“Data processed for meaning is information; information processed for understanding is intelligence.” Source escapes recall right now.
In the early eighties I was a member of a committee that oversaw the computerization of a major national government agency of a Southeast Asian country. The quote above came from our consultant, a Dutch professional from the United Nations Development Program, as he leafed through a well worn IT book. Its title and author have managed to elude me down through the years, and my continuing internet search so far has not yielded the result I’ve been looking for. Nonetheless, certain results have further enriched my appreciation and understanding of the data - information – intelligence model. For example I like this definition of data (which is the starting point of the model): “Data are symbolic depictions of facts (e.g., the display on a thermometer, or a ten-year time series reflecting GDP, balance of payments and exchange rate performance).”1
The introductory quote at the top of this page has itself become a permanent resident in the recesses of my brain; from-time-to-time I find it sitting at the front row of my consciousness. That occurred again a few weeks ago as I listened to remarks and reactions from a seasoned professional consulting geologist who sat at my training session. His organization was trialing and evaluating my company’s flagship product.
The gist of what he said was this – and I paraphrase: “Your software package offers me a distinct edge, an advantage that I had never had. The prospect of having the capability to access, search, process, customize and analyse data, and present the result of my processing and analysis in an integrated, seamless manner — and both in appealing graphic and text formats – that really excites me!”
I gently prodded him to expand on what he said and by this time it was no longer a facilitator-learner exchange we were having but a friendly conversation between two individuals with a shared interest on the subject of meeting client needs. I wanted to hear more from this obviously knowledgeable person, possibly a “thought leader” (to borrow a blogging term) in his organization or even in the industry. Where he is coming from is that as a professional consulting geologist his philosophy of work is anchored on the desire not just to meet but exceed client’s expectations and wishes. One indicator that he succeeds in doing that is when he is able to speed up the process by which the principal/client is able to correctly decide and take action on his recommendations or proposals.
Certain key words leaped from his remarks – ‘data’, ‘processing’, ‘analysis’, ‘presentation’, ‘decision’, ‘action’ – and led me mentally munching on the quote above: “data processed for meaning is information; information processed for understanding is intelligence.” And I’m reminded once more – it is not data itself that we value; we may even correctly posit that data is value-neutral. But when we are able to derive meaning out of it (information) and we are able to communicate that information in an intelligible form (i.e., in a way and format that even non-professionals can understand it and act upon it) then intelligence is produced leading to action by decision-makers. There and then value is created and transferred. If all things go well a chain of real values is created: project launched, jobs created or preserved, products and services made available, revenue generated, development fostered … and on, and on, and on.
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From this learning exchange with this gentleman I have reaped an immediate return — one that is of the metaphysical kind (what O.D. experts of yore refer to as “psychic income”). It’s the satisfaction of knowing I have offered him a powerful tool to preserve and enhance his work philosophy of exceeding client expectations.
I believe somewhere else this idea of doing more than what is expected of you is referred to as “walking the extra mile”. What do you think?
Ciao! Hasta la vista, compadres!
*The author, B. Peter Nolasco, is part of geoLOGIC Systems’ training and support department. His background includes Economics, Canadian Legal System, and Business Studies.