Have you ever stopped to think about the power of information? During times of war, positional information, and information about the enemy gives each side an advantage. The current controversy over the use of drones is all about the collection of information and how that information is used. Now that we are squarely in the information age, are we collecting and using information responsibly?
Information As a Competitive Advantage
During World War II, the Axis went to great lengths to encode correspondence and information collected about the Allies. They were collecting information that could be used to give them a competitive advantage. We do the same thing in the modern corporate world. We use information about our product or service, our competitors, and our customers to gain a competitive advantage. We use information about our customer to persuade them to choose our product or service. Perhaps we know something about their personal choices or affinities or affiliations that we can target.
Stewards of Information
Have you ever thought of yourself as a “steward of information”? Do we take our responsibility seriously enough when it comes to handling information and aggregating information that leads to particular decisions? The information about potentially faulty O-rings was available prior to the Space Shuttle Discovery explosion but it was ignored. If we knew that we had information that could potentially affect life and death, would we take it more seriously?
Information Makes Our Lives Easier
On the positive side, information can make our lives easier. We may see some information gathering as intrusive but it can lead us to organize our lives and quickly get to the products or services that we want. A good example is Amazon.com. Through the many products that I have ordered in the past, they have compiled a profile of who I am and what I like and they can suggest a new product based on my past purchases. Some may see this as upselling or selling me things I don’t need, but their recommendations are generally right on.
I believe that if we thought about the true power of information, we would be more mindful of our work. Think through all of the times in history when information made a great difference. Think of Paul Revere and the information that he passed along in his famous 1775 ride to Lexington. It turned the tides in the Revolutionary War. You could say that that small piece of information changed history.
Do you work with information that could change history or save lives? Do you recognize it as such and take it seriously? Do you recognize the power of information in your life and work? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.