Information Management – An Existential Crisis

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unstructured data management

Information Management – An Existential Crisis

last updated:

Information Management is facing an existential crisis. In this first of three posts we consider what Information Management is....

This month’s AIIM conference in New Orleans represented North America’s premier gathering of Information Management professionals. Vendors, Systems Integrators, Consultants, and End Users all congregated to learn, explore and discuss what is happening in the industry. Pretty standard stuff, one might think, and as the conference has been held yearly for decades now, one would not expect any big surprises. But there were surprises galore….

Blame it on GPT, blame it on the fact that AIIM has just been around so long, but it seems that the industry is experiencing a once-in-a-generation existential crisis. Questions were asked, such as:

  • What is Information Management?
  • Are we a profession or just a nexus of technologies?
  • Is there a future for Information Management?

These are quite profound and worrying questions to be asked, but in our opinion, they are healthy questions that are long overdue. In this first of three Analyst Notes, let’s explore that first question – “What is Information Management?”

Information Management is often perceived as a discipline. But the question then arises, where does the disciplinarity come from, and what is its justification? If Information Management is a discipline, there should be a structure, a means, and a method to understand and use its specialized knowledge.

Closing Keynote Panelists – Generative AI

But the only thing we have for sure is a plethora of opinions and alternatives, only some of which are documented or codified. We don’t even have an agreement on what Information Management is, or for that matter, what an Information Manager does. For some, it’s related to governance and regulatory compliance; for others, it’s about automating document processes. For others still, it is about providing information and knowledge to support work activities. 

Additionally, there is little consensus on what the ‘Information’ in Information Management refers to. For some, it’s documents; for others, it’s data, records**, unstructured data, or files. Objectively, we might conclude there is no such discipline as Information Management, there may well be a desire for one to exist, but as of today, there is not. The only thing we can say for sure is that there is lots of data, and it all needs to be managed.

To take a step further down this path, we know that data can be structured in multiple forms. At the most basic level, it can be structured data sitting in neat rows and columns, or at the other extreme; it can be containerized within a complex format, such as a video file or PDF. And that the only reason we create, process, and consume data is that it contains something of value. How we measure the value opens a whole new can of worms…..

Away from the philosophical and back to the practical, industry organization like AIIM play a vital role in providing a forum for all the divergent views and, within that forum, plotting a path to success. But what AIIM can’t and should never do is be complacent and imagine (as too many Information Management professionals do) that somehow we know how to manage information effectively. The reality is that email, and FileServers are the number one repository for unstructured data files, that organizations that try to implement focused solutions such as document or records management systems have, at best, a patch track record of success, that data volumes continue to grow and that the challenge to bring order to the chaos is greater and more critical now than ever. So yes, it’s an existential crisis, but that allows us to reassess our values and purpose. To reevaluate and plot a strategy to deal with the reality we face and to devise solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.

*AIIM The Association of Intelligent Information Management

** Interestingly, Records Management is not generally thought of as an Information Management discipline outside of AIIM

Note: In full disclosure, I currently serve on the AIIM board of directors; thoughts here are my own.

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