infinitely better product than the previous one called RecFind 5.

One of the main factors in them being better products than their predecessors is that each time we started afresh with the latest technology; we didn’t build on the old product, we discarded it completely and started anew. As a general rule of thumb I believe that software developers need to do this around a five year cycle. Going past the five year life cycle inevitably means you end up compromising the design because of the need to support old technology. You are carrying ‘baggage’ and it is synonymous with trying to run the marathon with a hundred pound (45 Kg) backpack.

I recently re-read an old 1995 white paper I wrote on the future of information management software which I titled “Document Management, Records Management, Image Management Workflow Management...What? – The I.D.E.A”. I realised after reading this old paper that it is only now that I am getting close to achieving my lofty ambitions as espoused in the early paper. It is only now that I have access to the technology required to achieve my design ambitions. In fact I now believe that despite its 1995 heritage this is a paper every aspiring information management solution creator should reference because we are all still trying to achieve the ideal ‘It Does Everything Application’ (but remember that it was my I.D.E.A. first).

Of course, if you are involved in software development then you realise that your job is never done. There are always new features to add and there are always new releases of products like Windows and SQL server to test and certify against and there are always new releases of development tools like Visual Studio and HTML5 to learn and start using.

You also realise that software development is probably the dumbest business in the world to be part of with the exception of drug development, the only other business I can think of which has a longer timeframe between beginning R&D and earning a dollar. We typically spend millions of dollars and two to three years to bring a brand new product to market. Luckily, we still have the existing product to sell and fund the R&D. Start-ups however, don’t have this option and must rely on mortgaging the house or generous friends and relatives or venture capital companies to fund the initial development cycle.

Whatever the source of funding, from my experience it takes a brave man or woman to enter into a process where the first few years are all cost and no revenue. You have to believe in your vision, your dream and you have to be prepared for hard times and compromises and failed partnerships. Software development is not for the faint hearted.

When I wrote that white paper on the I.D.E.A. (the It Does Every Thing Application or, my ‘idea’ or vision at that time) I really thought that I was going to build it in the next few years, I didn’t think it would take another fifteen years. Of course, I am now working on the next release of RecFind so it is actually more than fifteen years.

Happily, I now market RecFind 6 as an information management solution because information management is definitely back in vogue. Hopefully, everyone understands what it means. If they don’t, I guess that I will just have to write more white papers and Blogs.

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