Lots of revolutions are declared. Few happen. It is only after the fact that we can be assured that the revolution took place or did not take place. There are signs that something fundamental is happening within society. With politicians joining the declaration of the information revolution, a level of popularization is being reached that may bring about cultural changes.
Information Resources Management, the ideology of the information revolution, was developed by business and implemented by government. It sees information as the driving force of the coming era - an era that is as different from the Industrial Age as that age was from the medieval era.
The Conference Board's call to revolution in 1972 was orderly and subdued but no less thorough. It identified a fundamental change taking place in society. It identified information as a resource. Whether or not we are in a revolutionary phase, and not merely one of turmoil and upheaval, is yet to be determined.
IRM is about how to make the information revolution.
It focuses on organizing and making information available to organizations, To do so, it is necessary to identify ways in which information can be organized so that it can be accessed by project teams, by working groups, and by creative project managers.
"Automation" is not an appropriate word to describe the information revolution. It is true that, initially, the development of computers and the organization of information in electronic form was little more than another step in replacing human work with machine work. There was (and often is) nothing different between the work done by a machine and the work done by a human - only the machine can sometimes do it faster. Automation, in this sense, is developing "applications" - ways to apply the machine to human activity to do it more quickly. Indeed, computers were initially conceived as computing machines doing what people do, only faster.
Now, something very fundamental is going on in the way information is collected, stored, and used. The information revolution is not just a new technology.
IRM asserts that information should be as widely accessible as possible. This principle derives from the scientific world and public libraries and is based on the assumption that cultural progress is increased by maximum exchange of information. In order for information to be properly used, it needs to be shared.
The principle that has operated until now is that of "intellectual property." In practice, this means that information products belong to the employer (normally a corporation or institution) of the creator of the information and, like any other property, the "rights" to its use can be sold. These principles and practices run counter to the fundamental principles of information management.
The question of intellectual property is increasingly troublesome in the area of copyright law and trade. These difficulties indicate that we have not yet recognized that the notions of private property underlying the Industrial Age are not appropriate for the Information
Beyond Private Ownership Information
We need to move beyond seeing information as a kind of property. Even though it is an asset, it is not appropriate to consider it as property that can be hoarded, stored, and alienated by being sold, traded, or given away. Information, as an asset, has value only if it is used.
Other assets can be owned, traded, held, and used up. Information, however, is an asset that is forgotten if it is not used. It is valuable only if it is used; its value grows as it is shared
and used. The ownership of information shifts as it is used, from the creator to the user, to the one who "adds value."
The United States and other industrial nations do not have a body of law and regulations that reflects what is needed for the Information Age. Laws are based on the principle that property is private and needs to be protected. Assets are viewed as depletable and contracts are made between and among parties to exchange assets. Accounting principles that are not appropriate to information management are applied to information, just as they are applied to other assets.
Copyright laws are fundamentally flawed because they look at information as property and focus on private ownership. Knowledge is accumulated information with perspectives of an individual in an organization leading to the formulating of new thinking or writing. In this sense, information is inherently public. Librarians have always seen that information is public in nature and that it gains value as it is shared.
One simple start is to say that all information produced with "public" funds should belong to the public. This would include all government research and all research supported by government grants. We could also extend this to any organization that enjoys special tax status and is, therefore, indirectly subsidized by the public. This would include all educational institutions, whether they are labeled "public" or "private."
It would exclude private individuals, businesses, and corporations. We would want to extend the principle of public ownership to all products produced for the public - including federal, state, and local governments.
The remaining products would be those that can justifiably be claimed to be the property of others.
When it comes to the question of exchanging and selling rights, the public has an interest, just as it does for any other product. In order to promote the maximum good, we should adopt the following principle: When information is sold, the conditions should be such that maximum access is encouraged. In other words, any information that is available for sale should be priced in such a way that the cost, plus a reasonable profit, can be recovered. If the distribution of the information can be encouraged, then the price can be substantially decreased per user.
These systems might appear to be radical, but they have clear precedents in the area of public utilities and environmental controls.
If the principle of maximum access to information is to be encouraged and it should be - relatively minor changes in our view of the world would open vast new resources for all of us to use.
Once this fundamental fact, that information is public, is understood then new laws and principles of relating will come about based on sharing rather than hoarding and doling out information. Instead of seeing information as "property," we need to see that information grows and develops only as it is used. Instead of hoarding and protecting information, as we do property, we need to focus on dispersing and using it.
The information revolution goes beyond simply allowing us to do work faster. It will bring about a "reengineering" of our work - not doing dumb things faster, but finding entirely new ways in which work will be conducted.
The primary task of Information Resources Management is to bring about the reengineering process. IRM manages information not just to make the current way of doing work more efficient, but to determine how work can be best organized to use the new means of production. Our work should be more effective as measured by ho well we meet the needs of our customers.
