Behind the Buzzwords: Data vs. Information

Data can feel like the boogeyman to many business people. It’s big, scary, and intimidating. In business, many of us encounter it daily, but don’t feel we understand it. So, we avoid it like the plague.

But it wasn’t always this way. People have always depended on information to make business decisions, long before the information era. For centuries, we’ve collected and documented information to learn from our actions. So why is it so intimidating to use today? We break it down below.

Data vs. Information

They’re often used interchangeably, but there’s a difference between ‘data’ and ‘information’. 

‘Information’ is actionable. It’s a meaningful & useful asset that’s ready to power processes & decisions. It’s relatable and understandable to the business. 

Data, on the other hand, is a raw material. It’s a component part, that may not be useful on its own to inform decisions. It needs assembly and refinement to be useful to the business. It’s confusing and difficult to relate to actions in the business.

Outsourcing Data Collection to Systems

In the past, before the rise in the use of systems, people could make sense of the ‘data’ they worked with for two reasons. 

Firstly, the format it was recorded in was likely easier to read. When people recorded data manually, 99 out of 100 times they most likely recorded it all on one sheet, in a way that could be interpreted by another human fairly easily. It was information, not data.

Think of a traditional book of accounts, register of sales or even a shopping list. If you found a notebook in the street with this information, you’d likely be able to draw some insight from it, even if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it.

Systems, however, prioritise performance over logic. They do things like translate readable values to code, and split data into component parts in a way that doesn’t always make sense to people. It’s not useful for the business right away. So we need to invest time in stitching different components together to create useful, relatable, information. 

Before systems, we also created a lot less data. This automatically made it easier to understand. Systems have exponentially increased the amount of data we create, making it harder to comprehend for business people. 

As businesses have transitioned to using more systems, most of the stuff we encounter is not ‘information’, it’s data. And as a result, a lot of it is hard for the business to understand. We need someone to put the fragments back together into a logical, coherent picture. So we rely on the data specialists to take ownership of data in the organisation.

Why does this matter?

Well, most business people consider themselves able to understand ‘information’. However many don’t consider themselves able to understand ‘data’.

Distinguishing between the two can help improve communication in your organisation, and build confidence in your business to get more hands-on with business information and utilise data more effectively. This logical breakdown also helps business people to break down the challenges they face in utilising information and work towards a more ‘data-driven’ business.

Want to make your business more data-driven? 

We specialise in helping business teams improve their confidence in working with data to enable digital transformation and improved information flows throughout the business. Read the Executive Data Framework for a useful framework to prioritise the most valuable information in your business, or check out the Data Enablement Programme, to help your organisation transform with data.