Craig S. Mullins
Database Performance Management

Return to Home Page

June 1999


Managing The Information Tsunami

by Craig S. Mullins

It is okay to say, “I don’t know.” This simple phrase seems to be the absolute last statement that computer professionals want to utter. The thinking goes something like this: “If I admit I don’t know what he is talking about then I’ll look stupid. Then I’ll be passed over for that important and interesting project. Or maybe I’ll even lose my job.”

This is ridiculous. You can not know everything about any topic in this day and age.  Things are changing too fast and information is being spread too efficiently. We may live in the Information Age, but sometimes it can seem like the Dark Ages.  Businesses today are awash in a flood of data coming from all types of sources.  It comes in magazines like this one, by e-mail, in the mail, by phone, on voice mail, on TV and radio, from conferences, over the web, in business and technical books, and on and on and on.

So how do we manage this information?  The sad truth is, usually we don't!  We listen, we try to observe and retain some of the information, and yet so much of it completely eludes us in terms of permanent retention.  Studies have shown that we retain less than 20% of what we try to learn.

And, worse yet, even if information is retained somewhere, somehow, quite often we'll forget where it is or how to retrieve it.  I know I've printed off many e-mails only to lose them and forget all about reading or responding to them.  I don't think I'm alone.

Manage That Knowledge

The sad fact of the matter is that there is simply too much information for anybody to be able to manage and retain it for any given period of time.  The trick is knowing where to find information instead of trying to remember everything. This is where the burgeoning field of knowledge management comes into play.

There is a lot of hype surrounding knowledge management today and much of it is easy to dismiss. Vendors, as usual, have hopped on this bandwagon and now claim that everything from e-mail systems to OLAP servers to document management systems is a knowledge management solution. Don’t get confused by the hype.

Knowledge management can help organizations to store, and more importantly, easily retrieve and use critical business information. Knowledge management requires technology, business strategy, and people. It is the process of capturing the collective knowledge of the organization, analyzing it and transforming it into easily recognizable forms for mass consumption, and communicating the results to the organization by means of a readily accessible vehicle.

Sifting Through the Garbage

Even though I am a knowledge management proponent, I am also a realist. And I understand that the term “knowledge” is not ideal and that the phrase “knowledge management” is not well defined.

Knowledge implies understanding and retention. If we are talking simply about a computerized system, then there is no understanding. Computers do not have cognition today and will not have that capability any time soon. This is why my definition of knowledge management requires not just technology, but business strategy and people. The people must define the business strategy and interpret the information to turn it into knowledge.

But these concerns are small. Knowledge management must be implemented today for companies to stay in business into the next century. The bottom line is that in order to remain competitive, businesses will require knowledge management systems to manage the deluge of information we receive on a daily basis. Then you will be able to say “I don’t know, but I know where to find out.” That is the best situation we can hope for in our ever-changing world of information technology.

From Database Trends, June 1999.
© 1999 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.