Information: source for knowledge

... And knowledge results in information

/ nl/ article /informationKnowledge_nl.phpOnderwerpen: dublin core, information, knowledge, meta data, prism, rdf, topic maps, xml, business, contextual, learning, ontology, reasoning, schema

It's becoming more and more apparent that accessible and usable information is actually a business asset that should be accounted for. It's nowadays even one of the most significant factors for a company's competitive position. The latest buzz is about implementing something referred to as ‘knowledge management’. Many companies, that didn't invest in their information resources, feel the urge to close the gap in information access and usability as compared with their competitors. But what is it and, even more important, what are the major requirements to create and maintain a knowledge based system.

Understanding the purpose of information and knowledge

In order to answer this question we need a definition of the terms 'information’ and 'knowledge', it is obvious that there is a difference.

According to the dictionary information is the psychological result of perception, learning and reasoning. Information must be meaningful for its receiver in some context, but an information-resource does not have anything to indicate its relation with the context of the receiver by itself, at best it contains only some clues on the context wherein it was created. Only when information is packaged or used for understanding or for performing a specific action can it be seen as a representation of knowledge.

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Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.

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Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first comprehensive English dictionary

Typically, in this setting, the information represented as knowledge is likely to become the source for creating new information as a result of a learning or research activity. In this fashion a knowledge base is like an intellectual ecosystem, it has to be maintained and updated in a consistent manner in order to reach at an environment that is suited for reusing information in a reliable fashion.

Knowledge management can not be achieved by technology alone

Quite often a so called ‘content management system’ is purchased in order to manage information resources (or documents). Quite a number of vendors for this type of software claim to solve the need for knowledge management at the same time. The functionality they deliver for this purpose is most likely to be limited to a method for information retrieval. But is knowledge just retrieved information, or is there more to it?

As a conclusion we can now say that knowledge management can only be effective when it is organised as a continuous interaction between people involved and the supporting IT environment. The main input is and will always be human. Investing in IT alone will not be sufficient. The organisation that has the wish - or need - to implement knowledge management should also implement some organisational changes. A method is required to ensure that there is a clear incentive for the staff members responsible for adding information - in the form of reports, memos, offerings, product descriptions, contracts, procedures etc.

If employees don't experience direct benefits as a result from using and maintaining a system like this, it is likely that the envisioned knowledge base is not going to deliver what it promises in the long run.

Information is in fact a continuous chain of events

Information management is aimed at well defined business processes, the information systems are most of the time designed to support a specific process, they contain data, factual information (figures, quantities etc.) on administration, logistics and production aspects.

Chaining - a continued connection

In order to obtain an effective knowledge base, an environment is required that allows for seamless integration of factual data and textual information like results from analyses, opinions, surveys, reports, messages and meeting minutes. This type of information are more natural in ‘documents’ as opposite to database tables.

What in fact is required to enable this is a well designed and balanced information architecture that not only captures each of the information components and the relationships and dependencies between them in a precise and meaningful fashion, but that ensures quality assessment on consistency as well.

That is one of the main issues that has to be answered for by the information architect. Fortunate there is a family of standards available that specifically addresses these issues: XML. XML is in fact the core standard that enables the creation of schema's that describe the components of which the information consists. Even more so: based on XML several vertical standards are in use that offers both a clear useful schema for information specifications as well as means and tools for applying these within automated systems.

Upgrading information

The more information is available the better a knowledge system will function. Specially additional information that can give more context to an information component will provide a lot of additional options and an increase in quality. There are quite a lot of methods available to achieve this goal. The method of choice will always strongly depend on organisational requirements, the kind and nature of the core business involved and the types and quality of the information that is available.

There are a few ways that could answer for the need to improve information quality in most situations. We will mention three of them and provide a brief description:

Adding meaningful structure

This requires existing information resources (documents) to be converted to XML?. The internal structures should be based on a schema? that defines the rules where the information should adhere to. Several standardised schema's are available for quite a number of business columns. In some situations it is useful to extend or extract such a schema in order to capture all of the requirements.

Adding meta data

This can be done without altering existing information. Meta data adds more contextual information to the existing resources like: abstracts, keywords, description of purpose and scope of the information. Useful standards in this field could be RDF?, Dublin Core? or PRISM?.

Applying an ontology

As with adding meta data, this can be done without altering existing information resources. An ontology is in fact an semantic network that contains all the subjects relevant for your domain of interest. Subjects are related to each other and can be used as an intuitive navigation layer across all possible information resources. A first version of an ontology can be derived from existing meta data, thesauri or controlled vocabularies. A good method of capturing an ontology is provided by the Topic Maps? standard. See also the article on this website: "Knowing Topic Maps"

There is no generic solution or method that ensures that the implementation of such a complex constellation of systems, processes and procedures can be conducted in a very short period of time. As a general aid, a migration plan should be provided that states the paths and actions that will lead towards the final desired situation step by step.

Severe investment in information requires the insurance that the information is not depending on any software product or operating system. Using international open standards – like XML – is the solution for this.

Understanding ...

Knowledge ...

Information ...

Upgrading ...