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Is That Information…And Do I Care? (Part 1)

It’s no wonder we have so much buzz around Big Data:  we’ve reached a tipping point, which Michael Hay discussed in a previous blog post on how ‘Big Data Is Turning Content Into Appreciating Assets.’  I find news of discoveries and innovation based on massive amounts of data pretty inspiring, and, as you can imagine, we at Hitachi Data Systems talk about these topics among our colleagues and friends…and sometimes even to the point of annoyance among our families. (I can personally attest to a glazed stare this morning as I chatted again about this very blog post.)

With this kind of enthusiasm, you can understand how we might get into debates over what we actually mean by ‘Data’, ‘Information’ and ‘Knowledge.’  This usually leads to fatigued, sometimes discussion-ending questions of, “does it matter?” and “do I care?” After some debate, Anjana Bala (Stanford University and former HDS intern) and I decided to research this a bit more, and we’ve come to the conclusion that 1) we do care, 2) it is important and 3) we’d bet you’d agree.

ah4Ok – So this is by no means a new topic, it’s just really hot right now.  We’ve been thinking about this for ages, from all different angles.  I believe this topic has captivated us for so long because the journey from data to knowledge is transformational and provides the basis for innovation.   And, it continues to elude us because this journey, particularly when we go beyond information, becomes more personal and implicit.

Among the mass of different views on these concepts (which sometimes felt like hair splitting) Anjana and I found Jonathan Hey’s paper on “The DIKW Chain” as a good consumable starting place and the discussion of how data and information relate actually continues to knowledge and wisdom as well.  We’ve summarized the distinction between these concepts below based on Hey’s paper and Dr. Russell Ackoff work with one of the most common representations of the relationships: the pyramid diagram.

  • Data are discrete symbols that represent facts. You might think of them as recordings or statistics.
    • There is no meaning or significance beyond the data’s existence.
    • Data may be clean or noisy; structured or unstructured; relevant or irrelevant.
  • Information is data that has been processed to be useful. I like to think of it as adding the first bit of context to data relating to “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when”.
    • Information captures data at a single point in time and from a particular context; it can be wrong.
  • Knowledge is the mental application of data and information. Most consider this as addressing questions around “how”.
    • Some consider knowledge a deterministic process, which is to say the appropriation of information with the intent of use.
  • Wisdom is the evaluation and internalization of knowledge. It applies insight and understanding to answer “why” and “should” questions.
    • Wisdom has been characterized as “integrated knowledge — information made super-useful.” (Cleveland, Harlan. December 1982. “Information as a Resource”. The Futurist: 34-39.)

Much of these definitions are based on Dr. Russell Ackoff’s work, however I added the graphic, examples and further explanation from various sources.  (Ackoff, R. L., “From Data to Wisdom”, Journal of Applies Systems Analysis, Volume 16, 1989.)

So this is all very interesting with implications for not only the terms we use for a good debate, but also how we might progress from one to another.  This is probably enough to chew on for now, so next week I’ll follow-up on these implications and we’ll look at why it’s important to consider.  In the mean time, let me know if you have any good examples to illustrate DIKW differences.

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Comments (5 )

M-A-O-L » (Big) Data Pyramid on 23 Sep 2011 at 1:03 am

[...] not completely technical – but still relevant: Is That Information…And Do I Care? the discussion of how data and information relate actually continues to knowledge and wisdom as [...]

[...] The Big Data Maslow’s Pyramid: [...]

[...] The Big Data Maslow’s Pyramid: [...]

[...] week I posted a review of the definitions and differences of data, information, knowledge and wisdom (DIKW) on this blog. [...]

mark on 28 Sep 2011 at 3:49 am

Interesting. More industry players are running parallel tracks.

Amy Hodler

Data Center Advisors

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