Digital data is a hidden treasure of our companies and administrations

Josep Cobarsí-Morales directs the degree of Information and Documentation of the Open University of Catalonia. He has a PhD in Business Organization and Telecommunications Engineering. He is a researcher at the Knowledge and Information Management in Organization of the UOC, and as such has participated in studies on the collaborative creation of scientific and technical knowledge at the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). He is the author of the book Systems of Information in the Company (Collection The professional of the information) and director of the Master in Direction and Management of the Knowledge in the Organizations of the UOC.

With it we have addressed some of the most important and interesting aspects about how companies currently manage and manage the increasing amount of digital data generated by daily activity and the use of networks.

What is the panorama of our organizations regarding information? Do they have the right information in these times of crisis?

In general terms, our companies and public administrations have services and information systems designed to “automate” their routine activities, to perform their daily operations quickly and efficiently and progressively improve them. Updating these services and systems is a major challenge. But using information management as a transformative lever beyond the everyday is an increasingly pressing issue to successfully exit from the current crisis situation. And it is a challenge hardly addressed. Because we often think of information as if we were still at the end of the last century, but the environment has changed very quickly and we must seize opportunities.

What kind of opportunities should we take advantage of?

The data accumulated by our companies are a hidden treasure. There is an authentic explosion of digital data generated by daily activity and the use of networks (records of orders in databases, logs of visits in corporate portals, recordings of attention to customers, etc.). Today it is technologically feasible to cross that multitude of data (Big Data), explore them, link them, summarize them and present them. This new treatment would open unsuspected possibilities. It is possible to offer the user a quick and efficient search for specific information when it comes to it. But you can also propose, if the situation requires it, an open exploration experience to discover new knowledge navigating through the data.

Is there anyone who already takes advantage of these opportunities?

Of course. For example, as Google users, many of us will accept a new unified data policy among all its services, announced for its entry into force on March 1. This can lead to greater comfort as users, and will undoubtedly give Google a qualitative leap in its business capabilities. As individual users of many free services of this and other leading companies, we have become accustomed to contribute to the creation of large data warehouses. However, we have barely begun to exploit the possibilities of using the data available in our own organizations.

You mention a large, highly technological multinational. Does this potential also apply to SMEs or only to large companies?

A company, whatever its size, today has various sources and data repositories. And the necessary technological instruments can be provided. The accumulated amount is important, but it is also important to combine and explore these diverse sources and repositories. And in addition, companies can establish links to share them. For example, an e-commerce portal for SMEs can cross, under criteria and appropriate agreements, the data of different companies that lodge and offer new cross-selling possibilities between them, unthinkable for an individual company.

The company can win with advanced data processing, but do users and customers win?

Users and customers can access new products and services. But it is true that the treatment of individual data arouses some misgivings. In this sense, the aggregate treatment of the data is very useful for the company. However, the confidentiality of individual profiles and prevention against misuse must be ensured at all times. It is also important to be clear that we are all very saturated with information (or presumed information) that comes to us in many ways. Therefore, it would be counterproductive, from the treatment of their own data, to overwhelm the user with irrelevant or untimely information. If these principles are clear, the logical initial misgivings that may be overcome.

Are the data accumulated by public administrations also a treasure to be unveiled?

Indeed, the multitude of data accumulated by public administrations, properly treated and published, can be useful for those who want to start a business or improve theirs in a certain geographical environment. Or they can be exploited in very different ways by social entities to optimize their actions or by individual citizens to collaborate in the improvement of their neighborhood or municipality. In this sense there are a few very interesting initiatives of the so-called Open Data abroad, and some in our country.

How can the discipline of information and documentation help companies to unearth the treasure of their data?

In the first place, providing a deep knowledge of the informational behavior and the needs of the users (be these clients, commercial, technical, managerial, etc.), applying them to services and new information systems. The information must be well dosed and summarized, have an attractive presentation, be easily incorporated into the documents and work environment of the recipient. In short, it is about facilitating our lives. All of us are exposed to a multitude of supposedly raw information that comes to us continuously through various devices. Each time we are more impatient and demanding, and that information that is not perceived as relevant and easily usable is quickly discarded or forgotten.

Another aspect to take into account is the establishment of clear and transparent corporate policies regarding the handling of such data. A company or a public administration must not only comply with the law. In addition, unresolved ethical aspects must be considered with the mere fulfillment of the laws, much slower in their evolution than the technologies. And it must be clear in relation to all this, demonstrating it faithfully to its clients and to society. Otherwise it is exposed to the rejection of this type of initiatives.

And finally, it is also very important to foresee the suitable requirements regarding the use of information technologies. For example, outsourcing of cloud computing services or other IT services is common. In these cases, it is essential to establish the appropriate legal and technical provisions. Our degree of Information and Documentation aims to focus interdisciplinary issues of this type.

What peculiarities does this approach offer?

The human aspects, the technological aspects and the organizational implications of the digitization of our daily information environment are treated in an integrated manner. For this reason, subjects such as knowledge management, informational behavior, social networks, markets and legislation or information policies are part of the core of the degree. On the other hand, a wide range of electives is offered in line with the variety of professional profiles: information analysis, document and archive management, information architecture and content management, information systems, library science and documentation. In many aspects, Our degree of Information and Documentation is more similar to the Information Science or Information Management degrees of Anglo-Saxon universities than to other Information and Documentation degrees taught in our country. We also offer our students an appreciable third cycle education. Thus, within the Doctorate of the Information and Knowledge Society we carry the information management line. And we offer thegraduate of Social Networks and Knowledge Exchange and the master’s degree in Management and Knowledge Management in Organizations.

You mentioned a few professional profiles, such as information analysis or document management among others. Can not the proliferation of names in this field disorient the managers of the organizations?

Beyond the changing nomenclature of profiles, the important thing is that companies and public administrations understand more and more the importance of these issues. And it is not easy to find the professionals with the appropriate qualification.

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