The last revolution of a similar scope', was the industrial revolution, which brought the power of machines to replace individual brute force in the workplace. Information machines do' not just replace physical labor - they create value.
The unleashing of the power of industrial machines - and the subsequent organization of society in order to use these machines - created what we call the "modern" or the "industrial" society. Automation in the industrial society is based on creating a manufacturing system of production in which machines are substituted for human physical labor. In industrial production, work is done by large collections of workers, each of whom undertakes a specific task that contributes to the product as a whole. Division of labor and a high degree of control characterizes work in industrial society. In the industrial revolution, the work of skilled artisans organized into guilds was replaced by factory workers.
As the information revolution plays itself out, the transformation of work will be just as profound and just as far reaching as the destruction of the guild society and the creation of the modern industrial world. Information Resources Management is a "movement," i.e., a social force, responding to the information revolution.
Information drives an organization. We need to identify how information flows and structure the organization around it. Today, most organizations are organized around functional areas rather than the way in which information flows. If work is not organized around the information process, work will not be done effectively and efficiently.
Management as Control
Management is control in the industrial society. When the industrial revolution replaced humans with machines, it created repetitive, dull work for the masses of men and women. It destroyed families and uprooted communities. It created nation states - all in order to organize work around machines. But it also liberated men and women from the drudgery and the limitation of being able to do only the work that they were physically able to do.
The division of labor and the socialization of work that is characteristic of the industrial society brought tremendous wealth. It brought increased production. It created massive bureaucracies and industries based on the principles of control. Control requires being on top of things, knowing what is going on, making sure there are no surprises. Control is characteristic of industrial management. It is based on the harboring and allocating of scarce resources. Management organizes the work and integrates the products from the various parts of the work process and accumulates and dispenses the results of the production process.
The management of the resources of industrial society - money, raw materials, land, capital - is based on the principles of control and scarcity. The name of the game, in the industrial society, is to accumulate as much as one can. As the bumper sticker says, "The One With the Most Toys at the End Wins."
Resource management in the industrial society is, therefore, by its very nature hierarchical. Bosses plan. Workers act. Bosses project. Workers produce. Bosses control. Workers do. The boss is powerful to the extent that he or she controls resources - financial, human, and raw materials.
Management as Empowerment
Information Resources Management requires decentralized management and reengineers work so that the producer has access to the information resources needed to do the work. In the process of working, the producer adds to the value of the information. The function of the information manager is to provide the tools and the opportunity for each worker to go through the steps of the life cycle of information - to identify needs and meet them.
Information management means finding ways to disseminate, decentralize, spread out, and give away information. In order to spread information, we must collect and organize it. Organizing means putting it into a context - finding its proper place. Placing information means centering it properly - finding it a home. Managing information is a matter of placing, not steering. It focuses on opening up and making a valuable resource available.
Integration - connecting unlike things - is the primary task of information management. By managing information, we identify needs and create new needs. Harboring, allocating, and controlling are not only less important but often dangerous. Successful management of information is based on finding ways to share and connect one set of data with another in order to enhance the informational value in both.
These are the traditional skills of the librarian - a profession, based on the principles of sharing, not controlling.
The techniques of IRM, some of which were covered in this book, will enable information power to be brought to the lowest possible level. In the process, the very concept of "low" and "high" in command structures will be eliminated, and new ways of social interaction will develop.
Finding the Client/User/ Patron
But IRM is not just a matter of managing information for the purposes of those who control organizations. It means finding ways to meet the needs of the clients, users, or patrons of the information. The reengineering process looks primarily to see that the mission or work of the organization is carried out more effectively - not just that the interests of those who control the organization are met.
We flounder around looking for a way to describe who is the user/client/patron for whom we organize information. None of these terms is properly descriptive. A user consumes, but a user of information does not consume it. A client is dependent, but the information client is not dependent. A patron patronizes - hardly the proper relationship to the producer and manager of information.
The primary client for IRM is organizations, whether corporations, government, or nonprofit organizations. Just as public libraries see their primary clients as individual members of the public and special libraries see their clients as the organizations which fund the library, so IRM works to meet the business needs of its primary client, the organization which manages the program.
These operations are done under the sponsorship of various parts of organizations and have many names. They are controlled by a common process - the rapid explosion and integration of information in an automated environment. But IRM does not serve those who happen to control the organization; it serves the business of the organization.
This book is only a beginning. It is not new or original. Indeed, the fact that the Conference Board publication of 1972 is its centerpiece shows that we are dealing with a phenomenon that has grown and developed for a long time.
I hope that this collection, by bringing together material from disparate previously unconnected sources, will be an example of the power that begins to emerge when information is managed properly.
It is a beginning that builds on a long past.
(Primary Contributor - Kenneth A. Megill)