Those of us working in fields that keep the internet up and running—web designers, content producers, content strategists, interaction designers, app developers, and the like—are constantly forced to explain the murky job titles we’re saddled with. I could compile a dictionary-thick folder full of the articles I’ve seen in the last five years trying to disentangle the titles “interaction designer” and “user experience specialist.” There are fine shades of meaning between these job titles that twist people up when they try to explain them to people outside the field. That’s a bad place to be in you’re trying to legitimize those jobs to skeptical executives raised in a paper-based world. Now we find ourselves with another pair of seemingly similar fields of study that sound the same but are truly different: information management and information strategy.
Information management is simply the act of processing and delivering information to the people who need it. What’s meant by “processing” here? It includes gathering information relevant to an organization, classifying it, sorting it, storing it, getting it in front of people who need to examine and understand it, and making it available for later recall. Management is a verb, it’s a deliberate act. In this case, it’s what we do to information. The University of Washington’s Information School says that information management exists because “all information is an asset that requires proper management.” Any business that doesn’t know this won’t be in business for long. Of course, they need to manage information. It’s so obvious that it almost seems as if the phrase is unnecessary. But it’s not. We need it in order to clarify the meaning of information strategy.
By contrast, information strategy is a plan for carrying out all of the information processing listed above. We know that we have to classify information, sort it, deliver it, and archive it, but how are we going to get that done? Information strategy lays out a specific plan for making sure that it happens not just once in a while, but every time, guaranteed. As Majid Abaii says,
There is just way too much information in an organization to manage it loosely. We truly need a plan, a blueprint, a strategy on how to capture, store, govern, and deliver all information to internal and external users of this information.
Traditional libraries conduct information management when they purchase books, DVDs, and magazines. Each new arrival is categorized for shelving and entered into the electronic card catalog. Each new information source, regardless of physical form, is processed according to a routine series of steps, uniformly applied.
Implementing an information strategy is what lets most business concerns survive. Given the torrent of information that floods businesses every day, a formal strategy is what lets them cope with the volume. A functional information strategy filters incoming information in such a way to ensure that the business’s decision makers see what’s most relevant and are spared the effort of wading through information that’s of low relevance. One example of a strategy for increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in corporate communications is the spam filter, an electronic gate that sends junk email to the recycle bin before anyone sees it. Most businesses have the hardware to process the electronic information coming in, i.e., they manage it, but if they want to make decisions quickly, they also need an information strategy that sets out the rules for dealing with it efficiently.